There was a lot of buzzing going on Tuesday at the Northland Arboretum in Baxter with the delivery of 167 packages — with each package containing 8,000 honey bees and the queen bee buzzing around inside and outside their wooden and screened-in package waiting to find their new home.
Bill Krieger of the North Central Beekeepers Association received the shipment of more than one million honey bees from California. He drove his loaded horse trailer full of bees to the arboretum to distribute them to other beekeepers. The other purpose of the day was to conduct an educational demonstration to place a portion of the honey bees in their colonies at the arboretum.
Each spring the beekeepers have to replenish the colonies. Krieger said there were eight colonies at the arboretum and seven died last summer from varroa mites. That year the organization didn’t get any honey, but on average Krieger said they collect 150 pounds of honey per hive.
Currently there are 130 families who are members of the area beekeeper association, which grew by 20 families this past year.
“It used to be just us old guys who were beekeepers and now there are more younger and more women joining,” Krieger said. “People are wanting to raise honey bees for pollination for their flowers and gardens.”
It’s a nonprofit group dedicated to promoting and developing the beekeeping industry. The group assists and educates members and prospective beekeepers, promoting the use of honey through a honey queen program. Members also annually maintain a booth at the Crow Wing County Fair where they sell their well-known honey sundaes and also market their honey, beeswax candles and other hive products and provide public information and education on bees.
Melissa Boggs of Merrifield and Laura Goerges of Pine River are new members of the beekeepers association who took all the introduction to beekeeping classes to prepare for their new venture. Both women said they were interested in raising honey bees because they want to do anything they can to live off the land.
Boggs, who picked up two packages of bees, said raising bees will be a fun hobby and it will also teach her daughter Carly, 6, where honey comes from.
“We’re interested in anything that has to do with sustainable living,” said Boggs. “And we love honey.”
Goerges said she and her boyfriend do one project a year that allows them to live off the land. They raise chickens, have tapped maple trees for syrup and have collected wild rice.
“I’m not as interested in harvesting honey, I’m doing it more for the experience,” said Goerges. “It’ll be fun. I want to learn how to live off the land. It’s so rewarding to understand where your food comes from.”
Goerges had to drive two packages of bees in the back seat of her car all the way to her home in Pine River.
Before people took their bees home, the bees were sprayed with sugar water to keep them calm in their packages until they’re placed in their colony. The beekeepers have to shake the bees out of the package and into the colony and hope they won’t get stung.
“You will get stung if you’re going to be a beekeeper,” said Krieger. “There is no way around it. It’ll hurt. You just have to walk around slowly.”
Krieger, who has been part of the organization for 10 years, said the organization has always received its honey bees from California and this year it received three different species: Italian, New World Carniolans and Minnesota Hygienic. Krieger said this year he hopes the bees at the arboretum will lay eggs to produce 50,000 to 60,000 more bees.
Shawn Strong of Brainerd and treasurer of the association who did the education demonstration, grew up around honey bees since his grandfather, Harry Meyer, raised them.
“I’ve always wanted my own bees,” said Strong. “It’s fun, challenging and it’s a nice productive hobby.”
Strong said he’ll split some of his colonies at home so the bees don’t swarm, which means the bees will get overcrowded and they’ll leave to find a new colony. Strong said once he splits the old colonies he’ll have 12 on his property.
Strong said his wife, Shallen, and their twin 8-year-olds and a 5-year-old, enjoy the hobby together. Strong said they cook with the honey and also sell it.
Strong’s grandfather, who lives in Staples, said bees have always fascinated him, as he held a bee in his hand.
“It looks like I made a new friend,” Meyer said. “He could sting me anytime.”
Meyer, who has raised bees on and off for 70 years, started his bee hobby when he was 12 on a dare. Meyer said there was a swarm of bees and someone dared him to get the swarm and take it to the beekeeper. Meyer took him the swarm using a branch and was told to keep it.
Bill Burggraff of Little Falls who picked up six packages of bees, has raised bees for three years. He said he enjoys watching the bees work and sharing the honey with friends and family.
“I love honey and it’s fun,” said Burggraff. “Bees are fascinating and they are so smart.”
Katie Brine Doyle of Merrifield and her 16-year-old daughter have been beekeeping for five years. Brine Doyle said her father also is a beekeeper and he is in his 70s.
“I always thought beekeeping was neat,” Brine Doyle said.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.