The Bee Bomb

by Sister Kathy Curtis

Jacob Vincent and Joni Nelson with KSU’s wooden bee hive sterilizer at their Small Farmer Conference at the Wilkinson/Stumbo Convention Center at Jenny Wiley State Park


Do you know how you have your weekend all planned out and then something happens and the next thing you know you are doing a new thing? Well that happens to me a lot, especially once farmers’ market season opens. My intention for this past Saturday was to start my day in downtown Prestonsburg for the opening day of the Floyd County Farmers’ Market. After I planned to scoot down Highway 23 to the Pea & Salat event at the Pikeville Farmers’ Market at their new location right next to the Pikeville High School.

I fine tuned those plans while driving home from Harlan County’s Local Food, Local Places gathering last Friday afternoon. It had been a long and rainy couple of days and I was ready to spend a quiet evening resting up for a day of market visits. And then I turned on to Bucks Branch (the road the Monastery is on) and about a half mile in, water covered the road.

Well, those of you who know me know that I have a well deserved respect for high water of any kind so I decided to go around. Here in eastern Kentucky that means driving an extra twenty miles or so—piece of cake.

On my way around I remembered that Kentucky State University’s College of Agriculture was having their Small Farmer Conference at the Wilkinson/Stumbo Convention Center at Jenny Wiley State Park; And I needed to meet up with one of their staffers, Kevin, to get some paperwork for one of our staffers, Jann. “Might as well go now” I said to myself. The next thing I knew, I was spending Saturday learning about bees.

Saturday morning was bright but soggy due to the buckets of rain that had fallen the previous evening. I was pleased that I had decided to spend the day in the cool, air-conditioned conference center instead of a humid parking lot.

Margaret Reid from Reid’s Apiary in Ohio told us all about the importance of queen bees, I also sat in on part of a session on urban agriculture before I had to leave for a while to check on a friend’s farm that had been flooded by all those buckets of rain. I returned in time for a famous Kentucky State Lodge buffet complete with banana pudding. During lunch I got to watch my friend Wayne make a little girl’s day by gifting her with a bee-keepers jacket complete with hat and netting. I wish you could have seen the smile on her face. It was priceless. The event was pretty enjoyable.

The best part of the event for me came right after lunch in the parking lot behind the convention center where Joni Nelson and Jacob Vincent fired up KSU’s wooden bee hive sterilizer. It was awesome!

The sterilizer looks like a giant pressure canner laid on its side. Jacob loaded the wooden hive parts into the back of the canister and then bolted it shut using a giant ratchet. He needed 225 pounds of pressure on each bolt to seal the canister. Once the lid was secure, he lit the propane gas burners and started heating the water to make steam. The pressure got to around 30psi and the temperature was raised to 250 degrees. It was held there for about thirty minutes, and then released through a vent at the top of the canister. “It used to vent out the bottom”, Joni told me, “but that gets pretty hot when you let it loose. Plus, it leaves a pretty good sized hole where it vents. I’d really like a steam whistle on the vent pipe. That would be cool.” The high temperature and sustained pressure cleans wax and debris off the hive pieces, killing mites, insects and bacteria and the wax collects in the bottom. “We can test the wax to see what pathogens were on the hives. That’s all part of the research the university is doing on bees. It is very helpful when the beekeeper tells us what they believe the problem is so we know what to look for” says Joni.

The Wooden Hive Sterilizer was purchased with Tobacco Settlement money and can be brought to locations all over the Commonwealth. “All we need is a space that is about 100 feet from a building, has a clearing of 30 to 50 feet around it with water and 110 volt electric hook-ups. Currently, there is no fee for the service but we expect to add a small charge to the service to help make it sustainable” says Joni. She believes the most effective arrangement would be if groups of beekeepers in a region got together and scheduled the sterilizer to come to their clubs. Then the unit could go from one group to the next. “Depending on hive sizes, the sterilizer can hold about 20 hives. Wooden hives only though, the plastic ones warp in the heat” says Joni.

In addition to the Wooden Hive Sterilizer mobile unit, Kentucky State University also has a Fruit and Vegetable Mobile Processing Unit. The Mobile Processing Unit is a certified mobile commercial kitchen which can be brought to locations throughout the Commonwealth and used by farmers to process their fresh fruit and vegetables into value-added products (such as jams, jellies, pickles, salsa, and frozen bagged fruits and vegetables).

For more information on these units and to learn about other opportunities KSU offers contact Joni Nelson, Rural Development Extension Associate at joni.nelson@kysu.edu.


Breaking Beans: Appalachian Food Story Project is an initiative of Community Farm Alliance to tell the story of how local food and farming in Eastern Kentucky can contribute to a bright future in the mountains. Read the stories at cfaky.org/blog