How sweet it is … to be a beekeeper

NEW ULM – Crystal Bock has been keeping honey bees for the last 15 years.

Bock, who operates Cedar Springs Farm of Nicollet, raises them for honey, most of which is sold at Farmers Markets. She learned how to care for the insects from a fellow beekeeper. On Sunday Bock shared this knowledge with visitors at the Harkin Store.

Even in the pioneer days people used bees to produce honey.

Nowadays anyone can obtain honey from the grocery store, but for honey purists the direct source is superior. Bock sells raw honey with limited filtering. Some grocery store brands have even begun pasteurizing honey, which Bock sees as unnecessary. “Honey keeps forever,” said Bock. “It might crystalize, but it can be warmed over again.”

In addition, Bock prefers honey in its raw form for its greater taste. Bock explained that honey flavor is dependent on the bees’ source of food. “I cannot say for certain where my bees go,” said Bock, “but I can taste the difference.”

The honey produced by Bock’s bees early in the summer is derived from basswood trees. During the mid summer the honey has a greater clover influence. By autumn the honey takes on a wildflower taste.

The shade of the honey is also good indicator of the bees’ food source. The basswood honey tends to be a lighter color. Buckwheat honey is another popular variety that is produced locally, but it is much darker in color and in taste.

Bock’s presentation included the basic steps of maintaining the bees and the extraction of the honey. The bees are kept in boxes called “supers,” which contain frames in for the bees to build their honeycombs. Each frame can be removed from the super and placed into an extractor that uses centrifugal force to remove the honey. The individual honeycomb frames are often reused and the bees even help with the clean up process.

For Bock the biggest challenge of keeping bees is the risk of colony collapse. In the last few years her colonies are not surviving longer than a year. The loss of honey bee colonies is becoming a problem in North America. The removal of certain vegetation has limited the honey bees’ food source. The increased use of pesticides is also a major problem. Bock acknowledges that pesticides are important in a farming community, but she is concerned that some chemicals may be harming the bees.

The loss of bees would have negative impact on humans because the insects are responsible for pollinating a significant percentage of food crops.

“If we lose our bees, we are going to have problems,” said Bock.

Bock’s presentation included safety tips for managing bees. In her 15 years of keeping bees Bock has only been stung three times. In general it is important to remain calm and avoid making quick movements that might agitate the bees. Bock only approaches the colonies during times with the fewest bees; typically on warm sunny days. Bees tend to stay in the hive on rainy days.

“They don’t want to sting you,” Bock said, “but they will take one for the team if you invade their area.”

For further information on Beekeeping, Bock suggested the short weekend course offered by the The University of Minnesota. The class includes samples of honey from around the world.

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