Mt Pleasant News

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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 20, 2018

Bears stealing the honey

Local beekeeper pulls honey in Danville Saturday
By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News | Jul 03, 2018
Photo by: Grace King Chris Jackson cuts wax off of frames of honey with a hot knife as Byron Olson watches the process of honey extraction. Jackson collected 650 pounds of honey on Saturday, June 30, which he will sell at farmers markets across southeast Iowa.


DANVILLE — Chris Jackson’s honeybees were becoming aggressive as he pulled frames filled with honey from the last of his 60 hives in Danville Saturday, June 30.

Bees swarmed Jackson and his cousin and beekeeper Karl Daves, of Burlington, as they took the frames they pulled and put them in the back of a truck, spraying smoke the whole time in an attempt to calm the bees.

“We’re the bears stealing the honey,” Jackson said. “(The bees) are not always very friendly.”

Jackson pulls honey one to two times a year. Saturday, he and Daves pulled frames for three and a half hours before driving their truck a few miles down the road to the outskirts of Danville where Jackson uncapped the honey and drained it into buckets that hold 60 pounds of honey each.

Collecting that much honey is quite a task — and Jackson ended the day Saturday with 650 pounds of honey altogether. To produce even one pound of honey, 2 million flowers must be visited by honeybees. The average worker bee only makes about 1/12 a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.

While most of the honeybees still clinging to the frames abandoned ship as Jackson, still dressed in a white beekeeper suit with his hood zipped tight, drove his truck to where he extracts honey, a few continued to cling to Jackson’s clothes.

Davis, who said it was his first time collecting honey, said he was stung a half a dozen times. Jackson said he stopped counting at 20 bee stings.

“It’s part of being a beekeeper,” Jackson said with a smile. “Being insane,” adding that he was planning on taking a week off from beekeeping to let his body heal from the stings. “Safety first,” he preached.

Davis said the other hives they pulled frames from that day were a piece of cake compared to the last one they pulled frames from. Jackson said that hive was just “hot” and he wasn’t sure if a hive that angry was worth keeping around.

“Right now, if lightning struck that hive, I really wouldn’t care. It wouldn’t hurt my feelings,” Jackson admitted, adding that just like people, honeybees get restless in the heat.

There’s an old saying that when people see someone in a beekeeper suit they think they’re crazy, Jackson said. “I’d rather take a bee sting than a needle,” he said.

But Jackson just enjoys beekeeping — caring for the bees throughout the year, teaching others how to keep bees and finally collecting on his investment by bottling up the honey.

After unloading the frames from the truck, Jackson plugged in his electric knife, slicing the wax off the frames to uncap the honey. Before placing the frames in the extractor, he rolled a capping extractor, which resembled a paint roller, over the honey dripping off the frames to ensure every pocket was uncapped.

The wax he cut off the frames will be melted down, cleaned and made into candles, lip balms and furniture polish, a task which Davis said he will tackle this winter.

Once the extractor was filled with 20 frames, all oozing honey, he started it spinning for 10 to 15 minutes. Placing a bucket with a strainer fitted over the top under a pipe, honey quickly poured out of the extractor.

Jozlyn Lee, a student who is being mentored by Jackson on caring for her own hive through the Iowa Honey Producers Association, exclaimed that she had never seen that much honey in one place as the first bucket was filled in just a few minutes.

Jackson will strain the honey one more time before bottling it up and selling it at farmers markets and other places across Iowa.

Last year, Jackson pulled 1,200 pounds of honey. His goal this year is 6,000 pounds.

“I make enough for the bees to pay for themselves,” Jackson said.

While collecting honey can be an arduous task, working in the hot sun in a white bodysuit with swarming bees trying to deter the effort, for Jackson it’s just another Saturday.

Davis, exhausted from the bee stings and pulling honey for the first time, said he doesn’t at all regret the decision to be a beekeeper. “We need the bees,” he said.

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