Your own beehive

Door County Beekeepers Club makes a buzz

For Door County Beekeepers Club (DCBC), co-founder Max Martin, beekeeping was “a hobby that got out of hand.”

It started with Martin’s job at the American Potato Genebank. There he hand-pollinated potato flowers, but he asked Sturgeon Bay beekeeper Paul Eggert about the possibility of using honeybees for the work. The honeybees Martin started with refused to help him, but they sparked his interest in beekeeping.

Soon Martin’s first hive became two, and two became three – and now, 24 years later, Martin has 24 hives, producing about 1,500 pounds of honey a year. That’s about 14 five-gallon buckets of the stuff, which he sells to Welsing’s Foodland, The Clearing, and farmers’ markets in Sturgeon Bay and Fish Creek.

In addition to keeping his own bees, Martin has passed the skill on to other local residents through DCBC, which now has about 85 members.

DCBC offers a hive for new beekeepers

The club is aimed at novice beekeepers and meets monthly to discuss how to keep the hives healthy and solve any problems.

DCBC members also do “beehive dives” before their meetings by going to a member’s home, donning beekeeper suits, and breaking open the host’s hives to look inside. It’s especially helpful for new beekeepers to explore the inner workings of a hive firsthand, Martin said.

So does having a network of experienced mentors, said DCBC co-founder Gretchen Schmelzer. Without it, beekeeping could be a daunting hobby to start.

When Schmelzer got her first package of bees (DCBC members can order bees through Martin, who picks them up in Sullivan, Wisconsin, and takes them to Door County), she carefully placed them in the backseat of her car and listened nervously to the box buzzing. when she drove home.

“I thought, ‘Who is doing this?'” said Schmelzer.

But when she arrived at her house and walked the bees with her son, who is also a beekeeper, she was fascinated by her new hive.

“I’d have a seat right there next to my beehive, and I’d just sit there and watch them fly in and out,” Schmelzer said.

In addition to helping new beekeepers, DCBC hosts outreach events to educate the community about bees. One such event was the August 20 Community Honey Harvest, where Schmelzer and other DCBC members immersed visitors in the world of beekeeping.

Doing this was a multisensory experience. At one booth, attendees could taste bits of fresh honeycomb broken off a sticky, sweet sheet; spoons of bee pollen – protein-rich, nutty granules; and small cups of mead, a wine-like drink made with fermented honey.

At another booth, guests could feel thin sheets of beeswax before being rolled up to make candles, or pour wax granules over the fabric to make reusable food packaging.

Outside, the stars of the show could be heard buzzing in and out of their speakers. Visitors watched as DCBC members harvested honey using a flow hive, which allows honey to be poured from the box, through a tube and into a beekeeper’s waiting jar.

Beekeepers harvest honey from a beehive while visitors watch. Photo by Sam Watson.

The benefits of bees are everyone’s beeswax

One of the goals of the event – ​​and the club in general – is to educate the community about how bees are helping them. In addition to producing wax and honey, both of which have medicinal properties, bees pollinate native plants, commercial crops and gardens. By doing this, Schmelzer said, they help both the environment and the local economy thrive.

Despite these advantages, even Schmelzer was nervous around bees at first. But, she said, getting stung isn’t as big of a threat as some might think. During her roughly eight years of beekeeping, Schmelzer said she was “only stung when I’ve been stupid.”

In reality, bees don’t want to sting you. It’s a defense mechanism—generally used when they feel they’re trapped or feel there is a threat to the hive—and one that will cost them their lives.
When a honeybee stings, the stinger becomes embedded in the skin of the perceived threat, such as a human. When the bee withdraws from the sting, it self-amputates its abdomen, leaving the stinger in the receiver and a gaping hole at the end of its abdomen. It’s a gruesome death that they’d rather avoid, of course.

But sometimes, as Schmelzer said, beekeepers’ “stupidity” — going through a hive inspection too quickly, or accidentally catching or squeezing a bee — can cause a sting.

After 24 years of occasional mistakes, Martin has developed an immunity to stings. Now when he was stung, “I couldn’t tell you where the sting was after about five minutes,” he said.

The frustrations of beekeeping often hurt more than the stings.

“It’s a very, very challenging hobby because things change,” Martin said.

For example, he has done extensive research into ‘hibernation’ or keeping a hive alive during the colder months, but sometimes, despite his best efforts, large numbers of bees die before spring.

But for Martin and Schmelzer, the satisfaction of keeping bees makes the difficulties worth it: she enjoys watching her beehive work, and he enjoys learning about bee behavior and passing on his knowledge to others. They love what they do – even if it stings.

Learn more or join the DCBC by visiting doorcountybeekeepersclub.org. The club’s annual membership is $20 per person or $30 per family.

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