The buzzing never stops at Grand Valley State University’s two apiaries as bees from 13 hives constantly churn out honey.
Fall is harvest season for local beekeepers and members of GVSU Beekeepers, a campus group made up of 10-15 students, spent a day in September collecting this year’s bounty from the hives. GVSU Beekeepers harvested, extracted and bottled more than 360 pounds of honey.
Megan Damico, president of GVSU Beekeepers and a student majoring in biomedical sciences, said honey is often collected in the spring as well, but the club limits its collection to once per year.
“We harvest once a year because we aren’t here for the sales of the honey. We are here to educate students about the benefits of pollinators, specifically honeybees, and what they can do for our environment and agriculture system.”
Damico said honeybees pollinate one-third of crops grown in the U.S. “They pollinate all kinds of produce, from citrus fruits in the south, up to apples and berries in the north, over to almonds in the west. They’re key to our healthy diets.”
GVSU Beekeepers does sell its honey, however. The bottles can be purchased Monday through Friday for $8 in room 324 of Lake Ontario Hall on the Allendale Campus and at the front desk at the Meijer Campus in Holland.
Also for sale are tubes of chapstick and hand salve, made from the collected beeswax. “We usually make around 200 chapstick tubes and about 50-plus tins of hand salve,” Damico said.
You don’t have to be a GVSU student or faculty member to purchase the honey or other products.
Several other local beekeepers also filled jars with West Michigan made honey this past month and are selling them at farmers markets and through local retailers.
Mark Datema, who oversees hundreds of hives in West Michigan, described himself as more than a hobbyist, but not a commercial beekeeper. He sells his honey out of the Grand Rapids Cheesecake Company, which he owns, as well as out of a few stores in Texas and California.
“I raise two styles of honey, raw and comb honey,” he said. He described the collection process. “I pull all the boxes of the honey and I extract them and then put those back on the hives and let the bees clean them up, then pull my honey combs.”
Datema got into beekeeping five years ago and has been increasing his hives since. He said the backyard beekeeping trend is still going strong and each year he sells bees to new individuals wanting to start their own beekeeping operations.
“People are buying bees from me every spring,” he said.
He said one of the biggest challenges to beekeepers are pests that kill the bees. Datema said he treats his hives twice a year but often those new to beekeeping believe in treatment free approaches. “I appreciate that idea, but it’s tough to do it if you don’t treat your bees for mites or other diseases.”
For those looking to get into beekeeping and raising their own honey, Datema said a couple of hives is plenty. “One hive could produce three to six gallons, and a gallon would suffice,” he said. “I have friends with a few hives and they produce honey for themselves and then sell it to others. They do it small scale.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Datema said Michigan’s commercial producers garner thousands of pounds of honey, regularly having anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 hives. He also said honey is actually not the most important byproduct of beekeeping though. Instead, bees are valued most for their pollination abilities and are rented to agriculture operations each year.
“You rent my bees for your orchard,” he said. “Beekeeping at a commercial level is very necessary in Michigan when you look at all the other crops. All those farmers hire beekeepers to put hives in their crops.”
So when you’re enjoying some local honey this fall, keep in mind that Michigan’s bees are integral to the state’s entire agriculture system.