Beekeeper Interview

Smoking the bees
Opening the hive
Checking the hive

Karen Wassmer, a native Floridian, followed her husband to Fort Ord, California, where he was stationed in the Army. It was there that Karen read about the dying art of beekeeping that began her fascination about becoming a beekeeper. Finding herself back in Jacksonville to care for her sick mother, the two of them were sitting under a holly tree with thousands of honey bees flying above their heads. Her fascination with beekeeping was reborn. She had reservations about beekeeping because of a childhood allergy to bee stings. Later, she was diagnosed with Horner’s Syndrome which affects the eye, causes lesions, and is sometimes associated with brain cancer when developed late in life. Doctors gave her six months to live and, believing she had nothing to lose, got her first beehive in May 2005. At that time, she built the hives herself but later decided it was cheaper to buy ready-made beehives except for the hive covers and screen bottom boards.

It seems that God had other plans for Karen. She did not succumb to Horner’s Syndrome and gives God the glory for the healing. Apparently, regular bee stings caused the Horner’s to go into remission. The honeybees haven’t been so lucky because they are periodically killed by spraying. Karen believes that systemic pesticides are the primary cause of Colony Collapse Disorder.

Honeybees are also affected by diseases passed onto them by varroa mites. Bees are unable to remove varroa mites from their backside. In her first couple of years of beekeeping, her bees came under attack by these mites and she followed the advice of other beekeepers who used the chemical Sucrocide to control the varroa mite population. The use of chemicals, however, went against her beliefs. With assistance from God, she invented an organic way to control the mites by attaching a small brush at the entrance to the hives. It helps remove some of the varroa mites from the bee’s backsides and reduces the problem to a manageable level.

Karen also taught herself to raise one very special bee, the Queen. She did so by reading books, listening to beekeepers of long standing and persevering despite early failures.

I had the special privilege of listening to her speak at The Garden Club of Jacksonville where I learned a few quirky facts I’d like to share with you:

  • There are about 11 strains of European honeybees in the U.S.
  • Honeybees have two stomachs – one for nectar to take back to the hive and one for its own sustenance
  • Pollen is pure protein
  • The hive remains at 90 degrees all the time

A question from the audience produced startling news for me. I don’t remember the question but the answer is engraved in my mind. I had assumed that honeybees pollinated all of the veggies in my garden. Not so! Karen said it takes a carpenter bee to pollinate my tomato and pepper plants and a squash bee for my squash plants. I found an easy-to-read list of crop plants and the bees that pollinate them at Wikipedia.

Karen offers mentoring classes and workshops for new beekeepers, lectures to schools and organizations, educational tours of her farm and bees, bee removal, as well as the sale of queen bees, the varroa mite brush, and fresh organic produce from her farm. You can contact her at

2 thoughts on “Beekeeper Interview”

  1. What a great story! Amazing that the bee stings helped with her syndrome, and now she helps keep them alive, too. I hope she has patented that little brush. I know a lot of beekeepers would be interested in that. For a little more bee information, has a post today about another possible cause of Colony Collapse Disorder.

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