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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 21, 2018

Westercamp reigns as Iowa Honey Queen

By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Mar 23, 2018
Photo by: PHOTO SUBMITTED Farmington resident Joy Westercamp, middle, was named the 2018 Iowa Honey Queen at the Iowa Honey Producers’ annual meeting in November. She is seen here alongside 2017 Iowa Honey Queen Carly Vannoy, second from left, 2017 American Honey Queen Maia Jaycox, fourth from left, among other royals.

State royalty resides in Van Buren County.

The royal is 18-year-old Farmington resident Joy Westercamp, the 2018 Iowa Honey Queen. She earned the honor at the Iowa Honey Producers’ annual meeting in November. It means she will be the face of the Iowa Honey Producers Association and of the state’s beekeeping industry.

It’s not hard to see why the association tabbed Westercamp as its queen. Her knowledge of honey bees is encyclopedic. It goes back seven years to the time she wanted to learn more about pollinators. Bees play an essential role in helping crops pollinate. The American Beekeeping Federation said on its website that blueberries and cherries are 90 percent dependent on bees for pollination, and almonds depend entirely on the buzzing insects.

Westercamp didn’t need the bees for a whole field, just her garden. She and her father took a class on beekeeping taught by Verne Ramsey at the Van Buren County ISU Extension Office.

“Verne was the one who really fostered my interest in bees,” Westercamp said. “He encouraged me to apply to be a mentor kid with the Southeast Iowa Beekeepers.”

The same year she took her first class, Westercamp received a small, nucleus colony and equipment to get started. A nucleus colony has a queen and a few thousand bees. She grew the colony, and acquired two more that her parents, Steven and Christine, bought for her.


Honey War

Now she manages 50 full-size colonies, and was up to 57 at the height of last summer. She sells the honey the bees produce, and dubbed her business the Honey War Bee Company. She chose that name as an homage to her location along the Iowa-Missouri border, the site of a standoff between the two states in 1839 called the Honey War. At that time, the state of Missouri considered the bottom tier of counties in the territory of Iowa as rightfully part of Missouri.

“A Missouri tax collector tried to tax people who lived there, but Iowans didn’t want to pay their taxes to Missouri, and they ran him off,” Westercamp said. “He cut down three honey bee trees in what is now Lacey Keosauqua State Park as payment for the taxes.”

Militias from the two sides were called out, but no shots were fired. The Supreme Court ultimately decided the case in Iowa’s favor.



Westercamp’s hives produced 1,500 pounds of extracted honey last year. Each colony can have 50,000-80,000 bees, and produce 50 pounds of surplus honey per year.

Beekeepers must be mindful that they leave enough honey for the bees to eat over winter. Westercamp said that means leaving 80-100 pounds. Once the bees have produced that much, beekeepers can begin taking the extra honey for human consumption.


What if too much is taken?

If a beekeeper realizes they took too much honey and the colony doesn’t have enough to survive the winter, they can give them other food sources. Westercamp said table sugar mixed with water provides some of the same nutrition as nectar. Bees store the sugar water in honeycomb, draw out the moisture and put a wax cap on it. Then it’s ready to be stored over winter.

Feeding the colony over the winter is just one problem. Sometimes there’s nothing a beekeeper can do to save their colonies because it’s too cold. Westercamp said this past winter was among her worst for colony loss as 40 percent did not make it to spring.


Bee stings

Raising bees means getting stung … a lot. Luckily, Westercamp is not allergic to bee stings. In fact, she’s built up a resistance to them over time.

“Getting stung is part of the job description,” she said. “Every time I go out to the yard, I’m going to be stung 10 times.”

One day during her fourth year of beekeeping, Westercamp was near the beehives, working fast to accomplish all her tasks before nightfall. She estimated she was stung 40-60 times. That much venom was too much for her body to handle. Her skin swelled and turned red.

“I was sore for quite a while after that,” she recalled.

She wears a beekeeper’s suit, but that mostly protects her face. Gloves protect her hands, but there’s little she can do to protect the rest of her body. Bees can still pierce the suit in other places.


Inside the hive

Bees are fascinating creatures in how they all work in the interest of the hive. Westercamp explained that there are three types of bees: queens, workers and drones. The queen is responsible for laying the eggs, 1,500-2,000 per day.

“She works around the clock,” Westercamp chuckled.

Queens represent a tiny fraction of total bees, and are only born in special circumstances, such as when the hive is doing well and seeks expansion (swarm), when the old queen’s egg production is falling and the workers want to replace her, or when the queen dies suddenly and a new queen must be raised immediately. Westercamp said workers may prepare five to 10 queen cells, and once the first queen emerges from her cell, she finds the other queen cells and kills them before they can hatch.

Worker bees constitute 90 percent of the hive. They do almost all other jobs apart from laying eggs. They gather pollen and nectar, build honeycomb, guard the hive entrance and care for the queen by feeding her larvae, the recently hatched eggs.

Drones represent the other 10 percent or so of bees. Drones come from unfertilized eggs, unlike workers, and have only one job: mate with the queen. (If you’re stung by a bee, don’t blame the drones! They don’t have stingers.)

Drones are bigger and burlier than workers, and their wings are larger, too. Queens are distinguished by their elongated abdomens.


Sharing knowledge

Westercamp has acquired so much knowledge of bees through copious amounts of reading. She’s attended classes and seminars to learn from the area’s beekeeping experts.

“I like to test out different things in my own colonies,” she said. “Seeing the life cycle of the bee makes me want to major in biology.”

Westercamp has been accepted at Iowa State University and the University of Richmond, but she’s still waiting to hear back from others. While she waits, she has made the most of her time in southeast Iowa, teaching classes on beekeeping at the Van Buren County ISU Extension Office. Her next class will be March 31 at the Roberts Memorial Center in Keosauqua. To register for the class, contact the office at 319-293-3039.

To learn more about Westercamp’s journey as Iowa Honey Queen or to learn about her beekeeping operation, visit honeywarbee.com, or the Iowa Honey Queen Program on Facebook.


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