Honey, Honey

It’s honey season, so beekeepers around the county are getting ready for the harvest and the Door County Beekeepers Club is celebrating it with a community event Aug. 19, 9-11 am, at Crossroads at Big Creek, 2041 Michigan St. in Sturgeon Bay. 

Gretchen Schmelzer, co-founder of the Door County Beekeepers Club, said the group will have a few bee boxes available for attendees to explore during the harvest event, along with hands-on beeswax crafts and honey tastings. 

Schmelzer fell in love with beekeeping after seeing a demonstration at Crossroads and decided to establish the club, which has attracted about 80 members. She said its goal is to expose people to the wonder of bees. 

“I have a prairie in my backyard, so just watching the native bees and the honeybees doing their work out there brings me a lot of joy,” Schmelzer said. “Seeing the pollen packed on their hind legs, watching them come into the hive. It’s just amazing to me the way they work together.”

Door County Beekeepers Club members have bee farms – also known as apiaries – of all sizes. Most noticeable are the towers of bee boxes stacked in orchards or fields, and, Schmelzer said, each member produces varying amounts of honey each season.

Club member Rob Edmundson has five colonies, which he said produce between 150 and 200 pounds of honey annually. He’s hopeful this year’s harvest will be plentiful – the combination of a cooler summer and healthy bees makes for more honey. 

“I can tell you right now that I’ve got one hive that has probably 150 pounds by itself,” Edmundson said. 

Other beekeepers’ broods are a bit larger. Susan Dompke’s Sweet Mountain Farm on Washington Island is home to 125 colonies. She said the island has been a perfect place to breed and raise Russian honey bees, as well as to harvest honey. 

“We’re like a dome,” Dompke said. “Bees don’t travel any farther than they’re able to view land, so because we have this seven-mile water in between us and the mainland, it’s the perfect environment for bees.” 

She said Sweet Mountain Farm harvests between 6,000 and 7,000 pounds of honey each year, which she sells online and in some Door County shops, along with beeswax candles and soap. Edmundson’s apiary sells its nonpasteurized, raw honey on Facebook, donating the proceeds from each harvest to charity. 

Benefits of Beekeeping

“If it weren’t for the bees, we wouldn’t have fruits and vegetables – it’s that simple,” Edmundson said. 

According to the Food and Drug Administration, honeybees’ benefit value is more than 10 times greater than that of just honey and beeswax. That’s because bees are master pollinators – transferring pollen from plant to plant, and making fruits and vegetables heartier, Dompke said. She said her Russian honeybees, which are able to thrive in colder temperatures than native honeybees, help to support Washington Island’s early-blooming crops such as cherries and apples. 

“They’re really good for orchards,” Dompke said. “I think you could talk to anybody on the island, and they’d tell you that the harvest is dependent on the quality of pollination, and the pollination on the island is incredible.”

Just as fruit can’t grow without bees, bees can’t make honey without nectar – and the flavor of honey depends on which plants bees are around. Dompke said plants such as basswood and lavender give Sweet Mountain Farm honey a distinctive flavor. 

“Basswood is in bloom right now, and basswood honey appeals to a lot of people because it’s clear like water, and it’s very sweet,” Dompke said. “The bees love basswood. There are other things, too – we’ve got lavender here on the island that will give you almost a minty coolness when you taste lavender honey.”

Schmelzer said beekeeping has made her think about how each bite of honey is made. 

“Seeing that golden liquid, and knowing that it takes so many bees to make that happen, I really respect every teaspoon of honey I eat,” she said. “It definitely has raised my respect and admiration for what they produce. It’s their life’s work.”