Find out how Lloyd Honey Farms winterizes honey bees

Process can be tricky but rewarding, brothers say

SEARS – Honey bees are an integral part of the agricultural processes on many farms across the state, and for two local brothers beekeeping is not only a job but a passion.

Seth and Evan Lloyd, owners and operators of Lloyd Honey Farm in Sears, have worked all summer and into the fall, storing and transporting the bees across the country.

Seth Lloyd first got into beekeeping as a younger kid when his dad did some beekeeping as a hobby. When he was 16, Seth got a summer job working for a commercial beekeeper and spent seven years helping him run and manage his hives. During that time, Seth also worked on growing his own business and now works full time for himself.  

“We’ve been around honey bees since we were really little and had hobby hives,” Seth Lloyd said. “Just a couple to play with just like any hobbyist, and I saw an ad for a beekeeping position when I was a teen over in Big Rapids handling around 25,000 colonies. I had already learned a lot about the bees from working with my dad and I started working, and that’s where I learned the commercial aspect of it.”

“I worked for a couple of years and then started managing it and my boss’s crews,” he added. “I’d go Florida, California, and Wisconsin with them shipping bees. Since then, I’ve been building up my own colonies the last few years I’ve worked, and then when my boss retired, I brought on my own hives and have been taking care of them and marketing our honey with Evan’s help.”

A big part of the farm’s beekeeping operation is doing pollination contracts for almond and blueberry growers. In January, the farm ships colonies out to California, and the bees will stay there until March and then get transported back. The farm produces different kinds of honey, including blueberry blossom.

Seth Lloyd’s partner, Rachel Brewer, often helps out with farm tasks and will often take photographs for the farm’s social media.

“When we bring the hives back from blueberry pollination, we normally hire a couple of extra people to help pull the boxes of honey off; we then stack everything up and load it on our trail to take it downstate to have it extracted,” Brewer said. “Honey from blueberry pollination has a different taste than the honey we make during the summers. The blueberry blossom and the summer honey get sent back in 55-gallon barrels. We then put the honey in our bottler and are able to fill our one-pound bottles, our five-gallon buckets, and everything in between.”  

Honey bees are a necessity in many large-scale agriculture operations for pollination. For most crops, honey bee pollination can increase the yield considerably. Understanding the basics of colony inspection and manipulation, monitoring for pests and diseases, producing honey, and preparing for winter are crucial to success with beekeeping.

Lloyd Honey Farm utilizes insulated barns to store bees during the winter. The bees cluster in their hives and can keep the barn at 40 degrees. The barn also utilizes red light as bees cannot see red, and it keeps them calmer along with the insulation and quiet.

Seth Lloyd said storing can be a tricky process and making sure the bees are comfortable is paramount.

“We keep a couple of thermometers in the barn to make sure they are not getting the barn too hot,” Seth Lloyd said. “This is bad because if they get too warm, they will start coming out of their hives. If this starts to happen, we have a big fan in the back of the barn that we can turn on to help bring the temperature back down. For the most part, they like it quiet when they’re in the barn.”

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

During the summer when caring for the bees outdoors and collecting honey from the hives, there are a number of tools involved in safely obtaining the honey. Seth Lloyd has several locations that he keeps his hives in the area, and regularly goes out to check them.

One of the primary instruments is the hive tool, which looks somewhat like a sharp steel one-sided crowbar. The primary purpose for using it is to keep your hands out of the hive, thus reducing any perceived threat by your bees.

The hive tool has two primary functions, the first function is to help you pry the lids off your hives. The second function of the hive tool is to make it easier to dislodge the honeycomb structure from the side of the box.

Seth Lloyd said he sees the hive tool as the most important, as you couldn’t gain access to hives or honey without one.

“I have to have a hive tool when I go out with my bees,” Seth Lloyd said. “You can’t get them open because they’re glued shut, and it can be a huge effort to get them open. I’ve even snapped a few of the hive tools trying to open hives because they were so glued.”

Another important tool is the bee suit, a ventilated suit that covers an individual from the ankles to the crown of the head. The suit also includes a hat and netting to keep bees away from your head and face while you are working, and there are gathers at the ankles, wrists, and neck to prevent bees from getting in.

A very well-known beekeeping tool is the smoker. Smokers are a controversial tool within the beekeeping community. Some beekeepers love them because smoke makes the bees more docile. Those who don’t like the smoker site the bees’ natural biology as the reason why.

Smoke doesn’t make bees more docile by sedating them. Rather, smoke actually irritates bees and makes them anxious. The bees assume the smoke is from a fire, causing them to gorge on honey in anticipation of having to flee, and thus they are docile because their bellies are full.

Seth Lloyd also utilizes a trailer to haul the bees and their hives on pallets from location to location during the summer.  

“When it gets colder the bees usually get a bit angrier when you’re working with them than in the summer when it’s hotter and they’re able to be more active,” Seth Lloyd said. “The worse the weather is the more useful tools like the smoker are. It’s always really interesting watching the bees grow throughout the summer and seeing their population go from 10,000 to somewhere near 70,000 when they’re ready to go into the barn.”

“The honey that they can produce is amazing as a colony, but one bee will only produce one tablespoon of honey in its lifetime,” he added. “Watching them come in with their full set of saddlebags full of pollen is always fun. They aren’t great flyers when they’re all covered in pollen and they’re very derpy when they fly. 

"It gives me a sense of pride watching them grow as a colony, and I’ve learned as I do this that there’s nothing more important than colony health and maintaining the nutrients and proteins that they need to survive.”

This year’s harvest was not as good at the farm, and Seth Lloyd said they didn’t produce as much honey as the brothers would have liked, but that the bees are still healthy which is a positive.

Outside of beekeeping, Seth Lloyd also works for an area deer processing station. He attended Ferris State University and got his associate's degree in HVAC but found that beekeeping was something he wanted to focus on.

He said working with the bees on the farm can be rewarding work. During the summer in the past, he has enjoyed inviting kids to the farm to learn about the hives and the bees.

Looking ahead, Seth Lloyd and his brother are looking into avenues to sell their honey online and continuing to expand the business and find more opportunities for growth.

“I love being outdoors and I was never one to sit in an office all day long,” Seth Lloyd said. “Watching the bees work and build from a small hive in the spring and into a massive hive in the fall makes me feel a true sense of accomplishment. I take great pride in having strong healthy honeybees. It can be extremely difficult sometimes to keep bees alive and healthy, and it takes a lot of work for me and my brother to accomplish that.”

“Pollination is my main business, and we have had a tough year with honey production being down, but we’re still hoping to pick things back up,” he added. “We’re always looking for new ways to improve, and our next hope is to be able to sell online and get our honey out to more people and our name in more places.”

The farm works with several area businesses to sell their honey in the area and in Barryton. Lloyd Honey Farm’s products can be found at Mackersie Brothers in Barryton, Rusty Gold in Evart, Morgan’s Compost, Elm Creek in Farwell, and Tice’s Farm Market in Clare.

Lloyd Honey Farm currently has honey available for purchase as well as merchandise. For more information on prices and the farm, visit its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/lloydhoneyfarm.