KOKOMO, Ind. – You could call Jocelyn Azbell the queen bee of family nurse practitioner students.
In addition to being a graduate student at Indiana University Kokomo, and an emergency room nurse at Logansport Memorial Hospital, Azbell has a hobby that has her friends and family abuzz — she is a backyard beekeeper.
“It’s a rewarding hobby, that ends with liquid gold at the end of the season,” the Peru resident said. It could grow into a small business at some point, when she’s not busy working and going to school.
A co-worker put the bug in her ear about raising bees, and, armed with a copy of Beekeeping for Dummies and YouTube videos, she set up two hives in a wooded area behind her family’s home in Amboy, and purchased three pounds of bees.
That’s about 10,000 bees in frames, loaded into a box, which she drove with from Indianapolis to place in her hives.
“I was mainly worried about killing my queen, because you could hear it rattling in the back seat,”said Azbell, B.S.N. ‘14.
By the end of her first season, she estimates there are 40,000 bees calling her two hives home. She hopes to divide her hives to have four instead of two next year.
After that, there wasn’t much to do but wait until fall to harvest her honey.
“I call myself a lazy beekeeper,” she said. “I did it all natural. I didn’t add any chemicals or try to prevent any mice or mites from getting into the hive. All I did was peek into the hives from time to time to see if they needed more room, and then I added a super,” or an additional box with frames for honey storage.
She didn’t wear protective gear at first, because the bees didn’t have honey to guard. As they began filling frames, they became feistier, so she bought a zip up beekeeping suit to minimize stings.
Even with precautions, she’s been stung a few times. The first time, her arm started to swell, so when she went to work in the ER, she received a steroid shot.
The hives are separated from her family’s home by a soybean field, and though she had been concerned they would be attracted to the backyard pool, they didn’t see many bees during the summer. With fields surrounding the hives, and an apple orchard within five miles, they had plenty of places to forage for pollen and nectar — and to pollinate plants in the process.
Azbell asked their neighbor, the farmer who owns the field behind the house, for permission to place her hives on his property, and plans to thank him with a jar of honey. When other farming friends learned of her new hobby, they swarmed her with offers to locate hives on their land too — so she has plenty of room to expand.
“It’s cool how supportive people have been,” she said, adding that she’s happy to play a part in protecting bees, which have been threatened by climate change, loss of habitat, and use of pesticides.
Bees play an important role as pollinators, with one honeybee able to visit between 50 and 1,000 flowers in one trip — which can be up to 10 miles.
The collected pollen and nectar becomes honey, delicious, sticky food for both bees and people.
Azbell collected about five gallons of honey in her first harvest in October. She could have collected more, but wanted to be sure to leave more than the 60 pounds each hive needs to survive the winter.
It was a time-consuming process, she said, starting with zipping into her protective suit. She removed the supers, heavy with honey and comb, loaded the frames onto her nephew’s wagon, and pulled it from the hives across a field to her family’s garage.
Many of the bees followed her back to the house, apparently thinking it was literally not her beeswax, so she left the load outside for a while, to allow the bees to return to their hives. She placed the frames in an extractor, which spins the frames to remove honey without destroying the comb. After that, she clarified and strained it, then stored it in quart jars and 2 ounce bear-shaped containers.
Azbell gave most of the honey to friends and family, and enjoys eating it herself on homemade biscuits.
“Now that it’s my honey, I want to eat it all the time,” she said. “That’s what everyone’s getting for Christmas this year.”
Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.