‘Queen Bee’: Angie Satterfield and family starting a buzz with local honey

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When Angie Satterfield was nine years old, a bee stung her after she accidentally stepped on it. That is when she found out she was seriously allergic to stings, and for decades following the incident, she was afraid of bees.

Now, thanks to curiosity, family and education, her fears are gone.

In place of feeling anxious at the sight of bees, Angie Satterfield is actually capturing swarms throughout Switzerland County.

A full-time teacher in the Instructional Assistance program at Jefferson-Craig Elementary School, Angie Satterfield and her husband, Clarence, moved from Cincinnati to a farm near Patriot 16 years ago.

“Clarence was a fourth-generation beekeeper,” Angie Satterfield said. “His dad and uncle had a few hives and he would often go up and help them.”

When she and Clarence Satterfield first moved to Switzerland County, they did not have bees.

“Our daughter, Amber, had gone with my husband when he worked with the family’s bees,” said Angie Satterfield. “She was probably six or seven when she was working the smoker, and when she got into 4-H, she wanted to do bees as a 4-H project. So we got a couple of hives, and things just grew from there.”

In fact, the beekeeping project has expanded to a part-time business, and now the Satterfields manage 70 hives.

“Most of them are in Switzerland County,” Angie Satterfield said, “but we have some across the line in Ohio County and a few in Hamilton County in Ohio.”

As the hives multiplied, the Satterfields gave away more and more honey. Then, about five years ago, Angie Satterfield said that she began to come to terms with the expense of that hobby. “So I started to look into what was required to bottle and sell it.”

Satterfield honey is currently sold at several locations in the Tri-State area, and the family has also developed other bee products.

“The first thing after honey,” said “Angie Satterfield, “was rolled candles from beeswax sheets. Amber and I would sit and roll candles for Christmas presents. Then I found a real good recipe for lip balm. Then I found a recipe for body lotion.”

Now the products include soap, candy, honey bath and gift baskets.

Although Angie Satterfield enjoys the business and manufacturing parts of beekeeping, working in the field with the bees offers at least as much satisfaction. It wasn’t always that way, of course. She remembered that when her husband and daughter would work with the bees, “I was really afraid to go down by them. Then I gradually got really curious and Clarence got me a bee suit.”

Thanks to the full protection of the canvas suit, with a veil, hat and gloves, Angie Satterfield can work hands-on with bees without fear of being stung. And she has learned to quiet the nervousness around bees that started when she was nine years old.

“You can’t be anxious or tense with bees,” she said. “You have to be relaxed and comfortable or they will know it.”

The word about her skills has spread quickly.

“As our name gets out there, people say, ‘Oh, we didn’t know they did that!’” And she has had almost a dozen calls to capture bee swarms so far this spring. “I got three swarms just from the courthouse,” she said.

The changeable May weather contributed to the recent increase in requests for assistance.

“Bees swarm in early spring when the temperature gets above 54 degrees,” Angie Satterfield explained, “but when it’s cool and overcast they stay in the hive. The queens are laying eggs, and it can really get congested in there. Sometimes an older queen will leave the hive with a swarm when the sun comes out, and that reduces the congestion in the hive. The swarms are only around for an hour or two — no more than a couple of days — before they find a permanent place.”

While many people may become afraid at the sight of a swarm of bees, “the swarms themselves are pretty docile,” said Angie Satterfield. “Every time you go out to get one, it’s different,” she said, “but if the swarm is on the end of a branch, for example, you get a box, go up and smoke them and then brush the bees into the box. You can also put a bag or sack over the swarm and cut the branch off. Then you put the bees into a hive.”

For a beekeeper, one benefit of capturing swarms is that the those bees are “free livestock.” Angie Satterfield noted that other farmers usually don’t have that advantage. If a person raises hogs, she said, “No one calls you and says, ‘Hey I’ve got this hog ready to go to market. Would you come and get it?’”

Having overcome her own fear of bees, Angie Satterfield spends a considerable amount of time trying to teach people how beneficial bees are and how unlikely it is that they will sting.

“When you get stung,” she said, “ it’s usually because you stepped on one or slapped at one. Think of how you would react if someone slapped at you. And the benefits of honey are huge. Honey is a wonder food!”

A really important side of beekeeping, stated Angie Satterfield, is that “it’s become a bridge between the generations in our family. It’s something the kids can talk about with the parents and grandparents. Beekeeping is a level playing field, common ground for discussion.”

She added that it was also something in which each member of the family could develop his or her own skill and specialty, and she stressed Amber’s talents in marketing and her son Ray’s hands-on expertise.

For Angie Satterfield herself, one of the most significant aspects of working with bees is the emotional success she has experienced through educating herself and learning to be comfortable around the hives.

“For me,” she said, “it’s the sense of accomplishment in overcoming such an ingrained fear.”