By BRANDON LaCHANCE
MENDOTA – Cows, sheep, pigs, goats, chickens, and horses are the animals first associated in a word game when the word, farm, is the topic.
Bees are usually not included.
However, the yellow and black striped insects are very important to Mother Nature and the farming community for many reasons.
Bryon Walters started beekeeping 17 years ago as a hobby and sees the importance of his winged friends more than he ever thought he would.
“The honeybees that we have is actually a European bee. It’s an imported species. The Native Americans used to call them the white man’s flies,” Walters said, who has 15 hives in three different locations around his home located between Mendota and Triumph. “It’s a 100-percent domesticated creature just like Black Angus cattle, Barred-Rock chicken, and a Dotson dog. They’re a manmade creation through breeding and cross breeding.
“The honeybee is responsible for pollinating about 75 percent of the food that we eat in this country. That’s why they are very, very important. We don’t have enough native bees to do all of the heavy pollination. It’s an agricultural animal, it’s not a wild, natural animal.”
Pollination is critical.
And for some, so is honey.
When Walters first started with one hive 17 years ago, he produced nine pounds of honey. In 2020, his bees made 945 pounds of honey and last year 358 pounds of sticky, sweet ooze was made.
“We do have bees in the United States, but they don’t store honey the way the European bees do. That’s why we get two services from them. They pollinate our produce and flowers, and they produce a surplus of honey,” Walters said. “We’re late in the summer and there is still a lot of activity. They’re bringing in a lot of nectar from Goldenrod, Asters, and other fall flowers.
“I sell the honey at the Mendota Farmer’s Market every Saturday from June until October. I sell it and give it to family. All of our family has as much honey as they can consume,” Walters said. “It’s a good food source. I don’t add sugar to anything I eat. I put honey in there so it’s a healthy food source. Honey is unique because it’s the only food that we eat that’s 100 percent produced from an insect. It never spoils as long as you don’t get water into it.”
Walters adds honey to his tea, and he eats it every morning in what he calls a porridge, which consists of steel-cut oatmeal, almond milk, and his honey named, Bryon’s Bees Prairie Wild Honey. Walters’ wife, Frieda Walters, uses the honey for sweets and baked goods.
The mixture of honey and oats has dropped Walters’ cholesterol and he has heard local honey helps other health issues as well.
“I have no regrets. It’s been a lot of fun. People really enjoy the honey,” Walters said. “People say they don’t take their allergy medicine anymore because the local honey is good for what they’re allergic to. Doctors will recommend honey, but there isn’t any scientific proof yet and it’s not documented. It’s in the works.
“When someone tells me that they don’t have to take their allergy medicine anymore, something is working for them.”
There are no regrets for Walters in terms of the time he’s put into his hives.
The green box on the bottom is called the hive brood box, where the queen bee raises their family and where honey and pollen are stored for the wintertime.
The blue bar between the green and white boxes is the Queen Excluder, where the queen does not go to lay brood aka honey.
The white boxes are smaller than the green ones below and they keep the surplus of the honey. This is where Walters does his harvest to package and present to his customers.
In each of his five hives, there are 50,000-75,000 bees in each hive. If there were 50,000 at each of the hives, there would be 750,000 bees on the Walters’ property.
That’s the minimum.
“I make sure the bees are healthy and that they have enough room in the hives. They get medication in the fall to rid them of mites,” Walters said. “Mites are one of the biggest problems. They attach themselves onto a bee’s back or trachea. They can be really parasitic and decimate a colony.
“I look for any other kind of ailments that they may have. I make sure they have plenty of pollen and that they’re not being sprayed at with insecticide. We don’t use any insecticide anywhere.
“We take care of them to make them happy. If they’re happy, they’re going to produce a lot of extra honey. That’s the whole idea, to encourage them to keep making a lot of extra honey.”
The beekeeping season starts in March, picks up in April, is full throttle May through September, and then slows down before it ends when flowers are done producing nectar.
This year, Walters said it’s going to be an extended honey season, but each year is different.
“The happiest time in my bee keeping lifestyle is in March. When I go out in the wintertime and lift the hood up and I see that they’re alive in there, that’s a happy time,” Walters said. “That means they made it through the winter. I know the treatments went right. The queen is in the hive. They had plenty of food throughout the winter.
“That’s the happy story. Unfortunately, with beekeeping, you have about a 50/50 chance or less that this happens. Bees are dying out for a multitude of reasons such as pesticides that they’re collecting through pollen and nectar and people don’t treat for the mites.”
Then there is the part most people first associate with bees.
Walters, who first purchased “Beekeeping for Dummies” and then graduated to books that dove into the full process and science of beekeeping, does get stung often.
However, it’s not because the bees are bullies, it’s because they’re being defensive.
“A lot of people get into beekeeping and are out in one or two years for a lot of different reasons,” Walters said. “One reason is they didn’t do all of the steps they needed to do, and the bees died or left. People also get afraid of being stung. It really messes with their mind. They don’t like that feeling.
“I get stung a lot, but I don’t even know it anymore. A lot of times I don’t get stung while I’m out there because I work slowly. I get stung when I grab a box and touch one that I didn’t know was under the frame. It’s usually by accident.
“They’re not aggressive. They don’t come swarming at you. They’re not mad like people say they are. They just defend what they have. They get defensive around the brood boxes because that’s where their offspring are and where they’re defensive. They don’t mind giving up honey because they can make more honey. Treat bees kindly and they’ll do the same.”
Walters has formed a relationship with his bees.
He doesn’t try to overwork them. He doesn’t try to stress them by checking the hives every day to see how much is in there.
The beekeeper gives them their space, allows them to produce honey on their time, takes care of them, and then reaps the sweet, healthy, financial benefits of his yellow and black, flying, farming insect.