Beekeeper of the Month
We had bees in the backyard from the time I was born in 1980, so beekeeping has been a lifelong association. During our time in Fairfield, we only had a couple of bee yards, and we sold all of the honey out of the house. I took the bees for granted at that age—I think that using the smoker and cranking the four-frame extractor were the main highlights for me. I never would have guessed that I would one day defend a Ph.D. on the history of beekeeping.
Adam Ebert holds a frame of queen cells that have just been started. His queen bee project has added another aspect to the honey business and provides stock for requeening the occasional hive in the fall. At times he has about 100 nucs setup as temporary housing for his queens.
I got more serious about the bees in 1994. We had moved to Lynnville several years earlier, and we kept bees in a few more locations than we had in the past. My dad asked if I wanted to take responsibility for one yard that year. I think there were about twenty hives back in that pasture. It didn’t matter that I was not old enough to drive since it was just a quarter mile behind the house. I decided it sounded like an interesting experience and agreed to do it for a fifty percent share on the honey. The honey was a little slow filling the boxes that year, but I eventually had a crop and looked forward to the next honey season. Next year I was driving around to all the bees—still a year short of my license but too interested in the bees to worry about getting pulled over.
Adam carefully grafts the larva into the queen cups. They are quite small being less than 24 hrs. old in the larva stage.
Everything exploded after that. We soon had hundreds of colonies and Dad started delivering honey to more stores. When the honey house went up in 1996, bottling moved out of the basement and extracting moved out of the garage. My younger brother Anthony became bottler and extractor extraordinaire in short order.
The most memorable challenge popped up in 1999. I came home from my first year at Iowa State and discovered a widespread outbreak of American foulbrood. I had read enough on bee diseases to suspect the symptoms of gooey larvae and hard scales. One of the inspectors confirmed our situation. We had to melt a lot of combs and use a regular regimen of terramycin, but I got it cleaned up just in time for the honey flow. That episode still haunts me. A frame-by-frame investigation of every cell in each hive is pretty daunting. Problems with European foulbrood earlier this year (2009) brought back some unpleasant memories.
Still, it has been a lot of fun for the most part. I long ago started to appreciate the extremes of summer heat and humidity in Iowa. Anything that helps the bees puts me in a better mood. Keeping a larger number of hives means a lot of work. We have over six hundred colonies this year, but it’s very satisfying to reflect on how we’ve transformed a longtime hobby into a more substantial family business. My brothers Anthony and Eric have gone on to other pursuits in recent years, but three of us are still here trying to keep the bees alive and make some honey. Between Phil, Alex, and myself, hopefully we can keep things rolling as more honey seasons approach. If you want to keep track of our adventures, I periodically share our excitement at