BERNARD – Chris Puetz spends about three hours every Saturday looking after his hives.
“It’s a time commitment, but it’s time I block and it’s fun” Puetz said.
Puetz has been an amateur beekeeper for about three years. He takes care of 10 beehives on a farm near Bernard.
“It’s a fun hobby – sometimes a little painful – but collecting honey is always fun because it is the reward of hard work” he said.
Paula Wolfe, of Dubuque, operates Sweet P Creative, a company that sells locally produced gourmet honey. She became a beekeeper in 2014.
“The bees have been good to me – between stings” she told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald. “I connect with the bees. They are fascinating and I respect their attendance.
There are approximately 5,000 beekeepers who keep bees in Iowa, according to Iowa State University. Many, like Puetz, started raising bees as a hobby.
“My little brother said to me: ‘I think I want to have bees'” Puetz said. “And I was like, ‘Really.’ That was three years ago, and I said I would join him. We ended up going to a course at NICC. We ordered our first two beehives after that.
‘You can’t close them off’
Puetz faced frustration at the start of the hobby.
“This first year has been difficult” he said. “Our bees couldn’t even get through the winter. We had a whole beehive right in place and off we go.
Bees are wild animals, Wolfe said, and if they want to go, they will.
“You cannot close them” she said. “I had a lot of grief because losing beehives is devastating.”
Puetz orders bees from a larger producer.
“They separate their hives and create packages, and they will sell them”, he said. “You can buy between $ 125 and $ 175 per pack of bees, which they call a nuc. You install them in your hives. You drive to Des Moines, collect your bees, come back, put them in their hive that day, then pray that they don’t fly off on you.
“I didn’t know much about beekeeping and I fell into it; it was a happy coincidence “, said Wolfe. “I started to learn more. The biggest challenge was to settle. It is an investment in time and in equipment.
Randall Cass, an Iowa State extension entomologist specializing in bees and other pollinators, suggests that people considering the hobby should be prepared for the time and financial commitments.
“Beekeeping is fun and exciting, and my advice is to make sure you are prepared for the time and costs associated with learning to be a good beekeeper and maintaining the hives.” Cass said.
Cass said the beehives include larger beehive boxes called depths, shallower beehive boxes called honey supers, frames, bottom boards and beehive lids.
Beekeepers usually protect themselves from stings with veils that can be placed over hats or costumes that cover the entire body.
“Obviously you need protective gear” Puetz said. “Getting stung is no fun, and getting stung in the face is even less so. Equipment for a few beehives will cost $ 200, and your bees will cost around $ 300. Your protective gear, like your costume and veil, will cost around $ 100. You could be looking at $ 1,000 for a few beehives. “
“They were really crazy that day”
According to the state of Iowa, only 1% of the population is severely allergic to stings. Still, stings can be a painful part of the hobby for any beekeeper.
“I took my fair share of bites,” said Wolfe. “I once moved a beehive without a queen. You can tell that a hive is queenless because the worker bees make a high pitched, stressed sound. So, they were already stressed. They got into my costume and into my hair. I ended up on steroids (because of the bites).
Puetz had only been stung about three times until August.
“One day, I got bitten eight times in the legs” he said. “They were really crazy that day.”
“I do it because it’s fun – it’s great”
Puetz collects honey once a year.
“Some people will harvest in the spring and fall, but being so new to this area, we only harvest in the fall,” he said. “When we harvest the honey, we take out the honey frame, and then we put it in a pen. You will want to put it in a pen because the bees want to collect this honey. Bees do not appreciate the time of harvest because it is their winter food. It would be as if someone walked into your fridge, took it all out and walked away with it. “
Puetz uses a specialized tool to scrape off the wax caps, then swirl the honey away from the remaining wax in an extractor.
“From there it’ll go through two different filters and from there you can bottle it. “ he said. “It takes a lot of manual work, but I do it because it’s fun. It’s an explosion.
After extracting the honey, Puetz wraps the boxes containing the hives and begins to feed the bees to help them survive the winter.
“A lot of people don’t realize that you have to feed your bees in the spring and fall” he said. “You either have to have indoor feeders or buckets that you can place on top so they can drink a sugar syrup. Every year I probably buy almost 300 lbs. sugar. If there is no food, they will fly away.