Stromme Honey teaches 4-H members how to make beeswax candles
Nick Stromme recently gave a beeswax candle and beehive demonstration a local 4-H meeting. Stromme increased his family's beehives from 500 to 3,500 growing the commercial honey business while he and his wife Lisa also utilize the by-products of wax and bee pollen for new products they sell locally.
Nick Stromme attended his first ever 4-H meeting on Sept. 11, 2022 — at the age of 45.
Stromme, of rural Hatton, North Dakota, attended our first club meeting of the new 4-H year, and the experience changed his preconceived idea that 4-H was for kids who wanted to or were raising livestock.
Stromme works as a beekeeper in his hometown of Kloten, where his dad started beekeeping in 1979 and his parents raised their family of four starting in the mid-1970s. Amid a hectic business and family life, Nick took time to educate, demonstrate and share his passion for beekeeping, honey and taught our 4-H members ages 8 to 16 to make beeswax candles. The Cloverbuds, ages 5 to 7, painted bee boxes.
I followed up with Nick with additional questions about his family business, chosen profession and his observations of the 4-H meeting.
“I think keeping kids involved in activities besides sports gives them more responsibility and confidence. And after attending the meeting, my own first 4-H experience, it is much more than raising animals. The meeting was run very well with voting to elect officials for the group and that was fun to see. These kids are learning to participate in a group setting with respect and having fun at the same time,” Stromme said.
“I grew up with beekeeping on mostly 400-500 beehives. My brother, Zach, and I would help with the bees growing up. Helping harvest honey and getting hives ready for the winter are some of the main tasks I remember. Until the late 1990s, my father would winter the hives in North Dakota which takes a lot of preparation including wrapping the hives with insulation and feeding them so they do not starve until the spring thaw.”
After graduating in 1999 from Mayville State University with a business administration degree, Nick worked for three years in St. Paul, Minnesota, returning when his dad had health issues in 2002 to take over the bee business.
“Since then I have taken the initial 500 hives and increased to 3,500 hives. We now take the hives to California for almond pollination and then to Texas to prepare them for the summer in North Dakota. The bees are typically in North Dakota from May until November."
While the agribusiness is rooted in honey, Nick and his wife Lisa utilize by-products from the beehives for additional value add to their business.
“We have bee pollen, wax products, and even sell a few beehives to people looking for a few backyard beehives. Pollen is collected in a special trap that knocks the pollen pellets off of the bees’ legs into a drawer. It is used for a dietary supplement, giving energy and is loaded with amino acids, vitamins, and lipids to mention a few of many health benefits. Wax products include candles, decorations, and body butter.
“The wax comes from the honeycomb we cut while harvesting the honey. It is cleaned and then melted into liquid which we pour into molds for candles or mixed with essential oils and other natural ingredients for the body butter or balms.”
Lisa is the main wax worker, and their three young daughters love to "help" and enjoy the process, says Stromme.
“We sell the goods at a few local stores and have taken them to the (North Dakota) State Fair in Minot this year which was quite the experience. Lisa is great at selling wax products and worked like crazy to get ready for the State Fair and other big shows around the state. Being Pride of Dakota members definitely helps our products find customers.”
Challenges of the bee industry and business continue but have changed through the years Stromme has worked in his family business.
“When I started the biggest, and still remains so, threat is the varroa mite. This pest attaches to a bee much like a tick on humans. It sucks the blood and will then compromise the immune system of the bees making them weak and susceptible to other diseases. The challenge of destroying a bug on a bug is still being worked out. We manage the mite levels the best we can throughout the year with essential oil treatments as well as many of the pharmaceutical treatments on the market.”
Additional challenges in the bee business for Stromme include proper forage needed to make honey, reliable trucking and even making sure wild animals do not destroy hives.
“Much of the Conservation Reserve Program from the '90s is all but gone, so more new locations are needed every year. I try to follow the Sheyenne River and pasture land to catch more natural blooms.
“As we move our hives from North Dakota to southern states trucking is becoming more challenging as well. Fuel prices are driving up costs to ship and a dwindling number of reliable truckers takes more time to find transport."
A goal Stromme shared connected with me as one many agriculturists feel and strive for in their farm, ranch or agribusiness.
He said, “The main goal is to keep the bees healthy and number in a size that is manageable enough to be profitable but still enjoyable.
“Growing the candle and honey bottling side is also what we are working on. While most of our honey is sold to large packers in semi-load size, bottling more direct to customers and local stores is always a goal. More people are looking for real food direct from the source and we can provide that."
Growing an agribusiness, adding value with additional products and taking time to engage the next generation at the local 4-H club level, I enjoyed learning from Nick. The Stromme Honey bee boxes on the farmland I know so well have a deeper understanding for me now.
Enroll your child or grandchildren in a local 4-H club this fall. Contact your county Extension office. Every county has a 4-H club awaiting your membership and active participation.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.