Busy Beekeeper

ACHINE — When Luke Dreyer first went into the beekeeping business he only had the equipment.

Dreyer first started Pour Boys Honey seven years ago at the suggestion of his boss AJ MacArthur, who owns AJ’s Berry Farm.

“I had just graduated high school and AJ — who owns this farm — he knew I was looking for something to get into. He had a honey supplier (Harmony Acres of Mikado) who wanted to retire. So he had me talk to them. Long story short I bought their business and moved it up here,” Dreyer said. “To be honest I never grew up thinking ‘Oh, I wanted to be a beekeeper.’ It was good deal, a good opportunity. It was something to get into. It was the best opportunity I had in front of me at the time so I took it.”

After he bought the equipment, Dreyer purchased 50 hives.

“Beekeeping is very good choice for me. Being a farmer working alongside AJ here, my bees pollinate his crops. In turn his crops would provide pollen and nectar,” Dreyer said.

When he first bought the company he didn’t have any experience.

“The people I bought out simply wanted to be done. I learned mostly by trial and error. I jumped in both feet first. I read a lot of books, I went to beekeeping conferences. I started with what worked and what didn’t work with me,” Dreyer said. “That’s the thing, you can ask 10 different beekeepers what works for them and you’ll get 10 different answers. There’s so many options and things you can try. But they may not always work for you. They might work for someone in a different location with different equipment. But, you have to focus on what you have and where you are and find out from there what works.”

It was a long process to learn how to fine tune his equipment and fine tune the bees, he said.

“I’m still working with the bees. I’ve gotten the equipment down well. But the bees themselves are posing their problems,” Dreyer said.

This year Dreyer said he’s encountered problems that affect the bees. He said his hive count is lower at about 30 hives.

“This is actually a worldwide problem. There are many different issues affecting the bees. Nobody can seem to pin down which one is the worst. The best that researchers and scientists can come up with so far is that it’s a combination of all the different kinds of pests and diseases that in the end weaken the bees to the point where they’re unable to survive,” Dreyer said.

The problem with the most attention is called colony collapse disorder. This is where a hive for unknown reasons will disappear. There are no bees left in the hive, it’s just gone.

“As far as we’ve been able to tell, it is caused by the bees getting weakened to the point where they’re so stressed with their current conditions they leave and find a place that suits them better. If they don’t end up dying anyway,” Dreyer said.

For several years he tried to treat the bees and the pests and diseases they had. He has since taken a different approach.

“This past year what I tried was a much more hands off method, what beekeeping used to be. It used to be you put the bees in a box, you’d walk away and at the end of the summer you would harvest your honey. I’m still trying to disturb them as little as possible. I don’t know how well that will affect them. I’ve tried everything under the sun that has been recommended to me. Even still it doesn’t always work. The hives right now seem to have responded well without medication. I still make sure there is food available to them when pollen and nectar levels are low. So they always have a food source. I’m not going to harvest honey this fall either,” he said.

It’s so important to protect the health of the bees because they do so much needed work.

“Without them we’d lose so much of our pollination. Yes, we’re finding ways to replace what the bees do but it’s not the same. It’s the bees doing the job they were created to do,” he said.

It’s important to keep the bees alive so they can continue to do their job, Dreyer said.

Along with their pollination work some of the benefits of local honey is it contains local allergens.

“Consuming honey from your area helps you to build up an immunity to allergens in the area. It’s a wonderful sugar substitute. I make some jams and use honey instead of sugar and it makes incredible jam. Without the bees, we lose the pollination and we lose the honey, both of which are very beneficial to us,” he said.

In a strong hive Dreyer said there can be about 70,000 bees that can produce about 150 pounds of honey. There are three different kinds of honey bees in a hive.

There are the queen bees. There is one queen bee per hive, he said.

“Her job is to lay eggs, emit pheromones that help the other bees orient themselves to a specific hive and to do their job in general. Depending on the pheromones she puts out it determines the stress level on the hive. If she’s all worked up the rest of the bees they will get stressed. In the summer at peak she can lay several thousand eggs per day,” Dreyer said.

Then there are the male bees called drones. Their sole job is to fertilize the queen to lay eggs. Upon a successful fertilization with a queen a drone will die.

“Then there are the worker bees. They are all female. Their job, they’re the workhouse of the hive. They collect the nectar and turn it into honey. They collect pollen, they make a substance called propolis that is used as a sealent throughout the hive. They make a substance called royal jelly to feed to developing queens and current queen. They can make queen cells if the old queen is old injured, or sick, so they can raise a new queen in their place. They care for all the larvae and they feed the drones. They do the vast majority of the work so a hive is 98.9 percent female,” Dreyer said.

The equipment used to take care of them includes a suit, a smoker is used to calm down and subdue them so they won’t become stressed and attack, he said.

“When a bee attacks and it’s successful in stinging you the stinger rips out of its body and then the bee dies. It’s in your best interest to not agitate the bees especially when they become stressed. They’re more susceptible to disease and parasites. I also have a tool I use that helps me open the boxes I keep them in, and frames,” he said.

Dreyer said it’s been a joy to work with the bees because they’re a necessary contributor to his way of life with farms.

“Now I get to directly assist farming. I get to work with bees, learn what they need, when they need it and when they don’t,” he said.

He likes to study them and find out how they work better.

“They’re fascinating insects. They’re so many amazing characteristics and attributes to them and work with them to find out what I need to do to help them do their job, which helps me do mine. It’s a very rewarding process. It has been frustrating to have problems with them, but everyone in the nation has it. I’m not going to give up on them. We’re going to keep working with them to find out what they need,” Dreyer said.

Pour Boy Honey can be purchased at 18 stores across Northeast Michigan including all Neiman’s Family Market locations, Perch’s IGA and AJ’s Berry Farm.

Jordan Spence can be reached via email at jspence@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5687.