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Thank a farmer: Haute Honey Farms owner says he started as a hobbyist
Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza Hive health check: Kris Bilyeu checks a frame from one of his hives on Wednesday in southern Vigo County.
JOSEPH C. GARZA
The honey harvest isn’t far off for most central Indiana beekeepers.
As the spring nectar flow slows, hive queens lessen daily reproduction and the heat of summer sets in. The bees now work to cap their honeycombs or fan collected nectar with their wings to lower moisture content, which leaves behind harvestable honey.
Not meaning to be a micromanager, Kris Bilyeu on Wednesday donned a beekeepers’ veil and a leather glove to check the progress of a colony.
Bilyeu pulled a frame, still crawling with hundreds of honey bees, from one of the 20 hives he tends at his apiary in rural Vigo County, Haute Honey Farms.
He studied one side of the frame before flipping it to inspect the other.
“This is a beautiful bit of honey,” Bilyeu said looking the frame over. “This one right here is ready for harvest.”
The bees again this year have done their job for Bilyeu, a reassurance that he has done his.
Bilyeu first became interested in honey bees and beekeeping after one of his daughters came home from school and couldn’t stop talking about bees that night — or for several nights after.
The two Bilyeus then took a keepers course and started the farm’s first hive. His daughter eventually left for college and left Bilyeu with the bees.
Tribune-Star/Joseph C. GarzaHow it’s done: Haute Honey Farms owner Kris Bilyeu explains how he uses an extractor, left, to remove the honey from a hive frame on Wednesday.
JOSEPH C. GARZA
While it might have been easy to set the hobby aside, Bilyeu instead dove headlong into the world of beekeeping and has made now a considerable investment in his growing operation.
Spread across his 10-acre family farm and on nearby properties Bilyeu has homes for almost 1 million of nature’s most efficient pollinators. He’s also working now on putting together a commercial kitchen where he can bottle and label his raw honey and beeswax products.
Currently he uses space available at Rick’s Smokehouse, from which he sells raw honey. Haute Honey Farms honey also is available at Buck’s Marathon and Baesler’s Market.
Tribune-Star/Joseph C. GarzaThe girls: Kris Bilyeu’s love for beekeeping started when he began the hobby with one of his daughters when she was in high school. Bilyeu now has several hives and he harvests and bottles the honey the bees — which he calls ‘the girls’ — produce. Here, he checks a frame in one of his hives on Wednesday.
JOSEPH C. GARZA
And maybe greater than his capital investment is Bilyeu’s emotional investment. He said keepers often come to realize after not long that “the girls,” as Bilyeu has come to call his bees, are worth much more than the honey they produce.
“You can’t beat fresh, raw honey,” Bilyeu said. “But they also do so much as pollinators. I could talk all day about the good they do around the home and for the environment, but there is a reason people are so concerned some bee numbers are declining.”
His passion for the bees is evident even in the way he cuts the grass. Much of the farm nearest the house features a tight, uniform trim. But away from that, white clover grows largely untouched and serves as a veritable buffet for bees.
“It makes you look at what you do and how you treat things,” Bilyeu said. “I before treated my yard every year, but as soon as I got bees that stopped. I stopped trying to kill clover and started planting it.
“And I have to say, it seemed to be a big year for clover. It’s everywhere you look.”
What comes across now as matter-of-fact truths when talking to Bilyeu about beekeeping and honey production is the earned knowledge of more than a decade of reading blogs and keeper forums and taking classes through Purdue.
It’s from working the farm throughout the year, feeling confident about the hives’ wintering ability just to get to spring with but two surviving colonies.
It’s also the shared experiences of fellow keepers in the Clay County Beekeepers Association and of mentors Aaron Warner and Andy Lohrman.
“It’s just so many things,” Bilyeu said of learning the behaviors and habits of bees. “But no matter how full your brain gets sometimes, you always want to know more and study more and take more classes.
“And the biggest part of that for me is to take all that I learn and pass it along to those just starting out so they don’t give up, so they won’t quit when something goes wrong.”
For more than hour Wednesday, Bilyeu explained and illustrated the elementary fundamentals of beekeeping, earning a swollen knuckle on an ungloved hand for his trouble.
But Bilyeu didn’t hurry along his guest’s visit despite the now throbbing hand or midday heat, he lamented only there wasn’t an hour more to keep sharing his passion.
“And we haven’t even touched on mites or beeswax or propolis …”