For four generations of honey gatherers, it’s the “Bee’s Knees”
By Lori Johnson
When you grow up on a farm called “The land of milk and honey“, you can’t help but experience a special kind of rapport with honey bees.
Nick Bohac and his wife Christie Mathews, of the rural Alma Center/Merrillan area, are raising the bar in the newest venture of a long time family tradition--beekeeping and marketing the honey it produces, calling it Nick Bee‘s Honey. The name and logo on the jars is in themselves pretty catchy, but the real attention grabber is the clear golden honey housed within.
Nick of Nick Bee’s Honey shared, “The Bohac family has been involved with honey back to when my great grandpa Joseph Bohac began beekeeping around 1930 as more of a necessity due to sugar being rationed during the depression and then later on, the start of World War II. Each generation has been involved in some sort of beekeeping ever since. I remember helping my grandpa Don on the weekends checking on the bees and going on long "adventures" to get supplies. Those were great memories and I have loved the bees and honey all my life,”
Nick continued: “Through high school and college years, I temporarily stepped away from honey bees as life got in the way, But, after settling in with a family, my amazing wife Christie and I decided to take the leap and go from just the small hobby single hive, to a more ambitious multiple hive plan. We found we really enjoy working with the bees together and I found it’s a sort of stress reliever. We both firmly believe in the importance of pollinators and the role they play in our environment, so our goal in marketing our honey is to help subsidize expanding our operations aggressively to hopefully double our hive counts every year."
For anyone who thinks that beekeeping is a simple undertaking, think again. Nick and Christie were enthusiastic in explaining the process. Says Nick: “Beekeeping starts in February/March with quick hive inspections that consist of checking if hives are still alive and supplementing them with sugar for added food, and pollen/protein to stimulate the colony to prepare laying more eggs again as the queen stops laying in late September/early October to get ready for winter. As we go into April/May we begin splitting our colonies to create more hives of bees for the season and the future. June through August are the prime time for the bees to collect nectar and what we call the major honey flow as all varieties of clover are flowering throughout this time. At this point we are inspecting weekly to add more room for them to store honey/nectar. As we get into September, we monitor both the weather, and how long plants such as golden rod remain flowering. As the peak flowering begins, we begin taking the excess honey the bees have packed away through the season, while still leaving enough food stores for them to survive through the long winter. Once we have the honey that is still in the comb, we run it through an extraction process that goes through a single filtering point to remove any pieces of wax that came out during extraction and we bottle it to send it out to our great friends, family, and customers.”
How does one go about dressing oneself for going after the honey? “The gear involved with beekeeping comes down to personal preference or how comfortable you are with working with the bees. “ Nick explained. “Most of the time, you will need a thick cotton bee jacket with a bee veil along with goat skin gloves that give you good dexterity while protecting you from stings as well as a smoker that helps calm the bees with a couple puffs...once you get used to working with the bees and understand what does set them off or keeps them calm and not urges them to sting, you begin to wear less of the thicker protective equipment as it limits your range of motion and feel for doing it. We rarely get stung.”
“As far as honey availability, it really depends on the year. We have had years where it's completely sold out by the end of October and other years where it is available through to the following Summer. For now, we sell from our home and online through Facebook and via word of mouth. We were at the recent Alma Center Community Day. Our goal is to have our honey in at least one local store for now and be more aggressive this coming fall in online presence. These are baby steps, but we really hope to establish ourselves in the coming year or two."
In honor of September being National Honey Month, here are a few facts about this sweet treat. The word honey comes from the word “hunaga” meaning golden. A beekeeper is known as an Apiarist and where the colony is kept is an Apiary.
There are over 300 unique varieties of honey in the United States, each originating from a different floral source. The flowers that the bees visit will determine the color, flavor and aroma of the honey. Weather and environment also factor in. On average, a hive will produce about 65 pounds of surplus each year.
Store honey at room temperature--it does not need to be refrigerated All honey will naturally crystallize, but by placing the opened jar in a container of warm water it will turn back into liquid state. When baking, using honey equals ½ the amount of sugar called for.
The Bohac family with Nick Bee’s Honey is very much enjoying doing their part to keep the sweetness coming for years to come, passing along the beekeeping tradition to the next generation. Young son, Brett, is already excited about honeybees and loves going with his dad to check the bees.