Busy as a beekeeper

Richard Steffke of Grosse Ile produced about 800 pounds of honey in 2017. PHOTO/MICHAELA SCARSELLA

OU News Bureau

Collectively, a hive of honey bees will fly 55,000 miles to produce 1 pound of honey. That helps put the term “busy as a bee” into perspective.

The hardworking creatures are responsible for pollinating one-third of Americans’ food. Some people become beekeepers for their own benefit, but it is thought to aid in the declining population of bees, as well.

Mike and Ruth Fillbrook, owners of Hilltop Farm in Macomb County’s Bruce Township, have been beekeeping for four years.

“Mike and I joined a bee club when we first started,” Ruth Fillbrook said. “That’s a really nice way to get initiated.”

Honey bees are generally not aggressive. PHOTO/MICHAELA SCARSELLA

They enjoy the benefits that their two hives bring to their farm — among those is pollination to their hundreds of fruit trees.

“It’s such a beautiful thing to see what the bees can do,” she said.

The Fillbrooks purchased 4 pounds of Italian Honey Bees from their local bee club. Bees can be collected or purchased online for between $100 and $200.

Besides the queen, hives consist of worker and drone bees. All worker bees are females, while the drones are males. Drones do not have stingers, and their primary role is to mate with the queen. Both the workers and drones’ life spans are several months long while a queen’s can be up to five years.

On a good year, Mike Fillbrook said that they can expect to harvest honey twice. On a bad year, only once. When they harvest twice, their hives produce about 60 pounds of honey. The weather this year was not ideal, so they only expect to yield 40 pounds.

Richard Steffke of Grosse Ile has been beekeeping for about five years. He said he was attracted to the hobby after his brother picked it up. He now has 15 hives.

Like the Fillbrooks, Steffke said 2017 has proven to be a poor year for harvesting honey due to the wet weather.

“This year my expectation was 1,500 pounds and I got just a little over 800 pounds,” he said.

Mike Fillbrook has been beekeeping for four years. PHOTO/MICHAELA SCARSELLA

In addition to selling and consuming his honey, he makes mead, a honey wine made from yeast, honey and water.

Harvesting honey entails gathering it from the hives, placing it in an extractor and then putting it through a fine mesh screen for filtering. The filtered honey is then bottled for consumption.

Aside from harvesting, beekeepers’ main responsibilities include watching out for invaders such as wasps and mites. They also monitor the queen’s health and check for dead bees. The Fillbrooks said they check their hives at least once a month.

“Primarily, bees are kind of self-sufficient,” Mike Fillbrook said. “Seems the more you do for the hives, the worse the results.”

Wearing protective gear is necessary. Honey bees are typically not aggressive. They will attack when threatened, especially if they feel their honey is at risk of being taken away. The Fillbrooks said they have been stung several times.

Honey can vary in color and taste depending on what the bees choose to consume. The Fillbrooks said their honey darkens in color as the year progresses. Steffke said his honey had a hint of peach to it in 2016 and tastes minty this year.

The Fillbrooks said they would recommend beekeeping. Not only is it fun and beneficial, they said it is educational.

Those considering beekeeping should live on acreage, rather than in a subdivision. The amount of time spent with the bees is up to the individual, but most beekeepers can expect to spend at least a few hours a year with them. It is also important to review local rules and regulations before starting.


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Posted by on Oct 10 2017. Filed under Featured article, Macomb C., Wayne C.. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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