HARRISVILLE Teresa and Walter McCurdy call themselves small-animal farmers, and enjoy sweet profits from all of their hard work. But unlike other agricultural professionals, it can really sting if their herd gets rowdy.
That's because the two maintain more than 250,000 honeybees on a wooded, 40-acre parcel a few miles from Harrisville. Walter is a full-time coffee roaster and does most of the work with the insects. Teresa handles the bottling and marketing, selling the unpasturized honey at the ARA Farmers Market and the Alnico Coffee Company. A proficient beekeeper, Teresa became allergic to stings over time and now takes shots to prevent a reaction.
"We had just bought the property in 2004, and my husband thought it would be good to have some pollinators for our fruit trees," she said. When she lost her technical writing job the following year, she found herself stepping into a white beekeepers suit, putting a netted hat over her head and heading out to take care of the hives.
"We have tons of apples, a beautiful old plum patch, pears and wild cherries," Teresa said. "We also have oak trees, basswood, a nice cedar forest, a hardwood forest, wildflower meadows and pines. And the bees love all of that."
The couple keeps most of the hives on their farm, and has more bee boxes located on property in Harrisville, close to some chestnut trees that bloom in the spring.
To economize, the two build the bee boxes, and make other tools and equipment needed to feed the insects and process the honey.
Beekeeper Teresa McCurdy will talk about honey and offer samples during her presentation 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Alcona County Library in Harrisville. The event is free.
In winter, Walter said, the bees are fairly quiet. Inside their hives, the worker bees are balled up around a single queen so they can keep her warm at 93 degrees Fahrenheit.
"If you put a stethoscope up to the hive and lightly tap on the side you hear a buzz," he said. "That way you know your bees are alive.
"Mice are the enemy," Walter said. "A mouse will go into one corner when the bees are in a ball and they pick and eat a couple off, and make a mess in there."
Skunks and bears also can damage or destroy hives, he said.
Seasonal variations cause changes in their bee population, Walter said. Right now, they have 28 colonies of bees, a figure that could change later. And not all hives are productive. Last summer, the McCurdys processed 600 pounds of honey produced by 12 hives. This equals 120 gallons of honey.
"It was a good year compared to most people in the country," Teresa said, noting it was their highest yield so far. "We did something right."
Once they harvest the combs, they remove the honey, filter it and store it in sealed 5-gallon pails until Teresa is ready to bottle.
Although most people are afraid of bees, Walter and Teresa understand the mood swings and approach hives when conditions are best.
The bottling process takes time. Opening a plastic tap, Teresa holds a sterilized jar under a slow-motion stream of unpasturized honey until the jar is full. Then she weighs the honey and prices the product by the pound.
"Up here in Michigan, you don't harvest in the spring, because the bees need honey for their own food," she said.
Instead the McCurdys wait until July, August and September. If the bees have had enough energy to make excess honey, the crop is collected.
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5693.