Nurturing nature: Youth beekeeping award emits buzzArea News
-- Bees may evoke fear from some but 12-year-old Carleigh Ruettger applied for the challenge of providing a home for thousands of honey bees.
By: Debbie Griffin - River Falls Journal, Pierce County Herald
Bees may evoke fear from some but 12-year-old Carleigh Ruettger applied for the challenge of providing a home for thousands of honey bees.
Two weeks ago the St. Croix Valley Beekeepers Association presented her with the material part of its Youth Partnership Award -- a beehive and all the tools needed to maintain it: A whole bunch of bees and wooden hive framework, protective suit and veil, smoker, hive tool, gloves, and weekly mentorship.
Carleigh’s mentor is Jerome “Jerry” Rodewald, president of the SCVBA who lives in the town of River Falls.
He shared with the Journal facts about honey bees in a 2010 feature story about his apiary, saying how important bees and their pollination are for growing food and flowers and making honey.
Carleigh became interested in bees after seeing some at the Carpenter Nature Center in Hastings, Minn., and at the Wolf Honey Farm in Baldwin. She’s also read books about honey bees and was concerned to learn that they’re dying off.
As a seven-year member of 4-H, she heard about the youth beekeeping award for which entries were open to kids aged 12-17.
If the award recipient successfully keeps the bees for two years, they keep them and all the tools that go with them -- a $500 value, says Rodewald.
Applicants were required to complete a form, give references and write a short essay.
Said Rodewald: “Carleigh impressed us with her desire to learn and use this as a learning tool.”
Carleigh lives with mom Heidi, dad Alan, and four brothers, east of River Falls and just inside the town of Martell. The kids attend school at home. The award has proven educational for everyone.
Heidi and Carleigh describe the activities since acquiring the hive. While her daughter has a suit, other family members have makeshift protective suits out of karate uniforms, winter coats and mosquito netting.
Picking a spot for the hive involved strategy and Rodewald’s approval.
“It’s better if they have full sunlight, especially morning sun,” Carleigh said.
The bees also need protection from the north wind and cannot sit too far down in a valley. It’s also handy if the spot can be accessed by a vehicle since honey is heavy to carry by hand.
Carleigh and Heidi say the bees come in packages, numbering about 10,000 bees per pound.
The young beekeeper also exercised ingenuity in animal proofing the hive without electric fencing. Heidi says the fencing is needed at the ‘eye levels’ of bears and skunks.
They enclosed the hive with fencing but instead of electrifying it, strung clunky soda cans on it. They also affixed straps around the hive boxes and spiked them to the ground.
Any animals that aren’t scared away by the noisy tin shouldn’t be able to get into the hive anyway.
Interest takes flight
Carleigh remembers that after touring the Carpenter Nature Center years ago, she wanted to start her own bee farm. She took an abandoned hornet’s nest, added honey to it then waited.
Books have helped her grow her knowledge and understanding of bees.
She’d heard of the beekeeping award before and knew that last year’s winner had successfully produced honey, which her whole family loves.
The real-life bee lessons have started already as beekeeper Carleigh -- and her brothers -- learned that unlike the animated actors in the “Bee Movie,” bees don’t lose consciousness when their keeper uses a smoker. The young bee-tender has also learned that the hive inhabitants get to know their keeper’s voice.
Besides spending time at the hive, Carleigh will also attend seven SCVBA meetings -- she already learned at one meeting that inserting comb into the hive can stimulate honey production.
She knows that what the bees are pollenating can make a difference in the way their honey tastes.
For example, she says, one true story tells of bees that make honey with a tinge of broccoli taste -- Heidi says she learned that honey isn’t subject to much regulation, some can be less pure than others.
The young beekeeper says the bees don’t require a lot of daily maintenance -- they like to be left alone to do their work. That gives her time to pursue her other interests, like fashion, volleyball and all different kinds of works of art.
Carleigh admits to being shy about publicity regarding the award, but she feels it is important to raise awareness about bees and their vital role.
Carleigh said, “I thought maybe if I got bees, it would encourage more kids to get bees.”
Rodewald agrees that is the exact point of the Youth Partnership program, given once a year and open to kids in Pierce and St. Croix counties.
Learn more about SCVBA -- and its services for removing honey-bee swarms -- at its web site: www.stcroixbeekeepers.org.