Kelby Youngberg, Student Beekeeper, Is Totally The Bee’s Knees

If you ask Kelby Youngberg about his bees, he gets a melancholy, sheepish look on his face. Kelby is a beekeeper, his bees aren’t doing well, and he feels culpable. The bees have problems with parasites and colony instability.
But that isn’t the whole story. Kelby’s just-recently-started career as an amateur beekeeper is actually going pretty well, all things considered. Kelby has been keeping bees for about two years now. This season, he harvested what he estimates was about two to four quarts of honey from his hive.
The bees first came to the Youngberg house when Kelby’s mom, Jennifer, heard about beekeeping starter kits and bought one. Soon after, the bees mysteriously died. Trying to find out why this happened got Kelby started researching bees, and he convinced his mom to buy another package of bees.
When you order bees, they come in a package that’s shipped to you with around three pounds of bees (that’s roughly 10,000 bees). The package also contains a can of syrup, so that the bees have something to eat before they build up their honey stores. And finally, the most important part: a tiny, separate “queen cage,” containing one queen bee. The queen is important because she provides leadership to the hive. The queen’s cage has a door at one end, but before the other bees can get to her, they have to eat through a block of sugar that walls her away. While they eat the sugar, the queen releases pheromones to pacify them and help them get used to her. If they were allowed to get to her right away, the other bees may eat her.
Once the queen is introduced and honey production starts, bees are pretty low-maintenance. Beekeepers usually check the hives once a week, and do a deeper inspection about once a month. Kelby’s bees ran into trouble because he forgot to check the hive for awhile, and they started crossing combs, meaning the combs intersected instead of growing in flat sheets. This meant he couldn’t see in the hive to check on them. Two months ago the hive’s population got too big, and some of the bees swarmed to look for another hive. Some of them were lost, and the hive was weak, which left them vulnerable to hive beetles, a common parasite. Kelby couldn’t attempt to stop the beetles or inspect the hive because of the combs that weren’t growing straight. The bees aren’t very strong now, but Kelby hopes next year he can get more and start over.
Aside from these issues, though, Kelby enjoys beekeeping. He says his favorite part is just sitting beside the hive and watching them as they go in and out of the hive, fight off wasps, and run into each other. When he’s inspecting the hive, Kelby usually has to wear a “bee suit”- a garment that covers his body and has a hat with a screen over the face- to protect from stings. The bees have different moods, though, and sometimes they are quite docile.One time, Kelby was out feeding the bees sugar water, and they crawled on his arms but didn’t sting him at all.
The point of Kelby’s beekeeping project is mostly to raise awareness. He’ll never get to the output level of commercial hives- he doesn’t sell any honey. He raises his bees for awareness, to help others learn about issues like sustainability and the dangers facing bee populations right now. Bees face problems not only from parasites like varroa mites and hive beetles, but also from diseases and human development taking away their sources of nectar. Bees travel up to five miles from their hive to bring back nectar. They enjoy flowers like clover and goldenrod, and they pollinate many plants that grow produce. If they can’t find flowers, they will look to other sources: in 2012, beekeepers in France were surprised to see blue and green honey in their hives, and it turned out that the bees had found a food source in m&m candy coating discarded from a factory.
Now that winter is coming on, Kelby’s bees are buckling down to hibernate. During the cold months of the year, they will clump together inside the hive to stay warm, and go into a hibernating state, eating stored honey until spring comes. When the weather starts to warm, they will shake themselves awake, yawn, stretch, and fly out into the newly green world.