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Sweet survival
Oct. 28, 2013

Ro'bees' Honey Farm in Mayer shares winter routine

By Starrla Cray
Staff Writer

CARVER COUNTY, MN – On warm summer days, Ro“bees” Honey Farm in Mayer buzzes with activity – but what happens to honeybees in the winter?

In their 13 years of beekeeping, Ron and Jenifer Robey have become experts at questions like these.

“They get into a cluster,” Ron explained. “The bees are basically all in a ball around the queen. They vibrate their wing muscles, and that produces the heat.”

The inside of the cluster stays at about 93 degrees, and the bees take turns being on the outside. Bees snack on honey to keep their energy up, and during warm periods, the cluster moves to fresh areas of comb.

“If we get a really cold week, they can’t move the cluster, and they can actually starve to death – even with honey a few inches away,” Ron said.

In order to prevent this, Ron wraps a thick black material around the hive in early November.

“It absorbs heat, and acts as a windbreak,” he explained.

The hive is always open for ventilation, though, and bees sometimes break their cluster to fly around.

“On a warm winter day, they might come out of the hive for a ‘cleansing flight’ (aka bathroom break),” Jenifer said. “You can actually see little brown specks on the snow.”

On occasion, bees come out of the hive prematurely, if they mistakenly think it’s warm enough outside. But, if it’s too cold, they’ll drop to the ground mid-flight.

Large apiaries (honey farms) often take their bees to Texas over the winter, but since Ro“bees” is a small hobby operation, the bees stay in Minnesota all year.

Awaiting spring
Ron checks the hives in early spring, feeding the bees supplemental food if needed. Soon after, the worker bees begin the honey-making process.

“Willows are one of the first pollen sources,” Ron said, explaining that worker bees carry the pollen on sacs in their legs. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that one-third of the human diet is derived from insect pollinated plants, and that the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of this pollination.

After the nectar has been collected, the bees take it to the hive where it can be processed into honey and stored.

Honey harvest
Honeybees make far more honey than they can eat. According to a brochure from Ro“bees” Honey Farm, it’s not unusual to collect 100 pounds of honey from a single hive.

“We extract once a year, at the end of August,” Ron said.

“This year, we harvested 1,200 pounds,” Jenifer added.

In addition to the hives on their 20-acre property in rural Mayer, the Robeys have hives in three other locations, including:

• the Pampered Pumpkin (a vegetable farm owned by Laura Dimler, near the roundabout at Highway 7 and Carver County Road 10);

• the Tesch Farm in Watertown, where bees are surrounded by fruit trees, and extensive vegetable and flower gardens; and

• Burdorf’s Organic Farm in Arlington. This farm has organically-grown buckwheat, which allows the Robeys to harvest buckwheat honey.

The variety of honeybee food sources gives Ro“bees” Honey a unique local flavor.

“This isn’t like what you buy in a store,” Ron said.

In addition to liquid honey, Ro“bees” Honey Farm sells creamed honey in flavors like cinnamon, blueberry, raspberry, and natural.

“It’s also called spun honey and whipped honey,” Jenifer said. The rich spread is made by crystallizing the honey through a special heating and cooling process, which produces a soft, smooth texture.

Beeswax products are also sold at the farm. Ro“bees” makes beeswax lip balm in an array of flavors, as well as lotion bars (solid moisturizers to alleviate dry, itchy skin).

To learn more about Ro“bees” Honey Farm, call (952) 657-2361, e-mail rjrobey@frontiernet.net, or go to www.robeeshoneyfarm.com.

Bee happy
How much do you know about honeybees? Test your knowledge with these sweet facts from Ro”Bees” Honey Farm in Mayer:

• In the summer, a worker bee’s lifespan is only about six weeks. But, in the winter, workers can survive four to eight months.

• Worker bees (bees that collect nectar, keep the hive clean, build comb, and guard the hive) are all females.

• Male bees are called drones. Their primary purpose is to mate with the queen, and they die afterwards.

• Only one queen bee lives in each hive. She can lay up to 2,000 eggs per day.

• Honeybees communicate with one another by “dancing.”

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