CLERMONT | Gabrielle "Belle" Hemesath expects 2014 to be especially sweet -- even if she's busy as a bee.
The senior will graduate from North Fayette Valley High School in May and will also reign as Iowa Honey Queen.
As queen bee for the Iowa Honey Producers Association, Hemesath will serve as an advocate for beekeeping and for the liquid gold produced.
Hemesath will share duties with Iowa Honey Princess Jeralyn Westercamp of Sioux City, giving presentations around the state and at the Iowa State Fair.
The 17-year-old has a lot of experience to draw on as she describes the importance of bee pollination to agriculture. Hemesath has worked at Fassbinder Apiary near Elgin for five years.
In the beginning, Belle started cleaning buckets and won't soon forget the day washed 1,500. She also remembers spending eight hours cleaning two tanks that held ooey, gooey honey.
Over the years, Belle has learned to medicate bees, collect honey, fill bottles and complete labels. The work led to a personal interest in bees, and she began doing research for papers for school. She studied pesticides that can harm honey bees, and she read about colony collapse disorder.
According to Hemesath, the greatest foe is the varroa mite, which in numbers, can kill honeybees. To battle the problem, many beekeepers use strips treated with an organic substance the bees walk across and then spread to areas where they live to kill the mites. In a way, it's like giving the insects a tool to fight what can become their nemesis.
Because of her daughter's burgeoning interest, Belle's mother, Mary, gave her "The Beekeeper's Bible." The book has everything from a history of bees to recipes for using honey.
Hemesath also has "Beekeeping for Dummies," which offered background information for some of her papers and provided assistance when her employer offered two boxes of frames and bees in exchange for the first year's honey.
With her experience at the apiary, Belle says she can often identify specific kinds of honey.
"I taste all the honeys that come through, and I can tell when the bees have been pollinating purple coneflower because it's my favorite," she said.
Hemesath favorite breakfast or snack is a slice of wheat toast slathered with peanut butter and honey and topped with chocolate chips.
Though Hemesath is undecided about a college major, she plans to attend Iowa State University. She'll consider pursuing research related to honeybees.
"I'm really in love with the bees ... My hives are special to me. I like working with honeybees and keeping them alive."
To arrange for Hemesath to give a program as Iowa's Honey Queen, call Connie Bronnenberg at (515) 480-6076 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.