Sweet as honey
Teen beekeeper shares passion with others
Editor’s note: This feature first ran in a special publication called Hometown Pride, published June 30, featuring people and organizations from Fort Dodge and the surrounding area who are giving back to their communities.
Britta McCollum is a typical 16-year-old with a not-so-typical hobby.
In school, the Fort Dodge Senior High sophomore is active in the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance chapter, sings in choir, performs in speech and plays the baritone saxophone in jazz band. After school, McCollum dons a jacket with a hood and protective veil to check on the nine beehives she keeps in her backyard.
McCollum kind of fell into beekeeping last year when her mother’s friend mentioned something about a scholarship from the Iowa Honey Producers Association to help the teen get her start at keeping honeybees.
“It covers the classes, hives, equipment, bees,” McCollum explained about the scholarship. “All they ask in return is to share the information you learned at the annual meeting.”
McCollum’s new backyard hobby hasn’t been without its bumps in the road, however.
“Sometime in late June last year, we got a letter from the city saying that a neighbor had complained about the hives,” she said.
Already passionate about her bees, McCollum didn’t want to have to rehome her hives, so she and her mom decided to start a petition to present to the Fort Dodge City Council. McCollum and her sister walked around their neighborhood with a paper petition for neighbors to sign, while an online petition received signatures from all over and from as far away as Texas.
In the end, McCollum said, the family didn’t have to go up against the city council — Mayor Matt Bemrich called and said they could keep their hives.
“It felt pretty great,” McCollum said.
As part of her scholarship from Iowa Honey Producers, McCollum works to educate her community on the benefits of honeybees and the process of beekeeping. In early march, she gave a presentation at The Messenger’s Home, Garden and Lifestyle Show at Iowa Central’s East Campus.
The high schooler also teaches about bees and beekeeping on her Instagram page, https://www.instagram.com/8thavenuehoney/.
Beekeeping isn’t all about collecting and enjoying the sweet honey the bees spend all year producing. It’s also managing and maintaining the hives’ health and safety.
“Say you have a beehive and they get mites, you have to make sure they get proper medicine, and what we do is we put a dab of this medicine and the bees carry it into the hives and it kills the mites and that takes care of that problem,” McCollum explained.
If the bees are preparing to “swarm,” or split their colony, McCollum needs to either split the hives herself or cut out the swarm cells to prevent all the bees from abandoning the hive.
“The bees know what they’re doing in general, but you still want to help manage the hives,” she said.
When McCollum does harvest honey from the hives, she keeps a few liters for her family, and sells the rest on her Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/8thavenuehoney/.
Beekeeping has become more than just a hobby for McCollum — it’s an opportunity to bond with her loved ones.
“All my family, they’re all interested in beekeeping, and me and my mom, it’s just something we do together as a mom-daughter thing,” she said. “My brother used to be terrified of bees and now he’s more comfortable.”