Wednesday, Sep 19, 2018
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Making honey is hard work — for bees and beekeepers alike

  • FEA-honeyliving25-Arik-Bench-holds-a-hive

    Arik Bench holds a hive buzzing with activity at Fritz Lau’s farm in Curtice, Ohio.

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    Arik Bench and his wife, Beth, owners of Bench’s Bees and Honey, check some of their hives at Fritz Lau’s farm.

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    Beekeeper and honey expert Karen Wood of Bowling Green.

    The Blade/Jetta Fraser
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    Honey pours into the strainer from the centrifuge.

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    Honey made by local producers, from left, Magyar Gardin, Dee’s Bees, Bench’s Bees and Honey, Dee’s Bees, and Toledo GROWS.

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  • FEA-honeyliving25-David-Cuatlacuatl

    David Cuatlacuatl of Cholula, Puebla, Mexico, uses an uncapping plane to remove the wax from a frame of one of the bee hives at Toledo GROWs.

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    Maria Rodriguez, director of the Sofia Quintero Arts & Cultural Center, fills a jar with the honey at Toledo GROWs.

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    Arik Bench and his wife, Beth, own Bench’s Bees and Honey.

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    Beekeeper extraordinaire Howard Huse, left, hands a frame to Norma Ramos-Prater, both of Toledo, harvesting and processing honey at Toledo GROWS.

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  • FEA-honeyliving25-electric-knife-to-uncap-the-hive

    Elizabeth Trumbull of Toledo uses a specially designed electric knife to uncap the hive.

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Lots of people were buzzing about at Toledo GROWs, 900 Oneida St., on the day the honey from its apiary was being harvested.

Joe Balderas, garden and building director at the Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center, which has eight beehives of its own, and a number of his colleagues had joined Toledo GROWs staff members in the project.

Some people were chipping wax off of frames that had been removed from the 13 beehives at Toledo GROWs, the Toledo Botanical Garden’s community gardening outreach program. Mr. Balderas was placing the cleaned frames into a large centrifuge that “slings the honey” from the honeycomb, he said.

Once the honey was extracted from the frames by being spun at high speeds, a faucet was turned to allow the honey to pour into buckets; it was filtered as it flowed and filtered again in the collection container.

Yvonne Dubielak, outreach and education director for Toledo GROWs, then filled jars, weighing each one carefully and labeling it. The honey is sold at the program’s farm stand, open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. each Thursday, and at the botanical garden’s gift shop at 5403 Elmer Dr.

“This is just the tail end of the process,” said Horace Huse, whom Ms. Dubielak calls a “volunteer beekeeper extraordinaire.”

“We start in the spring with new hives,” said Mr. Huse.

The process starts even earlier than that, said Tom Facey, Toledo GROWs’ assistant beekeeper. “You want to order your bees by February or March.”

Mr. Facey explained that each package “probably has about 10,000 bees.” The queen is purchased separately and comes in a box the size of a Matchbox car that contains a fondant-like plug. Once this container is placed in the hive with the rest of the bees, the queen “eats her way out of that candy,” said Mr. Facey, and is introduced into the colony.

The protective coating is necessary, he noted, because if the queen bee joins the others too soon, “they might kill her.” Queens can live for five or six years, and each hive has only one.

The other bees have different classifications, said Mr. Facey. “Workers — they’re the females” tend to the queen and produce honey. Drones, who only live six to eight weeks, “just hang out,” he said, and mate with the queen.

“There are so many jobs that they all take turns” including cleaning, feeding larvae, and defense. “If you have a weak hive,” said Mr. Facey, “[other bees] sense it and go in and steal the honey.”

The bees also leave the hives, collecting pollen and gathering nectar from flowers to feed the colony. This nectar is stored in a special honey stomach, then passed from bee to bee; each one takes a turn processing the substance, which reduces its water content, until honey is left. This is then placed into the cells of the honeycomb built by the bees within the frames of the hive — the same frames that are later centrifuged to extract the honey.

Toledo GROWs has mostly Italian bees and also some Russian ones, which are hardier and better suited to cold winters. “They cluster inside in the winter,” Mr. Facey said, and get nourishment from a supply of up to 80 pounds of honey that the beekeepers leave for them.

“We just try to make them happy, to survive,” said Mr. Facey. The worker bees live “to start the colony back up in the spring.”

“He’s my mentor,” Mr. Facey, 63, said of 88-year-old Mr. Huse, the head beekeeper who wears no protective gear when working in the apiary because he’s become accustomed to occasional stings. “Sometimes I have a hard time keeping up with him.”

Mr. Huse is a retired minister with the Church of the Brethren and first learned to tend bees growing up on his parents’ almond farm. Both men are members of the Maumee Valley Beekeepers Association.

Arik Bench of Bench’s Bees and Honey at 231 S. Decant Rd. in Curtice spent 20 years as a tool and die maker, helping out at his family members’ farms as needed but not farming full-time. His parents, David and Cindy, own Bench Farms at 9151 Jerusalem Rd. in Curtice; his brother Kurt and sister-in-law Corinna own Shared Legacy Farms in Elmore.

Three years ago, Mr. Bench and a friend took the initial steps toward beekeeping. But it was only this year that he and his wife, Beth, decided that it was time to “make a run with the honey,” he said.

Mr. Bench learned a tremendous amount and also acquired equipment from Lyle Keller of Arcadia, a local expert who has kept bees for 40 years. Now Bench’s Bees has nearly 60 hives split between two nearby locations, one near a lake.

Beekeeping started as a hobby, and “this is our first year selling” the honey that their bees have produced, he said. It is available both at his parents’ farm stand and at their table at the Perrysburg Farmers’ Market, which continues until Oct. 13.

Bench’s Bees has Russian bees and also Italian ones, which are less hardy but “better honey producers.” Mrs. Bench said that some people will insulate their apiaries with wraps for the winter. Instead, she and her husband “wanted locations protected from the north and the east, especially,” she said, to help as a buffer against the weather.

Arik Bench said bees need to be able to get outside, even in the winter. They exercise and they also need to be able to find water.

As for the honey their bees have produced, “we don’t pasteurize or anything,” he said. “We run it through a 200 micron filter, then a 400 micron filter, and that’s it.”

“I like doing the all-natural stuff,” Mr. Bench said.

Karen Wood, who tends the bees at the Magyar Gardin at York and Genesee streets in the Hungarian neighborhood on the east side, feels the same way.

“We don’t use any chemicals,” she said, “though 99 percent of beekeepers would say that’s insane.” Instead, she keeps mites away, for example, by using a mix of shortening, powdered sugar, and peppermint oil.

“I can’t look at those people at the [Birmingham Ethnic] festival,” where virtually all of the Magyar Gardin’s product is sold, and sell them honey tainted by pesticides, she said.

“It’s a big responsibility. The name of our garden is on [the jars.]”

Ms. Wood said, “Our secret here is that no one has a lawn service” — the environment is natural rather than controlled and sprayed. The bees have access to apple trees, dandelions, and clover, among other treats. And their water source is one block away: the Maumee River. “This is pretty much the Garden of Eden here,” she said.

Mid-September is the time to start putting the bees “to bed” for the winter, Ms. Wood said. She cleans out the last of the honey, gives the bees sugar water for nutrients, and puts up deflectors to keep mice away.

When she turned 50, Ms. Wood said that she wanted to do something that frightened her. “If I’m going to do something that scares me, I might as well get something to eat,” she reasoned. And so seven years ago, the same year that the community’s Magyar Gardin was created (Ms. Wood is a board member), she became a beekeeper.

“I’m not scared anymore,” she said.

Honeybees are fairly harmless, simply flying around looking for food and working hard in their hives to produce honey throughout the summer. Peak production is in July and August, which led to Toledo GROWS’ late summer harvesting at which everyone was busy as a bee.

It’s important to know, said Mr. Facey, that “honey doesn’t just come in a jar.”

With a big smile, he added, “The bees do all the work. We just benefit from it.”

Contact Mary Bilyeu at
 or 419-724-6155 or on Twitter @foodfloozie.

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