Meet John, Your Beekeeper
Beekeeping is an art best learned from another experienced beekeeper. I got my start keeping bees when I was 18, in St. Cloud, Minnesota. It was partial payment for roofing a State Beekeeping Inspector’s house. His name was Clarence Nothnagel and he had two hives of bees. Clarence not only set me up with two hives of bees, but he helped me work those bees, and had me help him work his bees. He had me join a local beekeepers association. Within a few years I had 14 hives of bees and was selling honey out of my house, in 1 gallon jars. The hobby of beekeeping is called apiculture.
When I graduated from college, my Uncle Earl approached me about getting into bees commercially. He was a carpenter and had recently worked on a commercial beekeeper’s honey house and warehouse. A honey house is where the honey is extracted and bottled and must meet food processing standards.
Other than that, Uncle Earl didn’t know much about bees. We got big dollar signs in our eyes about making and selling honey. That’s when I became a migratory commercial beekeeper. My Uncle and I split up within two years and I went on to commercially take care of honey bees for 16 years.
I was fortunate that on my first year of migrating with my bees to deep east Texas for the winter I met another beekeeper from Minnesota who also migrated there. I didn’t have enough hives to sustain myself financially, so I went to work for Bob and Bernette Banker. I’d work for them all week and then go work my bees on the weekend. When it came time for me to build new beehives and raise queen bees, they came with their crew and helped me. They were great old-timer beekeepers. Bob wrote a chapter for the Bible of beekeeping, “The Hive and the Honeybee”, Dadant and Sons Publication. It’s where I really started to learn how to be a good beekeeper. I would still recommend it to learn beekeeping for beginners.
Working with Bees and getting Stung
Beekeepers avoid getting stung by wearing gloves and a veil to protect the face but they still get stung. I remember the first day I went out into Bob and Bernettes bee yards. It was cold and rainy, a bad time to visit bees because all the field bees that normally go out and work, were home with nothing to do and cranky about it. Bad weather makes honey bees aggressive. To avoid getting stung, it’s best to visit on a warm sunny day when the bees are making honey and happy.
But we had to work regardless and our task that day was to hunt for and find the queen bees in the hives. We were going to mark the queen with a small spot of paint on the thorax so we could find them easier later. We also clip one of their wings to keep them from swarming.
When we got out of the bee truck to get working and I started putting my gloves on, Bob told me not today, no gloves. I had never done that before! You can’t catch queens and hold them with gloves on. The queens have a stinger but it is the female worker bees that pose the threat, as it’s their job is to protect the hive. I had never worked bees with my gloves off. The bees let us have it that day in the poor weather. I lost count of the stings. My hands were puffy like mushrooms. From that time onward my body built up a tolerance to bee stings and I got very use to getting stung every day with little reaction. I still like wearing a veil and not getting stung in the face.
Bob introduced me to Lee Roy Bordelon and his son Lee Roy Jr. Lee Roy raised all the queens bees for Bob. Bob sent me down to Lee Roy’s place to pick up queens on a regular basis. Lee Roy took a liking to me and saw I was a hard worker and asked me to come work out of their place next year. They’d help me and I’d help them and Lee Roy was going to teach me how a bee become a queen bee. This involves manipulating the hive to get the bees to feed new larvae with royal jelly. It must be done very carefully to be successful. Now, Lee Roy and his son were two of the best beekeepers I’ve ever met. Those guys thought like bees. I gleaned more from them in two years then all my beekeeping to that point. It really launched me into being a better beekeeper.
Working for them I met other migratory beekeepers. Gene Sager and his wife Sharon were close friends who helped further my career in big ways. Almost all of these people have since passed away; but their knowledge was passed on to many new beekeepers. I hope I’m doing the same now. I am currently mentoring a lady that is new to beekeeping.
The lesson here is that finding a mentor in beekeeping is extremely helpful in becoming a good beekeeper. A short course and a few books won’t cut it if you want to be successful.
I quit commercial beekeeping many years ago; but I’ve always remained a beekeeper. I’m much happier being a hobby beekeeper with around 10 hives of bees. Keeping bees alive has become much harder and managing bees has changed significantly, to keep up with changes in bee habitat, pesticides, and varroa mites. My reward is that I can now make honey the way I know is best for pure gourmet honey.
To learn more about Johns approach to protecting and caring for bees, click more.
Honey straight out of the hive, no sweeteners added, no flavor processed out.
Call to Order
Please call me because I don’t check my email that often. But when you call, let me know if you filled out the form so I can use it as a reminder. Selling this way allows me to keep my prices lower than if I was at a farmers market.
For small orders, you can pick your order at my house in Golden Valley. I will give you the address and directions when you call. If ordering a box (12, 2lb jars or 24, 1lb jars) or more, I may be able to deliver to your location.
John has gone out of his way to help and teach me how to care for my two colonies of honey bees. There is so much to learn about the art of beekeeping and John is the “bee whisperer”. He has many years of experience, and a depth of knowledge that he has generously shared with me. I am very fortunate to be John’s friend, and beekeeping student.