On the back of Ed Rice’s nearly three-acre property, 15 hives of bees work day and night to produce honey.
Each colony can contain about 60,000 bees, and every bee—except for the queen bee herself—lives only for about six weeks. During it’s lifetime, it will create about one-twelfth a teaspoon of honey, Rice says.
Once a year, the hives are harvested of their honey, with a good hive producing between 100 and 150 pounds of honey.
“Bees are so interesting, they’re amazing,” he says.
Rice began his hobby about 15 years ago, after talking with a friend who was a bee keeper.
He signed up for classes with the Northwest Indiana Beekeepers Association, and the rest, as he says, is history.
Now, as the organization’s president, Rice is the one teaching the classes.
Across the country, honey bees are dying off at rapid numbers, and for a variety of reasons. Educators and scientists are working to find cures for bee-targeting mites and other insects, as well as researching a new phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.
“A lot of people, many universities, are focusing on the health of the honey bee,” he says.
But Rice says as news of the plight of the honey bees spreads, more and more people are taking up bee keeping as a hobby.
This year, 56 people signed up to take the annual class taught by the Northwest Indiana Beekeeper Association. Two decades ago, there might have been about a dozen people in each class, he says.
“People are becoming more aware of the beneficial aspect of bees,” he says. “Every third bite of food you eat, bees pollinated.”
They pollinate everything from almonds to blueberries, cucumbers to tomatoes, squash to alfalfa.
“I don’t think people understand the impact that the dying honey bees is going to have on their grocery bill,” she says.
In addition, honey and beeswax products are among the most sought-after in natural eating and beauty care products. Retailers like the Savannah Bee Company have expanded their lines of gourmet honey to include products such as lip balms, soaps and more.
In 2011, the Dutchess of Cambridge popularized bee venom facials by relaxing with the skin-tightening mask before her wedding.
Rice says he always starts his classes by asking who in their family has been a beekeeper in the past.
“I always tell them, this isn’t your grandfather’s beekeeping,” he says. “This is a whole new ballgame from when I started. There are a lot of challenges now.”
The association started in the 1920s, and now has members in Lake, Porter and Jasper counties in Indiana, as well as Will County, Illinois. There are roughly 170 people in the club, although not all are active members, he says.
The hobby can start rather simply, with a 3-pound package of bees.
“They come in a package of about 10,000 bees, including a queen,” Rice says. “The cost is about a $300 investment in a hive.”
Sandy Yatsko, a Griffith resident, keeps three hives on her parents’ property south of Leroy. She has been beekeeping since 2005.
“The more you know about honey bees, the more there is to learn and the more you want to learn,” she says. She is amazed by their sophistication.
“A honey bee hive is a perfect system. Each bee has a job from the moment they emerge from their cell,” she says.
People are drawn to the bee keeping hobby of reasons, either for appeal of having fresh honey at hand or to see first-hand the sophisticated society the bees create.
“Everyone in the bee hive has a job to do, and if a bee emerges from a cell and it’s not perfect, the cell can’t work and the bee is thrown out of the hive,” he says. “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”
There are numerous misconceptions about the bees, Rice says.
“John Q Public has a fear of anything that flies and stings,” he says. Generally, if a bee colony is aggressive, there is a reason. One time, he says, he relocated a family of raccoons to pacify a colony of bees.
“I feel like bees get a bad rap,” she says. “While they are out foraging for nectar and pollen, it would be extremely rare to be stung by a bee.”
Both Rice and Yatsko credit Bob Engel, who passed away in June 2012, with educating hundreds about bees.
“Talking to Bob about bees could make anyone fall in love with beekeeping,” Yatsko says. “He had a passion and respect for bees that touched every student he ever had.”
For Rice, bees help affirm his belief in creation. He is continually in awe of their navigation systems, the hierarchy and organization, and their methods.
“God put these bees on earth, and gave them the instincts they have to do what they do,” he says. “With wasps, yellow jackets, only the queen survives during the winter. But bees wiggle their wings, create heat, and eat honey around the queen. It’s 94 degrees inside the hives when there’s a brood, and they have their own air conditioning.”
Yatsko, who serves as the beekeeper association’s vice-president, web designer/editor and historian, says harvesting honey is the best part of bee keeping.
“There’s nothing more delicious than cutting off a piece of honey comb and eating it straight from the hive,” she says.