ELKHORN — Her passion for gardening and bees since she was a young girl has led to a lifelong passion for Kristine Karlson.
For the last 12 years, Karlson has been a beekeeper in southeast Wisconsin.
“I’ve always loved gardening, flowers and sunshine. I have loved watching the bees as they were always gentle on my hands when I was a little girl,” Karlson said. “I didn’t feel any fear, so I knew I wanted to know a lot more about them.”
Karlson was one of many presenters at the Walworth County Fair from Aug. 28 to Sept. 2 at the county fairgrounds in Elkhorn.
Many people saw her presentation and found it helpful, including Bill Johnson, who wants to start beekeeping back home in Illinois.
Johnson said the county fair program was instructive.
“We saw that this was here and we wanted to take advantage of it,” he said. “It was informative knowing that next year I can get hold of her and get involved in it.”
For someone who wants to get involved in beekeeping, Karlson recommends joining a club or finding a mentor. She is currently a member of the Walworth County Beekeepers Club, and has been a member regularly for the past eight years.
After starting out working with other beekeepers, she became a beekeeper herself. She encourages other newcomers to read up on the hobby or take some classes before deciding whether to take the plunge and order the necessary equipment.
“You want to find some experienced people to help you when you start beekeeping,” she said.
She suggests that new beekeepers try to find secondhand equipment. The start-up costs could reach $800 to $1,000, but some could start lighter on just $500 in supplies.
For Karlson, the cost and work are worthwhile each spring when she sees her bees flying.
The downside, she said, is that bee populations nationally are struggling, which is one reason why beekeeping has become a popular hobby.
She urges newcomers to consider varied viewpoints in searching for a beekeeping method that works best.
“They need some help,” she said of bees. “And we need some better practices of how we treat our environment and how we manage our bees.”
Last year’s winter freeze in Wisconsin, with temperatures way below zero, did not help.
Some beekeepers, she said, actually lose their bees during winter.
“They get discouraged, but I would say to them to try it again and learn some more techniques,” she said. “Change a little bit of what you had, and learn better ways of practice. And keep loving the bees and helping them.”
In terms of producing honey, Karlson usually takes honey twice during the year — in spring and summer.
“The hives make it based on the seasons of the flowers, and I usually take honey twice,” she said. “I’m taking the spring honey and the summer honey. I do not take the fall honey because I want my bees to have enough honey over winter.”