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Wild About Bees

At 11 years old, Olivia Iausly may be Wisconsin’s youngest beekeeper. We caught up with Olivia recently at Arcadia Books in Spring Green, where her mom works, to get the scoop on her bees and their connection to The Nature Conservancy’s Spring Green Preserve.

How did you become interested in bees?


Two years ago, my dad and I watched a show on PBS about honey bees and colony collapse disorder. We were doing projects at school about what’s important to the world, and I decided to do my project about colony collapse disorder. But I didn’t know much about it, so my mom helped me find Sue Sharp, a beekeeper in Richland Center. She and her husband John own ZZ Honey Farm, and Sue became my mentor.

Beekeeping costs money, so how did you get started?


Sue sent me information about the Wisconsin Honey Producers’ Youth Beekeeping Partnership Program where new beekeepers can apply for help to get started. You were supposed to be 12 years old, and I was only 10. But I applied for a scholarship any way and got it! The scholarship included $600 worth of beekeeping equipment--the boxes, smoker, bees, suit and everything else I needed to get started.

What sorts of tasks are involved in beekeeping?


When you first get your bees, you have to feed them sugar water every day for the first few months. That’s a lot of work! Then you have to check the hive regularly to make sure the bees are making honey and that no pests are in the hive. When the honey is ready, you smoke the hive so the bees go to the bottom of the box and you don’t get stung. I’ve only been stung once. You extract the honey around Labor Day, and then let the bees fill the boxes up again so they have food over the winter.

You chose colony collapse disorder for your school project about what’s important to the world. Why are bees important?


Bees pollinate about one in three foods we eat. Without them, we wouldn’t have a lot of the foods we enjoy like almonds. Honey is also a healthy food, and it doesn’t go bad.

What do your bees eat?


They go to Spring Green Preserve right by our house and feed on the flowers in the prairie. I went hiking with my friend there. It’s calming and soothing, and I like it out there.

I’ve heard honey bee populations are declining. Can you tell me about that?


Yes, there’s a disease called colony collapse disorder where the worker bees disappear and then the colony collapses. They don’t know exactly what is causing it, but they are doing research. It could be related to the Varroa mites that get into hives or because they have to transport the hives around so much to pollinate different crops. It could also be pesticides that bees bring back to the hive when they are feeding.

What do you like most about beekeeping?


I like the bee suit! I also like selling my honey. It’s called I Heart Honey. I sell it at the Jura Silverman Gallery in Spring Green and from home, but I’m all sold out right now. Half of the money went back to my hive, and I used the other half to help buy soccer lights for the high school soccer field. I like soccer too and play on a team.

What’ your favorite way to eat your honey?


I eat it on toast, on a spoon and on my fingers! I eat it on almost everything. Sue makes great fudge and birthday cake with honey.

Final note: This year, Olivia’s dad got his own hive, and Olivia will mentor her dad through the wonderful world of beekeeping.

Watch a fun video to learn more about bees and the many benefits they provide at Look in the Food section.

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