Mikayla Ockels wins 4-H public speaking competition

Nature inspires Milton teen
Enjoying nature during a sunny winter day are (l-r) Mikayla, Cindy, Benjamin and Richard Ockels. BY RACHEL SWICK MAVITY
March 13, 2013

Adults often count public speaking as their biggest fear. But 14-year-old Mikayla Ockels of Milton says public speaking is her favorite part of 4-H Club.

Ockels won her division during the annual 4-H Public Speaking Contest Feb. 16 at the University of Delaware Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown.

Ockels spoke about the importance of connecting with nature, something she passionately believes in.

She gets a lot of her passion from her parents, Cindy and Richard Ockels.

The Milton family's philosophy is to work toward a sustainable life by raising chickens and growing a large variety of vegetables, herbs, berries and fruits on their 5-acre property. Nine-year-old Benjamin raises pigs, which the family then harvests and shares among relatives. The Ockels are also raising several hives of bees.

“We've been here for 19 years, starting with a greenhouse and a few herbs,” said Richard, who in addition also co-owns a 600-acre family farm.  Now the property is a certified wildlife habitat and the couple installed solar panels on their roof.

When Mikayla was searching for a public-speaking topic, for the competition she decided to draw from what she knew - the natural world around her.

“I think there's a lot we can learn about nature,” Ockels said. “I spoke about three trips we took out West. We traveled 25,000 miles through 32 states.

“I realized our trips weren't like other trips; we learned so much,” she said.

Learning from nature

The family explored nature, including hiking and bird-watching in Montana's Glacier National Park, through the redwood forests in California and around the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico.

“I realized people pass up nature for things they think are better, like commercial places,” Ockels said. “I wanted to inspire people to try and go on a hike or look at a stream that they would normally pass by.”

Mikayla practiced her 6-minute, 40-second speech every night in front of her family,  even asking any guests to sit and listen.

“I would practice in front of my mom, and she would hold a dart gun; if she saw something wrong, she would shoot foam darts at me,” Ockels said. “It keeps me alert and keeps it interesting.”

While public speaking is one of her favorite parts of 4-H, Ockels is also president of the East Coast Riding Club for horse enthusiasts, the Livestock Club and her main club, Harbor Lights.

The Sussex Central ninth-grader is working to complete several 4-H projects this year focusing on horses, poultry, bees and photography.

“I was really excited to win the competition because now I can go to the state competition at this year's state fair,” Ockels said. “It's fun to keep going because I love the topic.”

4-H competition

Twenty-three youths participated in the public-speaking competition, which was divided by age into five divisions - beginner (8-9), intermediate (10-11), junior (12-13) and senior (14 and older), plus an extemporaneous division.

The following Sussex County 4-H youths have won their age division:

• Mikayla Ockels, Milton, Senior Division, “Your True Nature”

• Jill Koski, East New Market, Md., Junior Division, “There’s No Plate Like Home”

• Meredith Carey, Bridgeville, Intermediate Division, “A Leader and Role Model”

• Aydan Vanderwende, Bridgeville, Beginner Division, ”Must Love Dogs”

• Stephen Magee, Lincoln, Extemporaneous Division, “A Favorite Family Memory”

Bee population rebounds in Cape Region

When news of honey bee colony collapse disorder started spreading in 2007, the Ockels family of Milton decided they wanted to try to raise their own bees.

The family purchased a bee colony four years ago and prepared a home on their property for the new hive. The bees settled in and seemed happy, providing the family with plenty of honey.

“We got bees because we thought it would be fun to have our own honey,” Cindy Ockels said. “We also wanted to see if it would help with seasonal allergies.”

Daughter Mikayla now says eating the honey daily during allergy season is the only reason her allergies aren't horrible. Mikayla takes a tablespoon of the farm-made honey each day.

According to some nutritionists, local honey can reduce allergies because some of the pollen collected on flowers by the bees makes its way into the honey. By eating the honey, humans become used to the pollen. No scientific research has proved these claims, but many beekeepers believe honey helps those with seasonal allergies develop tolerance, Ockels said.

After a couple years, the bee hive at the Ockels farm had grown so much that the hive separated; a new queen escorted some of the bees to a new hive. Another year later, the bees separated again.

“It was amazing to watch - like something out of the Bible,” Ockels said. “This huge swarm lifted up and moved away.”

Richard Ockels, whose family farm occupies hundreds of acres outside Milton, said the bees have seemed happy and show no sign of colony collapse.

“The bees plan where they will move; then the swarm leaves and goes to its new home,” he said.

Last year, the Ockels harvested 37 pounds of honey. Besides using it at home, they also give it as gifts.

Delaware State Apiarist Robert Mitchell said more and more residents are starting to raise bees. Fifteen people attended a January beginner beekeeper workshop, he said.

While the state supports and educates those interested in raising bees, it also keeps track of farmers who import bees.

“The acreage of vine crops in the state mandates we import pollinators,” Mitchell said. “Most of those imported are honey bees.”

Since colony collapse disorder was first identified, Delaware received some federal and state funding to study native bee populations, but found that native bees weren't as good for agricultural pollination as honey bees. Native bees are ground-nesters, while honey bees often nest in boxes and are easier to move. The funding has since ended, and Delaware is no longer doing bee research, Mitchell said.

“It is more cost-effective to transport honey bees,” Mitchell said. “In Delaware, we don't produce a lot of honey per hive. Other places can produce more.”

Most farmers bring in commercial beekeepers and hives to pollinate crops like cucumbers and watermelon. Still, some commercial beekeepers in Delaware take their bees to other states to help pollinate there. Just last month, a Delaware hive was in California pollinating the almond crop, Mitchell said.

Beekeepers are very aware of the potential for colony collapse, so they are using different management techniques, such as looking at pesticides and disease issues, but also rotating honeycombs more frequently, Mitchell said. Bees seem to do better when the honeycomb is regularly changed, because it gives the bees a cleaner surface, which they seem to like, he said.

For more information on beekeeping in Delaware, contact Mitchell at 302-739-4811, or contact the Delaware Beekeepers Association through its website,

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