Beginning in 2011 with ten hives, Lake Effect Apiaries has grown to include a fully-licensed state-inspected honey house, an array of unique products, and specialized pollination services.
“You want to keep bees? Why? Are you feeling ok?” These were the initial words Adam heard when he first mentioned the idea of taking a beekeeping class. We were living in Fairbanks, Alaska at the time, and Adam was experimenting in making mead (honey wine). He needed an inexpensive way to get more honey, so a fellow airman friend of his from Eielson Air Force Base jokingly suggested that he take a beekeeping class. What Adam discovered in that class changed our family’s future.
In the weeks leading up to his first beekeeping class during the spring of 2010, Adam was buzzing about building boxes, pouring over every bit of readily available beekeeping literature he could get his hands on, and preparing for the arrival of our first honeybees. We started that year with four 3lb. packages of honeybees, one of which had a particularly vicious temperament. By the end of the season, Adam was completely hooked, and totally lost to the realm of everything honeybee. Not having enjoyed the benefit of the knowledge through classes given by Dr. Stephen Petersen, Kenai (our then 3-year-old daughter) and Katie were still apprehensive. In November of 2010 following a military deployment to Guam and facing impending job losses in Alaska due to severe federal cutbacks, we made a decisive agreement to move back to the communities of our youth in the West Michigan area the next spring. This was not an easy decision after six years of living in Alaska!
Since our return to Michigan, we have settled back in Oceana County in northern Hart with our operation based out of Mears. In 2011, our first Michigan beekeeping operation began with ten hives, which expanded by the end of the year to 14 hives through splits and swarm calls. By this time, Katie had jumped onto the honeybee bandwagon also. The year of 2012 saw us enter into a short-lived partnership with another local man and his wife, and we ran 200 hives together. In 2013 we severed the partnership, and with our half of assets formed Lake Effect Apiaries LLC and fluctuated between 108 and 127 hives throughout the year. February 2013 also saw us celebrate the birth of a lovely second daughter, Ayla. We were able to successfully obtain a fully-licensed state-inspected honey house by July 2013, and also made the crucial first-time decision of trucking our honeybees down to Ocala, Florida to both ensure better winter survival rates and allow for additional hive increases through splitting of our strong hives in February 2014. Due to the severity of the 2013-14 winter, we could not have chosen a better year to make this decision. In November of 2014, we instead brought hives to southern Georgia and saw better strength compared with overwintering in Florida due to a pollen belt that runs through that region. In cooperation with other commercial beekeepers, we have continued to make southern Georgia the bees’ winter home for the last few years. Our son Leo joined us in May of 2016 right in the middle of pollination season. 2017 was a tougher year with about a 40% honey crop in comparison to the prior three years due to factors such as poor weather, lower forage, varroa mites, and increasing black bear problems, and 2018 did not fare much better with odd extreme heat cycles and over eight weeks of drought during prime honey production season. Our one bright spot in 2018 was the birth of our fourth child Yvette (Evie).
The year 2019 proved to be the hardest year we have faced so far. Despite starting the year with around 600 hives (our largest number to date) and a new flatbed truck to replace our mechanically failing and smaller 20yr-old flatbed, we only experienced about seven weeks of honey production and summer. Comb honey production was at less than 20% of a normal year. It was an extremely wet and cool season that greatly affected our honeybees, brought on varroa mites early, led to zero spring honey production for the first time ever, and led to less tourism entering our farmer’s markets. Our losses due to queen failures, mites, and higher bear damage from poor weather topped 50%, we lost eleven brick & mortar stores that went out of business within the last year or went to seasonal operations only due to social changes of increasing online or big box store shopping, and of course because of a tough year in everything agriculture our pollination contracts were paid later or in some cases we are still waiting for payment. Something has to give, so we are hoping 2020 has a better outlook in store for us!
Located in the countryside of Mears, MI we work closely with neighboring fruit and vegetable farmers by renting our hives out for sweet cherry, tart cherry, apple, blueberry, squash and other vine crop pollination. May and June brings our first ‘honeyflow’ from blueberries, autumn olive, and locust blossoms. In July, during our second honeyflow we produce our exquisite raw wildflower honey and beautifully bee-crafted round comb honey sections. The comb honey is not cut and therefore never touched by human hands as the bees artfully build it into set containers; we merely cap it off with covers to protect it! We also collect fresh, flavorful, multi-colored honeybee pollen beginning the 3rd week of June-3rd week of August which is immediately frozen to ensure maximum retention of flavor and nutrients. 100% Beeswax candles with pure cotton wicks are yet another stunning product we produce. At first glance, they may seem expensive, but their burn time is almost five times as long as any artificially made wax (petroleum-based), and they do not put any harmful chemicals into the air. As we continue to grow, we are excited to both develop and offer yet more products and services!
Link to Interview with WZZM13 from May 25, 2015: