Archive for Wednesday, August 7, 2002

Family is abuzz about upcoming fair

Keeping bees a longstanding tradition

August 7, 2002

It seems that honey is in the blood of the Keith and Melissa Ostermeyer family of rural Tonganoxie.

Involved in 4-H bee science for some time, Keith and Melissa and their children, Aimee and Jacob, have done their share of honey collecting.

Even Jacob, who'll be entering the fourth grade at Tonganoxie, has had experience in collecting honey and getting stung.

"It kind of hurts," Jacob said. "It depends how big the bee is."

Melissa, though, quickly corrected Jacob on his bee assessment, saying the size of the bee had no bearing on the severity of pain.

"After so many times you are stung, your body builds an immunity," Melissa said.

Beekeeping has been a family tradition for Melissa. Her parents, Clifford and Berdine Noel, had a slew of beehives for some time. But in 1996, Clifford died from cancer.

The Ostermeyers then inherited 120 beehives from Melissa's father and were definitely focused on beekeeping.

But, after about two years into the honey collecting, a mite infestation crippled much of the nation's bee population.

Now, the family still collects honey, but the hives are kept at Rich Henry's farm.

Bee science doesn't have the same year-round maintenance as, say, sheep showmanship, which the family also is very involved in. Still, the family is involved with bee science duties.

For the Ostermeyers, the beekeeping cycle begins in the spring. Melissa said they medicate the bees after the winter, usually in April, and search for the queen in the man-made hive, which resembles a three-drawer nightstand.

The bottom two drawers are the hive bodies, where the bees actually live. The queen lays her eggs in the lower segment, while food is also stored in both compartments.

In the summer, honey is collected from the hive's top level, or the super, where honey is surplus for the bees.

To collect honey, beekeepers use a smoker, which looks like a small watering can for flowers with a small leather accordion attached to its back.

The metal equipment resembles a watering can for flowers, while the accordion attachment is like a bellow for a fireplace.

To evacuate the hive, smoke is pushed into the hive bodies. Melissa said bees panic much like humans would if their homes were on fire. The bees are under the false impression that they need to evacuate, and they try to salvage honey by gorging themselves with it, which makes them less likely to sting.

In the fall, honeycombs are taken out of the super compartment to be cleaned.

Bees don't need that area in the winter, a season that can sometimes kill off many in the colony.

The cold hinders the honey producers, as bees can't fly if the temperature is below 45 degrees, Melissa said.

When August rolls around each year, Melissa and Jacob prepare honey for the Leavenworth County Fair.

The brother and sister must work on the tedious task of getting the honey ready for judging.

Categories for honey are moisture, cleanliness, flavor, aroma and freedom from crystals.

Melissa said having crystals isn't necessarily bad, but for judging, it's a category.

Preparation can be time consuming before the fair in the beekeeping category, but it takes less time throughout the year than another project.

Sheep showmanship has become a major undertaking for the Ostermeyers.

Keith has been involved in raising market and breeding sheep since his youth as a member of 4-H and Future Farmers of America in Missouri.

Aimee and Jacob have also gotten involved in raising sheep.

And it's been especially successful for Aimee, and it's taken her to numerous destinations throughout the country.

Last year, she was a National Tunis Youth Representative. Tunis is a breed of sheep that features a red color in the face area, and Aimee is just one of five people in the state who shows them.

To become a representative she had to write an essay on how she would promote the breed. Aimee traveled, without having to raise money for the excursions, to Massachusetts, New York, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and parts of Kansas as a representative. Trips were also in order to California and Oregon, but those were scheduled shortly after Sept. 11, and Aimee cancelled.

Aimee, who will be an eighth-grader at Tonganoxie Junior High School this fall, said getting to meet many different people was a highlight of the trips, although a restaurant in Springfield, Mass., topped her chart.

"The seafood had to be the best thing," Aimee said.

Aimee enjoyed lobster and three side dishes for only $10.

This summer, Aimee's not traveling as a representative. Instead, she and her family are getting the animals groomed for various shows.

And, of course, the Leavenworth County Fair.

The Ostermeyers will spend between five and six hours on fair-related work, if not more, in the days leading up to shows.

But, it's just part of the preparation for the family, which is evident in the white wool that's sheered off the sheep and lies on the family's lawn.

"Only at our house would it snow in July," Melissa said.

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