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Beekeeping in Indiana

By Libby Simmons

I recently spoke with a friend, Stephanie, from college about her beekeeping hobby. She is a wife, mother, successful businesswoman, and now a part-time beekeeper. While patience is a virtue when it comes to beekeeping, the results (a whole lot of honey!) make it worthwhile.

How long did the process take you?

The process from start to finish usually takes between 1-3 days depending on how many hives we are extracting from. This year we have 7 hives total, but we only ended up taking frames from 5 of our supers. For those that don’t know, each hive has a series of boxes.

The bottom box is where the Queen excluder is located as well as the majority of the brood chambers. You don’t want your queen being accidently killed or separated because that can cause the hive to swarm (leave entirely) or for all the brood (embryos of bees) to be included in your frames where you would prefer your honey to be.

So, you have your brood chambers and on top of that a “super” where the majority of the honeycombs are located on the frames. We use both a combination of plastic and olden wooden frames (from the early 1900’s) and a hand cranked centrifuge that spins the cut open combs at high speeds into a food grade stainless steel extractor before beginning the straining/purifying process.

How much yield did you have?

The yield is always going to be entirely based on how well your bees do for that year and there are a lot of variables that play into that. Weather, what is in season, if you have a bunch of flowers versus weeds, etc. You also want to ensure that you don’t take too much because they will continue to feed off of their honey supply during the winter months.

Unfortunately for us, my husband, Sam, is on active duty a lot this year and that required that we extract earlier than normal as most bee keepers will wait until early fall. All in all, we extracted about 19.5 gallons from 5 hives!

What do you do with all of the honey?

We mostly sell our honey to friends, family, and co-workers, although we have considered heading to our local farmer’s market with the honey, our free range eggs, herbs and veggies, and some of my baking…but then again who has the time? I love to bake, cook, or otherwise incorporate my honey into stuff, but Sam’s favorite is just butter and honey toast for breakfast and he definitely eats his fill!

Was this your first year?

This was not our first year. Sam has been a beekeeper since he was about 10 years old. When he was growing up an elderly farmer that his family befriended kept bees and Sam was fascinated with the process. He would spend time with the gentleman and eventually when the older farmer passed away he left all of his beekeeping materials to Sam.

The Wagner family has been doing it ever since and when Sam left to go to IU, his mom and sister kept a few of the hives alive. When Sam and I got married we transferred all of the hives down south from northern Indiana and began the process of splitting and multiplying the hives down here. At the time only ONE of the hives had survived up north so we had to build from scratch again.

Thankfully we had a great Queen who laid a ton of brood and all of the other bees inject something called “royal jelly” into the larva so we were able to split said hive and multiple queens were hatched. Although we have had some difficulty with hives not surviving particularly cold months despite trying our best to winterize them.

Who taught you?

On this I have to give full credit to Samuel. I was like Jon Snow…I knew NOTHING of bee keeping…except that the stings hurt. But over the years I have learned a lot and while Sam is definitely the primary bee keeper in the family I have helped through the processes.

This past year my parents came down to help both with Gwendolyn (10 months and generally opposed to sitting for long periods of time) and with the actual INSIDE extractor. The outside work in the heat with the bees was purely on Sam and I.

What are your favorite uses for honey?

I love cooking and baking with it and of course just grabbing a spoon here or there for a natural remedy to allergies! I love using our honey as an ingredient in marinades as well. I will take a bunch of thawed chicken breasts and add fresh rosemary and German thyme from our garden with garlic, whole grain mustard, and 3-4 tablespoons of our honey and let it sit in the fridge for a day before baking in the oven at 350 for 50 minutes. It always comes out tender and savory with a touch of sweet. Here is a similar recipe.

What is the most intimidating part?

Definitely getting stung. You start to build an immunity to it after a while, but it doesn’t make the pain factor diminish much. You can wear protective gear, but the longer the hive is open, the hotter it is outside, the more irritable the bees become and they will start dive bombing you to try and keep you from stealing their honey!

So far this year I have been stung about 10 times and even had a pretty bad reaction to one in my face! But thankfully the day of our actual extraction I didn’t suffer from any. It helps if you smoke them a little bit as well as it calms them down very temporarily.