What’s the Buzz?
local beekeepers keep bees in business
BEEKEEPING IN THE VALLEY
According to Don Hauser, the president of the Chippewa Valley Beekeepers Association, the Chippewa Valley is a “sweet spot” for beekeepers, since folks in the north have shorter growing seasons and the south faces intense heat.
Since we live in this sweet spot, curious locals may wonder how to get started in the hobby of beekeeping. First things first: Don’t pop open the YouTube tutorials, since they aren’t Chippewa Valley specific.
“The fact that we’re in northern Wisconsin – even somebody who’s in southern Wisconsin – if you try to keep bees exactly the way that they do, chances are it’s not going to work,” said Bill Korb, a member of the association and a local organic gardener.
The question is: How do first-time beekeepers get started?
“I always say that we could learn a lot from bees,” Korb said. “They know how to work together to get a lot done, and if humans were as willing to work with each other as bees were, the planet would be in a lot better shape than it is.”
When Farm & Fleet added their beekeeping section, Korb picked up the book “The Backyard Beekeeper” by Kim Flottum.
“I got like, five pages into the book, and it’s like, I gotta do this,” Korb said. “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever read about.”
The book recommended three things: First, sign up for a class. Second, read everything you can about beekeeping. And third, join a local group.
“There’s a lot to learn in the beekeeping industry, and the best place to learn is with other beekeepers,” said Hannah Sjostrom, a third-generation beekeeper, the 2019 American Honey Queen, and a UW-Eau Claire nursing student.
Korb joined the Chippewa Valley Beekeepers Association (chippewavalleybeekeepers.com) and began taking classes at Beaver Creek Reserve. With 70 paid members, this beekeeping association meets every second Sunday at 2pm at the WWIB Building in Lake Hallie.
Beaver Creek Reserve offers three classes, taught by members of the association: Beekeeping 101: Learn the Art of Beekeeping, Beekeeping 102: So You Are a Beekeeper, Now What?, and Beekeeping 103: Preparing the Hive for Winter.
First-time beekeepers start out by buying bees in bulk packages called “nucs.” These plastic or wood containers temporarily house a small hive (meaning several thousand bees) and a small jar of syrup to tide the bees over on the journey from the South to Wisconsin.
In the introductory classes, new beekeepers are taught how to install the packages into their hives.
Additionally, Chippewa Valley Technical College (www.cvtc.edu/beekeeping) offers credit classes for folks interested in beginning beekeeping. The two classes – Beginner Beekeeping and Beyond Beekeeping– are held on Saturdays during the summer and fall.
“Students have a chance to see the bees grow and develop into unique colonies,” said Adam Wehling, the dean of the agriculture, energy, construction, and transportation programs at CVTC.
Besides watching out for getting stung, beekeepers should also be on the lookout for parasites and illnesses in their bees. Namely, the Varroa mite.
The Varroa mite is to a bee what a tick is to a human. It burrows into the bee’s body, sucking on its hemolymph, or blood. This can spread illness to the bees.
Jim Burritt, a UW-Stout biology professor, is conducting ongoing research on bees and recently published an article about a bacteria that may wipe out bee populations through the winter.
“You’re going to have setbacks,” Korb said. “You might lose a hive. Don’t get discouraged.”
In his first year as a beekeeper, Korb harvested no honey, since he lost his hive. Last year, he harvested more than 100 pounds of honey – that’s about 34-35 quarts.
“And this is just a hobby,” he said.
BUZZING ALL WINTER LONG
There are ways to ensure bees can make it through nasty Wisconsin winters. Hauser and Julie Felske, the database coordinator at Beaver Creek Reserve, offered a few tips:
Don’t let them freeze! Make sure the hives have air flow from the bottom to the top because otherwise condensation will build up in the hive and they’ll freeze.
Make sure there are at least 70-80 pounds of honey for the bees to eat so they don’t starve during the winter.
But, make sure there’s not too much honey, or they may not be able to move. This is what beekeepers call being “honey bound.”
WHAT ABOUT ME?
The Chippewa Valley Beekeepers Association and Xcel Energy will offer a place for beekeepers. Last fall, Xcel planted wildflowers on a 32-acre property. Xcel is opening 2.5 of those 32 acres for beehives.
“Our thinking is what a perfect place for people who don’t have that property,” Hauser said. “For somebody who wants to be a beekeeper but lives in an apartment or dormitory or wherever they’re living that wouldn’t allow for that.”
Or, Felske said, for Eau Claire residents who don’t want to pay the $75 ordinance fee.
More information about beekeeping in the valley is available online at chippewavalleybeekeepers.com. Eau Claire’s beekeeping ordinances are available on the city website.