BEEKEEPER RICH CONNOY of Bee Sweet Honey keeps some of his hives at Bob and Judy’s Farm Market and some at Becks Greenhouse and Vegetable Farm, a win-win situation for all concerned. (Photo by Jennifer Edwards).

Buzzing Bees are helping out

Staff Writer
Jennifer Edwards
About five years before he expected to retire, Rich Connoy started thinking about what he wanted to do with his free time.
That was in 2005, when he began to get interested in keeping bees.
“I read a book from the library and I took a short course at the University of Minnesota,” he said. “Then I started with two hives.” Now Connoy, who operates under the name of Bee Sweet Honey, has 30 hives of bees and he sells honey and bees wax candles at local area farmers markets three days per week.
Connoy’s bee hives are located in different locations. Eight hives are stationed at Bob and Judy’s Farm Market and eight are located at Beck’s Greenhouse and Vegetable Farm. He has eight more at PCI in St. Michael and six other hives at his Big Lake Township home.
“I needed bee yards,” he said. “And they couldn’t be too close to each other. I asked the vegetable farms if they would want to have the bees on their property. They both said yes and they both sell my honey too.”
“It just made sense to have the bees here,” says Judy Wilts. “We see them pollinating the flowers all the time.”
Last year, Connoy pulled 20,000 pounds of honey from 20 hives and about 20 pounds of beeswax. This year he expects to gather between 75 and 100 pounds of honey from each hive he harvests. He won’t take honey from all of them.
“Two years ago, I lost 15 hives to the Varoa mite,” Connoy said. “They were all hives I was going to overwinter.”
He replaced his lost bees with packaged bees he brought from California. Each packet contains one queen and about 10,000 bees and they cost around $200 per package.
Bees survive quite well in the winter if they have enough honey and the cold doesn’t last too long. They do it by forming a cluster around the queen and vibrating their wing muscles Connoy said. 
“The colder the temperature, the tighter the clustered,” he said. “But it is always 92 degrees in the middle of the cluster where the queen is.”
He also makes his bees a windbreak to help protect them from the worst of the cold.
The queen bee lays all the eggs in the hive and sometimes she lays more queen bee cells. When this happens, she will leave the nest and swarm with half the bee colony and the newly hatched queens fight it out for supremacy in the hive.
“I have had three hives swarm this year,” he said. It slows things down when they do. It takes six to eight weeks for the bees to get back to producing honey again.”
In 2010, Connoy took a more advanced bee keeping class at the university and his hobby is just beginning to show a profit.
“That’s not why I keep the bees though,” he said. “I like it when people tell me how much they enjoy the honey and my wife and I enjoy going to the farmers markets. It’s interesting watching the bees develop.”
Raw honey may granulate into sugar crystals over time but it never spoils. Heat it up to 120-140 degrees and the sugar crystals will melt away again.
A lot of the honey sold in grocery stores these days is imported from China and is little more than a sugar syrup.
“Granulation just proves it’s real raw honey,” Rich said. “It has a lot of different properties, but I don’t make any medical claims about it.”
He did, however, feed raw honey to his Bassett Hound, who suffered with allergies,  instead of giving him Benadryl.
“After two years, his allergies were gone,” Connoy said. “Always buy local raw honey. It’s the best. It has all the flavor and all the nutrients. You know where it comes from.  It tastes good and it can’t hurt.”


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