Bailey Penner of Peabody was ecstatic when he found out he won a $700 scholarship from the Kansas Honey Bee Producers Association earlier this spring. The 13-year-old middle school student did not expect it to be so hard, however, to get his own bee colony going on his family farm just north of Peabody.
Penner used his scholarship money to order a swarm of bees from California, but they died en route to Kansas because of truck driver error. The second order Penner placed also met with disaster when the truck hauling his group, along with 16 million other bees, was detained in a blizzard in Wyoming and the bees arrived dead.
“There is really only about two weeks out of the year that is safe order and ship bees,” Penner said. “I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get my hive started this year.”
Penner’s luck changed, however, and last week a healthy hive of bees arrived at his home.
“Usually you have to wait about three days before you let the queen bee out of her separate box and into the hive,” Penner said. “But we had to do it early because she might have frozen on her own without the worker bees’ warmth.”
Penner said the worker bees are able to connect their legs and form a ladder around the queen bee when cold weather strikes.
“We use hive reducers to crowd them into a smaller space and they can make it 98 degrees in there,” he said. “The bees can’t go outside if it is 50 degrees or colder, so they stay in and keep the queen warm.”
Even though this is Penner’s first try at raising bees, he said he has been interested in the farm enterprise for years.
“My dad has always been interested in bees, and two years ago I began working with Debbie McSweeney and learning all I could,” he said. “I saw this video about how to raise bees and what you could do with them, and I have been hooked ever since.”
McSweeney encouraged Penner to apply for the state bee scholarship and he wrote an essay outlining his interests.
“I’ve been to two Kansas state bee meetings so far,” he said. “They are really interesting and I want to get to as many as I can before one of the leader’s retires. They have so much knowledge to share and I want to hear it all.”
Penner’s mom, Kelly said the family was rearranging vacation time so they could attend bee meetings with Bailey.
“The meetings are at a different place every time,” Penner said. “We’ve gone to Park City for one and to Wichita for another.”
Penner’s parents are supportive of his interest in bees. His dad even ordered a hive of his own, but they were on the unfortunate load that died in Wyoming. Two weeks ago however, they were able to rescue a wild swarm of bees from the Cory Foth residence in Peabody, so activity around his hive is also buzzing with life.
“The bees protect their own hives,” Bailey Penner said. “So we don’t worry about them mixing too much. They are very loyal to their own queen.”
Though just beginning his bee farming career, Penner talks with one of experience about worker bees, queens, drones, scouts, and guard bees.
“The drones are very large compared to the workers,” he said. “They have large, almost horsefly-like eyes, and they die after mating with the queen when she takes her maiden voyage out of the hive.”
Penner said he looked forward to checking his hive next week and planned to use a free-day pass he earned with high-test scores from school.
“We are going to open up the box and see if the queen has started laying her brood,” he said.
Penner said it would be a year before he could plan to harvest any honey from his bees, but he plans to sell extra at his mom’s hair salon shop in Peabody.
“Honey is very healthy for humans,” he said. “It is supposed help with allergies and has a lot of natural vitamins.”
Penner said he fed his bees sugar-water during the cold weather and hive adjustment period, but they would soon be making their own food from flower pollen.
“Bees can travel up to five miles to get food, so they can cover all the flowers in Peabody,” he said. “They also really like dandelions, so I hope people don’t kill them off too much.”
Penner said he had been stung once or twice but it did not hurt much.
“They can be really tame when they are not alarmed or protecting the hive,” he said. “They are getting used to me.”