Honeybees may be on the decline in Minnesota, but there’s no shortage of them in Nicki Hartenstine’s Plymouth backyard.
It’s a busy place in the summer, with a force of 80,000 to 110,000 of the busy buzzers gathering, organizing and producing honey created from the pollen and nectar collected from a two-mile radius. One might think Hartenstine’s yard would be covered by swarms, but the bees actually travel upward before fanning out to the surrounding neighborhood.
The payroll specialist with Motors Management discovered her new hobby after viewing a bee movie with her son in 2011. That led to an online beekeeping course, an order of bees from California and garden hives to maintain. A beginner bee pack costs about $200.
Though the variety she uses is called Minnesota Hygenic, none survived the drawn out winter. Bees typically cluster tight around the queen to keep her warm and eat honey, but Hartenstine’s 2013 group either starved or froze to death.
She’ll soon order a new batch and begin her work to nurture two hives, places where a single queen can lay its eggs and begin to build the hive. A three pound, shoebox sized order of 5,000 to 6,000 bees will double in size within a week, then double again every two weeks after that. Worker bees live 30 to 60 days on average, and queens can last 5 years.
About 90 percent of the bees are workers, which are the females. The males, called drones, are only there for mating, and to protect the queen during its flight to mate with a male from another hive, she explains.
If a queen bee leaves and does not return, it takes a swarm with it. This isn’t a problem as the remaining bees will feed the eggs what’s called royal jelly, a thick and dark material found in honey. This produces multiple queen bees. A stinging battle ensues, and the surviving queen becomes the new leader.
So how does she avoid getting stung? Beekeepers wear a veil and a one piece suit with lambskin leather gloves coated in wax. A cold smoker is used to block the bees’ communication and calm them. In 2012, she was stung about 15 times on her head and face when she didn’t put the clothing on correctly. Last year she didn’t get stung at all.
Looking for that honey pot at the end of the bee rainbow, the Motors employee harvested about 200 pounds of the sweet stuff in 2013.