Herald Journal - Enterprise Dispatch - Delano Herald Journal
What’s all the buzz about? Local couple harvests their own honey
Sept. 6, 2010

By Julie Krienke
Staff Intern

ROCKFORD, MN – A typical honeybee only produces one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its entire lifetime.

Yet, according to the National Honey Board, each person in the United States consumes about 1.31 pounds of honey every year.

With several hives that can hold up to 50,000 bees each, Mike and Jane Speckel do their part by producing and harvesting honey from three bee yards at their home west of Rockford.

“If we’ve got 10 hives, we’re talking 500,000 honeybees,” Jane said. “That means we’d have half a million bees.”

For the Speckels, it all started seven years ago when Mike put two beehives in their backyard. The couple then took a course at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus called “Beekeepers Short Course,” a three-day informational class about honeybees.

“Mike was interested, and someone told him that they have a course at the U of M,” Jane said. “We both signed up and took the course, and then we got two colonies.”

From there, the couple continued to add more and more hives to their bee yards. This summer, nearly 12 hives could be found on the Speckels’ five acres of land.

“I’m reducing them down now and bringing many of them together,” Mike said. “I think I’m down to about eight hives now.”

“That’s the normal process, to bring them together at the end of summer,” Jane added.

According to the Speckels, their honeybees are shipped to them from northern California. When they receive the bees, Mike puts them into the hives during the afternoon hours.

“During the afternoon, when you put them in, they just pour into the air,” Mike said. “It is an orientation that makes them realize where they are. Then they filter back into the box.”

Because they do not know where they are when they first arrive, Mike does not even use any form of protection when putting the honeybees into the hive.

“When bees swarm, they are not a hazard,” Mike explained. “They will not sting you in a swarm unless they are protecting a hive. When I start a colony, I don’t even use gloves.”

After their orientation flight, the honeybees know which hive is theirs based on smell and the guidance of the queen bee. According to Jane, their honeybees travel an average of two miles from the hives, but bees can go anywhere from five to 10 miles away from their own hive.

“The cluster has a queen in the center,” Mike said. “If you don’t have a queen, you have a lot of angry bees that will die because they need a queen.”

Beekeepers like the Speckels try to order all of their honeybees by April because when the queen bee begins laying eggs in the springtime, a new season has begun. According to Jane, the queen can produce up to 1,500 eggs a day.

“The queen starts laying some eggs in April,” Mike said. “Just when the pollen comes out and the flowers start to bloom, she starts making bees.”

According to Jane, it costs about $500 to purchase two beehives, which includes the boxes, frames, and foundation.”

“A package of bees is about 7,000 bees,” Jane said. “It’s a small little cage that they come in, and then you just dump those in the hive and put the queen in.”

For Mike and Jane, summer is a busy time of the year because the bees are actually producing the honey that the couple will harvest in their home.

“During the summer, I go out there every seven to 10 days to check for swarm cells,” Mike said. “They only live about six weeks in the summer, so that is why the queen is always laying eggs. Like they say, busy as a bee.”

At the end of the season, many bees die off, and the number of honeybees goes down naturally. To prepare for the coming winter months, Mike rearranges the hives so that the bees are still able to get out when the snow covers the lower opening of the hive.

Throughout the season, the Speckels harvest the honey produced on their land. Within each beehive, there are either brood boxes or honey supers to store the frames that collect honey.

“Usually, you have 10 frames in everything, but beekeepers put nine in a super,” Jane said.

The reason for this is because so much honey accumulates on the frames that there is not enough room for 10 frames. According to the Speckels, each box can weigh up to 50 pounds when filled with honey.

The Speckels collect honey from the honey supers for harvesting because the bees lay eggs and store their own honey to eat for the winter using the brood boxes.

“First, I go out there with a trailer or wheelbarrow, an empty box, and a bee brush,” Mike explained. “I try to shake the bees off the frame and separate them from the comb, and then I bring them back to my shop.”

From there, Mike uses what is called a hot knife to cut off the tops of the honeycombs, a method called capping. After the honey is run through an extractor, it goes directly into a 24-inch barrel.

The final step of the process includes running the honey through a double stage screen and then filling up jars. The Speckels’ honeybees make wildflower honey, which comes from wildflowers and plants that are in bloom during the summer.

“We don’t pasteurize our honey – it is raw,” Mike said. “Big companies of honey pasteurize it, but honey does not need to be pasteurized.”

According to the Speckels, the heat used during pasteurization will kill the pollen in the honey, which has many medicinal purposes.

The Speckels sells their jars of honey, along with honey lip balm and candles made of beeswax, at the Buffalo Farmers Market.

“People get a kick out of our name ‘The Speckel’d Bee,’” Jane said. “I guess it is the social aspect. We try to find a lot of humor in it and have fun.”

Besides Buffalo’s Saturday morning farmers market, the Speckels enjoy sharing their knowledge about beekeeping with other people.

“Once we learn the information, the fun part of beekeeping is sharing it with everyone else,” Jane said. “There are just so many things you don’t think about with a little bee flying around.”

As members of the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Club, the Speckels will perform an extraction demonstration at the honey and bee booth in the horticulture building at the Minnesota State Fair.

“We are there the first Saturday and do the extractions four times,” Jane said. “It’s funny because we do two frames, and then when you pick open the spicket, people just go ‘ooo’ because they see the honey.”

Prior to moving west of Rockford, the Speckels lived in Delano for over 20 years. The couple has lived in their current home for nearly 10 years.

Married for 31 years, Mike and Jane have three children and two grandchildren. While they are currently working solely on their honey business, Mike has had a career as a carpenter, and Jane as an accountant.

When not working with their honeybees, the couple occupies their time doing a great deal of community service and volunteer work.

“We are busy as bees,” Jane joked.

Jane does much of the marketing for the bee business, and she is a board member for the Buffalo Farmers Market. Jane also works part-time and volunteers within Delano Catholic Community Church.

“During the summer, the bees take up a lot of my time, but in the winter, I find other things to do,” Mike said. “We have a lot of hobbies.”

Mike has been on the Delano Fourth of July celebration committee for over 15 years, and he also teaches firearms and bow safety at the Delano Sportsmen’s Club.

When it comes to their beekeeping hobby, the Speckels will continue to produce and harvest their own honey.

“We are hobby beekeepers, which means we have less than 100 hives,” Jane said. “If you have more than 100, you are considered a commercial beekeeper.”

To learn more about beekeeping, talk to the Speckels at the Minnesota State Fair or try some of their honey at the farmers market in Buffalo.

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