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One beekeeper is all abuzz about his hobby

Carl Wagner pastor First Church God Joliet with one his bee hives.  |  Submitted photo

Carl Wagner, pastor of First Church of God in Joliet, with one of his bee hives. | Submitted photo

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If you go …

What: Will County Beekeeping Association

When: 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 17

Where: Will County Farm Bureau, 100 Manhattan Road, Joliet

What: Meet beekeepers, share tips and learn if beekeeping is right for you.

Contact: Call 630-557-6BEE or visit www.willbees.org

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Updated: November 3, 2012 6:06AM



JOLIET — When Carl Wagner, pastor of First Church of God, asked to borrow a hive from one of his beekeeping members, he only intended to pollinate his orchard trees.

However, the beekeeper, thrilled with Wagner’s interest, insisted Wagner keep the hive and supplied Wagner with all the necessary equipment.

Wagner felt he didn’t have the time for a new hobby, but the bees’ habits were so fascinating, Wagner soon changed his mind.

“Once you get over the fear of being stung, I loved watching them build and jump up in the air right in front of me,” said Wagner, now a member of the Will County Beekeepers Association. “I got bit by the bug, so to speak.”

Local beekeepers formed the association nearly two years ago. It offers monthly meetings, classes, workshops, newsletters and the ability to purchase bees. The next meeting is Oct. 17.

As a teen, Wagner had briefly tended some hives for an older brother. Today, he’s enjoying both keeping the bees and selling some unheated, unfiltered honey.

The earlier one harvests honey, Wagner said, the lighter the color and milder the taste. Fall is prime harvest time, but collection may begin in July. Taste also depends on from which flowers the bees extracted the nectar. Goldenrod, for instance, creates a strongly flavored honey.

Wagner sells about 75 percent — or 150 of the 200 pounds — of the honey his bees produce, a nice return on a pastime that does have start-up costs. A complete hive can cost $150. Bees alone range from $70 to $130 for several pounds.

“Some hobbies take your money,” Wagner said. “It’s nice to have one that lets you recoup some of your investment.”

An advantage to honey, Wagner said, is its natural antibiotic, which helps to preserve it. Over time, honey may crystallize, but it’s still good to eat. Simply place the entire container of honey in a pot of water and heat over a low temperature until it liquefies.

“Local honey can help people with allergies because it’s made from local weeds,” Wagner said. “When mixed with lemon, it works really well as cough medicine.”

The amount of honey produced depends on how well the keeper winterizes his bees. Cold moisture seeping in will kill them. The ideal hive temperature is 85 degrees; the vibrations from the bees’ body movements help retain warmth. Bees prefer to eat the thinner nectar to the actual honey.

The life cycle of a bee varies. After bees hatch, nurses care for the young. Workers guard the hive or forage for food. Foragers live about six months, guards a bit longer and queens up to four years. Each hives contains between 10,000 and 70,000 bees.

If the population grows too large, bees will swarm and seek a new home. By creating that new home for them, you ensure the bees will remain on your property. A diet rich in royal jelly helps turn young larva into a new queen, which is essential to the colony.

Whether the keeper is creating a new hive or replacing a dead queen with another, it’s important for the workers to accept her. Otherwise, they will kill her.

“Put the queen in a tiny cage for about three days,” Wagner said. “Then they will identify with her pheromones.”

Wagner’s been stung just 12 times in the last four years, which he partly attributes to owning bees known not to be very aggressive. For instance, Russian bees are more aggressive than Italian bees, Wagner said.

Once, a bee crawled up his pants leg. Another time he mistook a live bee for a dead one. Thankfully, Wagner is not allergic to bee stings, so he shrugs off their occurrences as part of the hobby.

“It just swells up a bit and gets itchy,” Wagner said. “But that’s pretty much it.”

Honeybees sting once and die. Yellow jackets, hornets and wasps may sting multiple times. Generally, one needn’t fear a swarm of honeybees. They’re usually so intent on finding a home, the bees won’t sting.

However, if you should notice a swarm, contact the Will County Beekeepers Association. They will be happy to take care of the swarm. Late in the year, members will simply remove it, but if you call in the spring, the swarm is a free source of bees.

“When you’re paying $90 for three pounds of bees,” Wagner said. “We’re happy to do that for you.”

To purchase honey from Wagner, call 815-723-9315.



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