Contestants seeking the title of queen usually prepare for a competition by working on a talent, improving their appearance and speaking skills and selecting the right clothes.
Amy Roden of Newburg got a colony of bees and a white beekeeper’s suit.
Roden, the 20-year-old daughter of Bob and Cindy Roden, is the 2009 Honey Queen representing the Wisconsin Honey Producers Association. She was selected in November at the association’s annual convention.
“I didn’t have to raise bees, but it’s a lot easier to learn by doing than reading about it out of a book,” Roden said.
Don Thill and his son Nick, who operate Thill’s Honey Gardens and Honey Grove Ice Cream in West Bend and sell their products at the Port Washington farmers market, are her sponsors and mentors.
When she met Don Thill last spring, he offered to set up a hive on her parents’ dairy farm and show her how to care for the bees and extract honey.
The hive — with three areas, called supers, to collect honey and two areas for breeding — was set next to an alfalfa field facing south because bees like heat. This year, another honey producer sent Roden 2,000 bees, so Thill gave her another hive.
He also lent her one of his beekeeper’s suit, but she has her own hat and veil.
Thill is impressed with how Roden took to beekeeping and the job she’s doing as spokesperson for the association.
“She’s wonderful,” Thill said. “She’s very interested in it. She’s always willing to come out to the field and work with the bees and watch them.
“She’s a real inspiration to the Honey Bee Producers Association in the way she promotes honey and bees. She’s great with kids. I’m so happy we got a chance to sponsor her.”
Roden knew very little about honeybees until a friend suggested she enter the contest and she met the Thills.
“It’s definitely been an adventure,” Roden said. “I find all the facts fascinating.
“The beekeeper checks to make sure the queen is laying eggs. If she’s backing into a cell, she’s laying eggs. In the beginning of the season, you check more often. In the summer, you can do it once a month.”
Although she doesn’t wear gloves when she works with bees, Roden has never been stung.
“I know I have to get stung so I know what it’s like and to make sure I’m not allergic,” she said.
“Kids always tell me about when they got stung. I tell them, ‘She’s not there to sting you. She’s out there to take nectar back to the hive.’
“Bees don’t want to sting you, but it will happen if they feel threatened.”
Female honeybees, which have stingers, do all the work — caring for eggs and baby bees, building the comb, grooming the queen bee and collecting pollen and nectar — Roden said.
The sole job of the drones or male bees is to mate with the queen. In fall, the drones, who do not have stingers, are pushed out of the hive to die.
The queen bee produces 1,500 to 2,000 eggs per day and has a two to four-year lifespan, but most beekeepers get new queens every two years, said Roden, who takes special delight in espousing the work ethic of female bees.
“When she’s foraging for nectar and pollen, she visits 50 to 100 floral sources,” Roden said. “A honeybee makes 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. Bees need to tap over two million flowers to get one pound of honey.”
Worker bees live four to five weeks in summer and four to five months in winter, she said. Beekeepers provide sucrose to sustain bees over winter.
Bees try to keep the hive at about 92 degrees by shivering or fanning their wings to raise the temperature in winter and cool it in summer.
This is Roden’s second year handling bees. Last fall, Thill helped her extract 90 pounds of honey from her supers. She put the honey in bear-shaped plastic bottles and gives the honey bears to friends and people she meets on speaking engagements.
Without honeybees, our food supply would be greatly diminished, Roden said.
“One of every three bites of food come from honeybee pollination,” she said.
To illustrate that point, Roden asks children what parts of a pizza they wouldn’t have if there weren’t honeybees.
Because a cow’s main diet is alfalfa, cheese is out. Tomatoes and vegetables depend on bees for pollination, but wheat is self-pollinating, so the crust would still be there.
Only wheat, corn, fish and water would be available without honeybees, Roden said.
That’s why there is so much concern about the loss of honeybees in recent years. Since 2006, 30% of commercial honeybees have died.
“It’s called colony collapse disorder,” Roden said. “It’s almost as though they get the flu. A lot of research has been done on it and some think it is a combination of different parasites or pesticides.
“This year, it’s not as bad. In talking with beekeepers, it seems to be more of a problem for those who send their bees to Florida for orange blossoms and California for almond blossoms. It’s not as much of a problem if the hive is stationary.”
Thill, who has 160 swarms of bees, lost bees in the past and hopes it doesn’t happen again. It’s been a poor year for honey production, he said.
“It’s been cool and very dry and that has a great impact on the bees’ production and reproduction,” Thill said. “There is not enough nectar in the flowers.”
Roden now uses honey on fruit and as a sweetener. If she gets a cough, she takes a spoonful of honey to soothe her throat and kill bacteria. She also takes honey for a burst of energy.
“During the Olympics you’ll see a lot of athletes with honey bears. There is an energized honey that helps muscles recover quicker,” Roden said. “I have honey bears all over.
“Honey is the only food that doesn’t spoil. It was found in Egyptian crypts and was still good.”
Honey is used in cosmetics and lotions, and beeswax makes excellent, long-burning candles, Roden noted.
Since February, Roden has given 80 presentations, 18 cooking demonstrations and 13 radio interviews. She also writes a monthly column for the Badger Bee newsletter.
She is paid $10 per venue to espouse the benefits of honey and honeybees. She was at the Wisconsin State Fair almost every day for $10.
“I’m doing it for the experience,” said Roden, a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. She is majoring in communications and plans a career in agriculture.
Roden attended UW-La Crosse for 1-1/2 years, then transferred to UW-Washington County in West Bend for the spring semester because it was more convenient for appearances.
“I started in music education, but with the honeybee program, I’ve switched to communications,” Roden said. “I love little kids. I definitely enjoy the classroom presentations, but at the same time I enjoy talking to adults.”
Roden will crown the new Wisconsin Honey Queen in November and compete for the national title in January.
She intends to continue beekeeping and may start a honeybee project with the Knellsville 4-H Club in Saukville. She is an activity leader for the club.
Honey recipes provided by Roden can be found on page 4C of the Ozaukee Press.