By Brenna Cisler
Like the typical St. Norbert College Honors student, Taylor Lewis enjoys being involved, active, and busy while at college by being a member of the Swim and Dive team, the Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Honor Society, Biology Club, the American Medical Student Association, the Navigate Program, being an Honors Torch Leader, and working toward a major in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. Unlike the typical student, however, when Lewis goes home to visit her family, she also returns to a fun and unique hobby of her and her family’s: beekeeping.
Lewis explains that her family got into the exciting pastime when “my dad got a couple of hives several years ago from my mom as a Christmas gift. He does most of the work for them, but I like to help out when I’m home. We have three hives!”
When asked about what the beekeeping and honey collecting processes look like, Lewis elaborates, “Honey bees take care of themselves for the most part. In late spring/early summer we make a simple syrup for each of the hives to provide an energy source until the flowers bloom, but they manage themselves after that. We go out to the hives all the time to watch the bees and see how many are carrying pollen, but we only wear our beekeeper suits if we plan to open a hive. When we open a hive, we look for the queen and check to see how much of the comb is filled with honey. If the comb is filled, we add another layer of empty combs above the current hive for the bees to fill. At the end of the summer, anything above the first two layers of combs is good for collecting! (the bees need the bottom two layers to survive the winter). We collected our first batch of honey this year–it’s really good! We did not collect a lot of honey (only 5 or 6 pints) so we have not sold any. If we start collecting more, we will probably give them as gifts to family/ friends.”
From an outsider perspective, it can seem scary to work with hives of bees. Lewis says that in order to keep safe, “we wear our beekeeping suits and bring the already-smoking smoker with us down to the hives if we plan to open any. We put a bit of smoke in the hive entrance and beneath the lid to disrupt the bees’ chemical signaling. This does not hurt them; it just calms them down while we inspect the hive. Honey bees are not aggressive– so, no, it is not scary to work with them at all.”
Because beekeeping is such an exciting and unique hobby, there are fun stories that come along with it. Lewis recounts one such occasion when “a couple summers ago, I went with my sister to collect a new hive. When we moved it to the car, the bees started flying around, so we gave them a few minutes to locate the hive before we drove back. At one time, I had a bunch of bees crawling on my jacket and on my neck/in my hair, but I just brushed them off and they flew away. As we drove back home, however, more and more bees escaped the hive. So the back of our car was full of honey bees and the sound of their buzzing by the time we got home!” On whether she would consider continuing this pastime into adulthood after college, Lewis remarks, “I love taking care of the bees and I would like to continue beekeeping, though it may need to wait until I have the space and resources to do so. I’ve learned a lot since my dad got the bees a few years ago. I’ve learned a lot about bees, but I’ve also developed a greater appreciation for our pollinator friends.”