ELBURN – Angela Nelson of Elburn proved to be queen bee at this year’s Illinois State Fair by taking home first place and the grand championship for her honeycomb honey.
Nelson has been a beekeeper since 2014 when she opened Honey Oaks to save the bees and provide raw honey to the local community.
“I realized how important the honeybees are to us,” Nelson said. “We wouldn’t have our fruits or vegetables that we have today without the help of their pollination.”
She maintains 26 beehives in her bee yard, 14 of which are nucleus colonies, or starter hives. The hives have 10 frames – which are the structural elements within a beehive that holds the honeycomb in the hive enclosure – in each box compared to the nucleus colonies which have only five frames. Once the nucleus colonies are built up, they can be moved to a 10-frame box.
Nelson has entered The Bee Culture Honey Show at the Illinois State Fair for the past four years. Last year, she won first place in all of Illinois for her light extracted honey. But in her first year of cutting comb for competition, she won first place and grand champion in the category of 2.5-pound chunk honey in square glass jars.
“Cutting comb is complicated, and takes a lot of time and practice,” Nelson said. “The cut lines in the comb need to be straight and clean, which is why a lot of people don’t do comb – they just do liquid honey.”
Honey in the comb is the truest, purest, most delectable form of honey. Cut comb is simply pieces of honey comb that were cut from a larger piece of comb and packaged individually for sale.
There were a total of 10 competitors, which is the most the comb cutting competition has seen; on average, there are only four or five entries.
Nelson won for her 2.5 pound chunk honey in square glass jars. For her to win, she had to have four pieces of honeycomb in a square glass jar surrounded by liquid honey, along with some additional considerations.
“The comb and the honey all had to be pristine,” Nelson said. “Points were deducted for things such as bubbles, froth, cloudiness in the honey, accuracy of cuts, and filled level of each jar – I had to submit three jars exactly the same – and the honey had to have good aroma and flavor on top of it.”
Nelson’s honey and combs received attention from people beyond the judges.
“Angie represents the best of Illinois and the 14th District,” U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Plano, said in an email.
“Her excellence in beekeeping and service to the community through mentorships and work with SciTech are impressive and inspiring. I was thrilled to celebrate her win in Springfield.”
As Hultgren mentioned, Nelson provides bees for numerous observation hives at SciTech and Kuipers Family Farm for learning throughout northern Illinois.
“This is a great teaching tool for kids and families as they visit these educational establishments,” Nelson said. “And I’m happy to be a part of it.”
When asked if she was going to compete again next year even though she won the grand championship this year, Nelson said it’s really not up to her – it’s up to the bees.
“Sometimes the bees draw the honeycomb, fill it with honey and cap it really nice,” Nelson said. “If it looks straight and clean it’s a winner, if not, you move onto the next frame. Sometimes you run out of time and it just might not happen.”
On top of being a grand champion, Nelson helps bees, and people, in the local community.
“I also want the community to know I will come out to do a honeybee swarm retrieval, free of charge,” Nelson said. “If you find a honeybee swarm in a tree, in your shed, in an electrical box – anywhere really – give me a call and I will come retrieve it free of charge and place it in a hive to help save them rather than have them killed. Most people don’t want to kill the honey bees.”
Honey Oaks is in Elburn, but it sells its raw honey at Paisano’s Pizza and Grill in Elburn; Alice’s Place in Elburn; Peg’s On Main in Maple Park; Family Farm Meats in Hinckley; and Sweet Earth in Sycamore.
To learn more about Honey Oaks you can find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/honeyoakshoney.