As Jeff Bulthuis recalls, the idea of turning “The Ranch” into an apiary came from his stepmother Elyssa.
She teaches yoga and preaches healthy lifestyle choices. She first grew interested in beekeeping and producing honey for its therapeutic value in fighting allergies.
Bulthuis, a 34-year-old ranch hand/salesman with a business marketing degree from Governors State University, was going to “assist” her in launching the project. He figured, “No big deal. I’m here every day.”
Bulthuis manages the horse operation at “The Ranch,” a 21-acre parcel south of Frankfort. The ranch is home of Oak Worth Plumbing, a business first launched by Jeff’s grandfather in 1954 and now operated by his father, Richard.
The ranch also is the home of Bulthuis chickens, cattle and toys, ranging from old Corvettes to all-terrain vehicles. The apiary—a location where bees are kept—was added in April and now Jeff makes it a point to keep up with his honey-do chores list. His is one in a growing legion of backyard beekeepers.
“My step-mom—she’s a yoga instructor and a personal trainer—so, for her, she is very in-tuned to being healthy and I think she had always thought beekeeping was neat,” Bulthuis said. “I had never given it any thought.
“When she brought it up, I was like, ‘What? Who does that?’ But, for her, she battles allergies. And local honey helps combat allergies. The bees are pollinating local flowers and a lot of the local sources where you get allergies. If you consume local honey, a lot of times it offsets the effects of allergies because you’re introducing your body to these pollens and natural remedies.
“For me, when she told me about it, one of my friends had mentioned it, that the cellular signals are throwing off the GPS on the bees. They’re getting killed. So, yeah, it’s just kind of a green way of living, kind of self-sustaining.”
Jeff said he and Elyssa did their homework and originally purchased 10,000 bees. Then, they found a mentor, Lockport’s Jim Lindau, through the Will County Beekeepers Association. He helped them get started in a trade-of-services agreement.
Jeff provided Lindau with manure for his organic farming. Lindau provided the Bulthuis family with 30 years of beekeeping expertise. He helped them set up their hive boxes and grow their colony of Italian honey bees to 60,000 to 80,000 by late summer.
Others stand ready to help, too. Backyardbeekeepers.com is an association of more than 250 members that strives “to provide our membership with interesting and practical information about honey bees and the ‘how-to’s’ of beekeeping.”
Jeff and Elyssa have harvested 12 gallons of honey so far—about 150 pounds—in their first season. All of the honey has been strained and jarred for preservation. Some of it has been sold to their regular customers on the farm. Some of it has been given away to close friends and relatives.
“Fortunately, because we have boarders and we do have 50-some chicken on hand here and we also sell farm-fresh eggs, so what do is I just put a little note in the barn and a lot of borders are interested in it,” Jeff Bulthuis said.
“And, as people learn—friends of friends learn—I have an ex-coworker who I said to, ‘Oh, here, take a little jar. Tell your wife. She’ll really like it.’ He texted me a couple days later and told me, ‘Hey, my wife told our neighbors about this. She needs three jars because she’s going to sell them to our neighbors.’ So, it’s kind of just a word-of-mouth thing for now.”
Bulthuis said he might start hitting the Frankfort Farmer’s Market in 2013 and selling his locally produced honey to consumers looking for a sweet treat. He enjoys slathering a bit of honey on buttered toast. And Elyssa? Jeff said she adds a spoonful of honey to her tea.
He has learned to be cautious around their bees—the hard way.
“Actually, I’ve been stung twice,” Bulthuis said. “The first time I was stung was early-summer. It was after I had been in the hive a few times, and I thought I was better than I was. So, I went out there without anything on and learned pretty quickly you can’t go into the hive without some sort veil or gloves on. They’ll bite you.
“So, I got stung that time—well-deserved. The last time was a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t keep my ankles covered. I went into the hives to look through all the frames. As you go deeper into the hives, the bees get more and more agitated. You can smoke them, which sedates them and calms them, but I didn’t smoke them.
“I went into the hive. One of them found my ankle and bit it—stung me. My ankle swelled up petty good. So, now I know. Always suit up. Never leave any stone unturned. Now, I go in there fully suited up so there are no issues.”
COMING SATURDAY: Log on at 6 a.m. Saturday (Oct. 6) to learn how honey is extracted from the hives.
SEE IT TO BELIEVE IT: Log on at 6 a.m. Sunday (Oct. 7) to see a video of Home & Garden editor Ron Kremer as he suits up and goes into the hive himself to gain a first-hand look at beekeeping.