DELPHOS—The next time you squeeze honey onto your toast or in your tea, take a moment to think about how much work it takes a honey bee to make it.
“Each bee makes roughly half a teaspoon of honey in its life,” local beekeeper Tess Rahrig said. “All that work for that small amount. In the hive there is the queen, the drones and the worker bees. The worker bees work themselves to death for the queen. During really cold weather, they even huddle together in a big ball around the queen to keep her warm.”
Rahrig and her husband, Keith, began keeping bees after their son Justin started the endeavor for an FFA project. Once he graduated, they kept it up.
“We started here at the house with two hives and then we found out that our neighbors were very allergic,” Ragrig said. “So then we moved them to Venedocia because my brother-in-law has some woods over there.”
Since Rahrig works for the U.S. Postal Service as a rural carrier and her husband Keith owns K&K Builders in Delphos, beekeeping is their hobby.
“In the spring we’ll go out and add supers to the hives. Those are frames we put in that the bees build their honeycomb in and fill it with honey and then cap it,” Rahrig said. “If the bees fill up one of the supers, then we can add another and they can get pretty tall. One year I had to get on a step-ladder because the hive was so high.”
Rahrig says that when the time comes to open the hive, they will either smoke the hive to temporarily subdue the bees or apply a special substance to the top of the hive.
“We’ll put this stuff at the top that smells really bad and the bees will go to the bottom of the hive so we can open the top,” she said. “After we get the honeycomb out, we put it in an extractor and it spins all of the honey out. When you extract the honey it’s a liquid, but if you let the air get to it, it can crystallize and then you just put the jar in some hot water and it goes back to liquid form.
“We filter the honey so you don’t get any debris or bees wings or anything in it. We’ll store the honey in five gallon buckets and as we get orders we’ll bottle it up.”
In addition to the honey they bottle and sell, the Rahrigs also make use of the honeycomb and beeswax.
“One of the things we always get requests for is the honeycomb. People like to eat it,” Rahrig said. “We harvest that once a year around August. We usually get about 40 pounds of it off one hive. This year we only had five hives since it was such a dry summer; the blossoms just weren’t there.
“When we take the beeswax off we clean it, wash all the honey off,” she continued. “Then we’ll melt it down and filter through a cloth to get down to just pure beeswax. With that we make things like our Bee Balms, which are lip balms made with just beeswax and honey. We also make Bee Bars that you just rub into dry skin. For those we use beeswax, sweet almond oil, shea butter, cocoa butter and vitamin e oil.”
Occasionally the Rahrigs get the chance to add bees to their hives and help people out at the same time by removing unwanted swarms.
“You’ll see swarms in different places or people will call to have us come and remove them,” Rahrig said. “We’ll shake them into a box and then we might have to keep them at our house for a day or two before we can take them to the hives. It’s really interesting watching them. Some swarms have about 10,000 to 20,000 bees.“
Understandably there are some risks associated with keeping bees but Rahrig says she enjoys every part of beekeeping.
“Obviously you have to be careful about stings, especially when you’re allergic, so we wear the full protective equipment,” she said. “My husband is even a little allergic, you just have to be careful. One thing I think might not be for everyone is the stickiness. It’s honey, so it’s going to be sticky and some people might not like dealing with that.”
When they retire from their respective jobs, Rahrig says she and her husband hope to keep up with their beekeeping.
“I hope to still be doing this because I really enjoy it,” she said. “It’s easy and it’s a way to make a little extra money. People don’t do this as much as they used to but at one time, the Delphos and Landeck area was the honeybee capital of the world. Everybody kept bees back then and the honey would be shipped all over.”