It's all about the bees
After a lifetime keeping bees, Ray Nicholson continues to be fascinated by the honey making process. "I've been messing around with bees for over 80 years," said Nicholson, 94, of Wadena. He now has an apprentice as well. Dan Kern became interest...
After a lifetime keeping bees, Ray Nicholson continues to be fascinated by the honey making process.
"I've been messing around with bees for over 80 years," said Nicholson, 94, of Wadena.
He now has an apprentice as well. Dan Kern became interested in beekeeping a few years ago just when Nicholson thought he needed help with his own operation. The timing couldn't have been better and a partnership was formed.
"It was meant to be," Kern said.
They are continuing to learn about bees and honey together. After 80 years Nicholson said he still doesn't know everything there is to know about bees. The environment has changed over the years and bees have been dying off more quickly than before, Nicholson said.
"We had a 40 to 45 percent winter loss this past year," he said.
When he first started beekeeping the loss was about five percent.
Nicholson has won many awards for his comb honey at American Honey Show events.
Honey is judged on color, consistency, how it's finished and the capping (wax put on top of the honey by the bees), he said. But, it's pretty much in the hands of the bees.
"It depends on the weather, the amount of flora in the area," he said. "When a farmer has a good crop, there's usually good honey too."
Nicholson has been working with bees since he was a teenager. His grandpa and dad had a few stands of bees on the farm when he was growing up outside of Wadena. He remembered homemade bread, milk and honey as he grew up on a farm.
"I can't think of anything better," he said.
Now, Nicholson eats a pound of honey a week. He adds it to his coffee and eats it on oatmeal, bread, ice cream or lettuce.
"There are lots of ways to use honey," Ray said.
Also, he eats pollen every day, which he said has many of the daily enzymes the body needs.
After serving in World War II, Nicholson returned to the Wadena area and moved into town with his wife, Lois. He worked for the postal service and later retired. On the side, he produced honey and sold it out of his home and in stores in town. He continues to sell honey at local and regional stores.
In 1973, Nicholson expanded the honey business and increased the number of colonies. At the peak, he had 250 colonies but now has about 50, he said.
Nicholson produces comb honey - when bees fill hexagon wax cells with honey and cap with beeswax.
"Comb honey is the way God intended us to eat honey," he said.
But most honey is drained into drums and sold in bottles today, he said.
Production time is from about the last week of June to the middle of August, Nicholson said. During that time, he checks on the bees about once every five to seven days. In the winter, he checks on the bees in the fall by making sure they have food, then covers them with insulation. The bees are fine for the winter.
Nicholson has always been amazed by bees and the honey-making process, which is why he continues the process, although he has cut back over the years.
"I've been doing this all my life and I'm still amazed by them," Nicholson said.
Bees have an important role in the pollination of crops such as sunflowers or alfalfa.
"They're a miracle, really," Ray said. "The pollination is why we have bees. They're important to our everyday lives and doing a service to man."
Although Nicholson has been a beekeeper for many years, he still gets stung once in a while.
"When you pinch them, they pinch you back," he said.
And he usually works barehanded. If the bees get too rough, he puts gloves on.
Kern said bee stings hurt more as the season progresses.
Nicholson and Kern bottle honey in the honey house. It's called a hot box where the temperature is controlled. The honey is poured in a tank and then bottled.
But Nicholson said he will be a beekeeper until he moves on. His interest in bees hasn't paled.
"A colony of bees is second to me to the human body, with all the intricacies," he said. "It's still my favorite subject to talk about."