Sussex 4-H’er places third in national bee essay, wins $250

Mikayla Ockels of Milton tends to her family's honeybee hive. Photo by Rich Ockels

For Mikayla Ockels of Milton, 2011 has been the Year of the Bee.  In January, Ockels won First Place in the Sussex County 4-H Public Speaking Contest and in May, Ockels was notified that she received Third Place in a national essay contest sponsored by the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, Inc., based in Georgia. The letter was accompanied by a prize of $250.

When her mother Cindy saw the beekeeping essay contest advertised in the 4-H newsletter, she suggested Mikayla make a submission. Fresh from her public speaking win, Ockels was in bee-mode and eager to do more research.  Essayists were asked to investigate the local/regional honey of the United States and see how they differ in taste and color. In all, 23 essays were submitted.

“Whoa!  I won. That was really exciting!” Ockels says of her reaction to opening the envelope that was waiting for her after school.  “It is in the bank right now and I am saving up to buy a second horse.”

Ockels is an eighth grader at Sussex Academy of the Arts & Sciences and an 8-year member of the Harbor Lights 4-H club. Her interest in honey bees began in 2010 when her father Rich decided to try beekeeping as a hobby. Producing honey and wax for candles is  part of the family’s goal to be self-sustaining and produce different types of food on their farm. The first hive, consisting of one nursery and two supers, produced 36 pounds of honey in its first year. The value of the honey harvested paid for the initial investment.

Their 8-acre homestead sits on a larger family farm where wildflowers and native plants bloom uninterrupted, and assisted by some seeded red clover, produce the nectar that the bees turn into honey. Ockels’ prize-winning 1,000 word essay, U.S. Honey: A Taste for Every Preference, researched and compared how the different regional flowers affect the taste and color of honey.

“Our honey isn’t a specific type – it is light sweet and has a mild favor. We use it in a lot of our recipes like muffins and pancakes,” Ockels says. It is often used as a replacement for sugar whenever possible, she says.

“Our honey comes from a variety of nectar sources. One thing we did was stop mowing our lawn for a period of time so the bees could get the nectar,” she says.  “The flavor changes throughout the year!”

Mikayla is learning at her father’s side and her interest in beekeeping expands as the family invests in a second hive. The bees have the entire Ockels family buzzing too. Her younger brother Ben and mom Cindy are all in the bees’ business!

The honeybees were obtained via the Internet. They received a queen and 15,000 bees. “It was cool! They come in a little box with a wire screen. The post office called us and we went and picked them up.” The bees are attention-getters. Some humorous conversations have occurred at the post office, Ockels says.

“It’s a lot of fun to see the process used for harvesting honey and seeing a huge pot of honey on the kitchen counter,” Ockels says. “We have given honey as gifts too.”

Despite being stung a few times, Ockels is still buzzing with enthusiasm. “It was scary,” she says of the first time a bee sneaked inside her protective gear. “Now it’s not a huge deal. Getting stung once a month is good for you,” she adds, nonplussed.

Fortunately, Ockels is not allergic to bee stings.  In fact, she credits the family honey in helping her with her own seasonal allergies. “I just had a spoonful this morning for my allergies and I take some whenever my allergies are acting up!”

Mikayla has begun practicing to reprise her county winning 4-H speech, The Buzz About Bees, at the Delaware State Fair on Friday, July 22 at 6 p.m. where she will compete on stage at the 4-H Centre with New Castle and Kent County 4-H’ers for the state public speaking honor in her age group, 10-12. Her speech is packed with fascinating tips and good advice:

“Bees are an amazingly important and beneficial insect for our environment.  The bee population world-wide is declining.  More people need to get interested in bees and start their own colonies so this important insect can flourish!  If having a bee colony isn’t an option, there are other ways to help.”

“By planting flowers and shrubs that bees like, and not using insecticides in the gardens.Without bees, we wouldn’t have many types of plants and fruit that we enjoy.  Bees have affected our lives in many ways, giving us delicious honey, pollinating the plants, and definitely making life a whole lot sweeter!”

Article by Michele Walfred
Photo by Rich Ockels

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