Beekeepers’ jobs are fulfilling lines of work, whether it be for commercial use or a side hobby. With very few beekeepers in the Kansas region, local beekeeper associations, like the Kansas Honey Producers Association (KHPA), educate and inspire people on what they need to take up the hobby and pursue their interest in the honey-producing and nature-enriching experience. KHPA plans two state meetings a year, one in the spring and one in the fall, where they bring in nationally recognized beekeepers and entomologists. Attendees also can learn about a variety of beekeeping topics, from how to put a beehive frame together to how to move bees at night for commercial uses.
Jim Kellie, owner of Kellie Honey Farms located in Larned, and past president of the KHPA, has been operating a commercial honey farm and has been a member of KPHA for about 40 years. Kellie previously sold his honey from his thousands of hives to outlets all over the United States. Now that he is close to retirement, he is keeping it local. Kellie sells to small packagers from his several hundred hives he has now, who then sell his honey at local farmers markets and craft shows.
“I have a lot of satisfaction knowing that we pollinate five counties of different types of crops and are helping mother nature along,” Kellie said.
Kellie’s interest in beekeeping was ignited by Vernon Adee, who is known as the father of beekeeping in Kansas because of how many beekeepers he helped get started. Adee Honey Farms is one of the largest beekeeping operations in the world today and the largest in the U.S., located in South Dakota. Adee, who had initially been a teacher by trade, started beekeeping while living in Haddam, Kansas, in 1948. Vernon’s son, Richard who followed the footsteps of his beekeeper father, had helped Kellie glean his knowledge and skills into what he knows and does today.
“You could say I was trained well,” Kellie chuckled.
The busiest times for Kellie’s honey farm is in the early spring and late fall. The honey harvest will begin in late July. In the eastern parts of Kansas, the harvest will begin earlier. Once winter arrives, commercial beekeepers will prepare their bees to either stay in Kansas or move them to Texas and California to continue pollinating.
The top producing flavored honey from Kellie Honey Farms is from alfalfa and yellow/sweet clover/crops. The diversity of plants for bees allows the pollen to taste differently depending on what grows around the hives. The standard type of boxes used especially for commercial beekeepers is the Langstroth Hives, which are vertical standing containing frames for bees and honey.
Tom Turner, a beekeeping hobbyist out of St. John, who owns Wild @ Heart Bees and a member of Ark Valley Electric Co-op, started his business in 2017 and takes a natural approach to his beekeeping passion and interests.
The majority of equipment used at Wild @ Heart Bees, is made by Turner himself. He mills big cedar logs on his land to build deep horizontal hive boxes, which are then used to entice the bees from out of the trees. Without using any chemicals in the hives, Turner has practiced reducing mites and other pests affecting his bees through the manipulation of the hives with the goal to have his bees continuously survive.
“We’re trying to do things in an eco-friendly, usable, and sustainable way,” Turner said. “We don’t treat our bees with any chemicals.”
The cold spring season delayed everything in the bee operation so that Turner is just now getting to the honey production, which usually takes place in the spring.
The expected honey from his operations this year will be pollinated from clover, wildflower mixtures, and alfalfa. Later in the fall, Turner expects honey produced off of white clover, which blooms in the late summer.
“This is really partly science and partly art of beekeeping,” Turner said. “It’s about reading and understanding the environment and observing the bees and managing the bees as you see what’s going on in their colony.”
Orley Taylor, University of Kansas professor emeritus and self-taught beekeeper since the age of 14 says that beekeeping teaches you, you simply cannot ignore the environment around you as it affects the bees’ survival and success.
“What the bees do is a function of what is happening,” Taylor said.
Environmental awareness includes asking such questions as do they have enough food, enough pollen/nectar, does the queen’s brood look healthy, and are there a lot of dead bees around the hives? Taylor said these questions may seem basic but you need to know the answers.
“If you are going to manage bees, you really need to observe and respond appropriately,” Taylor said.
One of the most rewarding aspects of beekeeping for Taylor was gearing up, lighting the smoker, opening up the colony, and asking the questions that needed to be asked. Taylor said it is a matter of putting your head in the colony, nothing else matters than focusing on what is right in front of you.
“You may have financial, adult, or professional problems, but you can’t think of anything else with a bee colony and you have to put yourself in a different world,” Taylor said. “Bees are fascinating, absolutely fascinating.”
Taylor said it should be a mystery or a wonder to you and a wonderful way to connect to nature.
“If you can’t see the value of both of those, you shouldn’t be doing it,” Taylor said.
Here are the three things to be aware of before going into beekeeping.
-Do your research
Commercial and hobbyist beekeepers will tell anyone interested in the art of beekeeping to do your research by taking local classes and workshops held by the beekeeper associations or universities.
“The first thing people need to do is studying,” Kellie said. “There are several good books out there and there are university courses that are either free or at a nominal price for it and that will get them started.”
For those who are interested in beekeeping, local beekeeping clubs and associations such as the KHPA can help connect people with local beekeeping clubs and provide times and dates for instructional classes. It would also be helpful to build a relationship with a mentor, like Kellie, Turner, or Taylor, who would provide advice and help.
–Know there is an initial investment
Advice from local beekeepers is to start small and know there will be an initial investment to begin the beekeeping process. The hive and safety equipment alone can cost around $300 depending on whether it is new or used.
Taylor, who had just recently started up a personal beehive and had tended to beehives at KU, paid $125 for a 3-pound package of bees with a queen. Taylor said the initial investment cost can come down if you buy from a previous owner of the equipment. The only caution Taylor noted with this option is that colonies that dealt with certain diseases and problems can pass it down to other colonies if the equipment is reused.
Costs can also be controlled by building your own beehives as Turner does for his operation.
–Bees take work
Whether a hobby or a full commercial business, beekeeping takes time and energy to ensure the healthy success of the beehives.
Raymond Cloyd, K-State extension and research entomologist, encourages those interested in beekeeping to read the how-to beekeeping books before buying into the bee business and emphasizes that beekeeping does take work.
“People should really understand what is involved in beekeeping,” Cloyd said. “We have people get into this and then they get frustrated or they don’t put in the effort and then the bees die or they don’t take the measures to protect them.”
Both Kellie and Turner wake up well before dawn and work full days during the busy seasons tending to their bees and making sure the hives are thriving and successful to produce honey. Beekeepers need to check on the bees to make sure they have enough food, pollen, and nectar, and that they look healthy and are free of disease or pests.
Bumblebee vs. honey bee
-Bumblebees are better pollinators than honeybees because they buzz pollinate, visiting more flowers than honeybees do. Bumblebees are generally used in pollinating tomato plants.
-Honeybees are the only insect we domesticated for our own use which had started around 10,000 years ago.
-Bumblebees are bigger in size and fuzzier than honeybees, which are slenderer with a pointed abdomen.