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Shelby woman buzzing with ribbons from state fair

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New beekeeper and first-time entrant Becky Collier brings home the top color from the Kentucky State Fair.

By Todd Martin

Blue-ribbon winners are pouring into Shelby County from the 2011 Kentucky State Fair.

Along with daily winners in the World Championship Horse Show, the fair has announced the best in 15 other categories and Shelby County took home 91 ribbons, including 35 blue ribbons. And the results from all the animal competitions haven’t been announced.

Many of those winners are longtime competitors, but some entered for the first time, including Becky Collier, who took first place for her 1-pound containers of light honey, and second for her 2-pound containers.

"I think it was the taste that pushed mine over the top," she said. "I've tasted a lot of people's honey, and I think mine tastes pretty good. And I think the color is good, and I had a good presentation."

The honey is judged in several categories, ranging from color to appearance and uniformity of bottles to aroma and freedom from sugar crystals, foreign material and bubbles and froth."

Foreign material is the highest mark, and honey can be disqualified if it has a moisture content of 18.7 percent or higher.

"The last thing they do is taste it," Collier said.

Collier, 65, is a retired schoolteacher who got into beekeeping in 2006 when she moved back to Kentucky after living in Florida for 25 years.

"There was a place down there where used to buy local honey, and they had a hive in the store," she said. "I was always thought it was fascinating."

Then in 2006, when attending the state fair, Collier decided it was time.

"I just thought, 'I can do that,'" she said. "So I got started with two hives. I read some books and went to some classes. I go to a class every year in Frankfort."

Last year Collier helped out with the booth at the fair and watched them judge so she could get an idea the process.

"The more I got into it, the more I've enjoyed it," she said. "There's a lot to worry about with mites, beetles and wax moths, but I don't use any chemicals and that helps keep my bees strong."

When looking at her hives – which now number five, not including the hives she's split off during swarms and given away – and talking about the drones, workers and queens, Collier sounds like a proud mother. She's even painted blue ribbons on the two hives that produced the winning honey.

"They're like pets for me," she said. "People joke that I knit sweaters for them in the winter."

Collier says up to 100 bees can be lost when gathering honey, but she tries to be so careful she estimates she only loses about five.

Maybe that's why they're so good to her.

"Sometimes I just come down and sit and watch them," she said. "They don't really get after me, I probably only get stung about five times a year. But when I go for their honey, they really get after me then [and that's when she wears her bee keeper's suit]."

Collier said she is careful not to collect honey too often, because she's not in it for the money. She does sell honey, but she goes down a list to see who gets it. "We give away more than we sell," she said.

Fair winners

More of Shelby County’s winners from the Kentucky State Fair, and results from the World Championship Horse Show are in the Aug. 26 edition.