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. 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, blackberry/raspberry, and black 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. The pollen is immediately frozen to ensure maximum retention of flavor and nutrients. 100% Beeswax candles with pure cotton wicks are yet another stunning handmade product produced. 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!
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.
2012: We entered into a short-lived partnership with another local man and his wife running 200 hives together.
2013: We severed the partnership, and formed Lake Effect Apiaries LLC. Hive numbers fluctuated between 108 and 127 hives throughout the year. We also celebrated the birth of a lovely second daughter, Ayla. Obtaining a fully-licensed state-inspected honey house happened by July, and we also made the crucial first-time decision of trucking our honeybees down to Ocala, Florida. This ensured better winter survival rates and allowed for additional hive increases via splitting hives in February 2014.
2014: Due to the severity of the 2013-14 winter, we could not have chosen a better year to make this decision. In November, 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.
2016: Our son Leo joined us right in the middle of pollination season.
2017: This was a tough 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. One bear alone caused around $9,000 in damage in the Shelby area.
2018: This year we did not fare much better with odd extreme heat cycles. There was 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).
2019: This year proved to be the hardest year we faced so far, and a 3rd hard year in a row. 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 seven weeks of honey production and a short summer. Comb honey production was at less than 20% of a ‘normal’ year. It was an extremely wet and cool season which 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% for our hives. Eleven brick & mortar stores we supplied products to went out of business within the year or went to seasonal operations only due to social changes of increasing online or big box store shopping.
2020: Despite the worldwide pandemic which made retail sales tough due to lack of markets, festivals, craft shows, etc., we had the highest production of honey per hive we had seen in four years and our honeybee health looked better than we had ever seen. This was needed desperately to account for three terrible agricultural years in a row primarily due to weather. Although sales were down, prices and overhead were semi-reasonable and we made it through the year fairly well. The greatest difficulty was in obtaining containers for bottling honey due to lack of manufacturing and in obtaining parts for regular repairs for the same reason. In September, we acquired a new-to-us 10yr old Hummerbee forklift which has been a huge asset to the business!!!
2021: This spring we decided to invest the returns made by the decent honey production in 2020 to increase our operation by about 250 hives. Although it did not pay itself off this year, we are hoping it will over the next two years. Honey production was at 50% or less per hive of 2020 due to severe spring drought that lasted until the first part of July with only a 47# average for the season. Of course, this meant very low comb honey and pollen production as well. Farming is not for the weak of heart, soul, or mind! Although he was unplanned, we also welcomed our son Jonas into the world this year.
Link to Interview with WZZM13 from May 25, 2015: