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Have You Heard the Buzz on these New Neighbors?

A Port family is raising thousands of honey bees in their front yard.

Some new residents have moved to Port Washington. About 25,000, actually, have set up camp in the front yard of Bethel and Mike Metz.

In July, Mike brought home 25,000 honey bees from Indiana and set up a hive outside their house on the 100 block of E. Van Buren Street.

“We love it. We absolutely love it,” Bethel said.

Bethel got the idea to purchase a hive after she saw something about it on TV. She cautiously brought up the idea to her husband, who surprised her when he approved. Mike’s grandfather used to be a beekeeper, so he said he was happy to jump on board with the project.

Before bringing home the bees, Bethel and Mike took three classes on how to handle and raise honey bees at the Urban Ecology Center in Riverside Park.

Charlie Koenen, who taught the course, said he has seen a growing amount of interest from suburban communities and would like to spread his bee education classes up to Ozaukee County.

In the first class, “Beesenation,” no bees are involved, just education and information about how they live. The second class is a hive inspection, where students suit up and are able to meet the bees while learning about their homes. The third is a hands-on class about how to handle and care for honey bees that live in what’s called a top bar hive, where bees are stacked horizontally.

After completing the classes, and getting the thumbs up from City Administrator Mark Grams, Mike drove to Indiana to pick up their bees. Mike described the task as a tricky one, since the bees had to ride along with him in his truck’s cab all the way to Wisconsin.

Mike and Bethel said they have learned a lot from the process. For Bethel, the biggest lesson has been to slow down.

“If you rush, you’re stung. It forces you, when you’re manipulating a bar you have to do slow, gentle, deliberate movements,” Bethel said.

They said the bees have also been a teaching tool for their 7-year-old son Baker and 10-year-old daughter Olivia.

“We taught them to be good stewards of the bees," Bethel said. "You know, you don’t stand by their openings. We taught the kids no swatting. No fast movements. They’re not allowed to play with the soccer ball [around the hive]."

The Metzs said the children were buzzing with excitement when they told them they would be raising bees. Mike and his son are especially excited to eat the honey they will produce, although they will not get to enjoy any this season. The bees will need to eat what they have made so far over the winter, but should be able to make honey for the family to enjoy next summer.

For Bethel and Mike, hive inspections are a fun two-person job that has taught the couple how to work together on the project.

“He’s had to tell me a few times, ‘you’re tipping the bar a little bit, slow down a little bit,’ but we have a lot of fun when we inspect,” Bethel said.

The ideal time to do a hive inspection is on a calm and sunny day around lunch time, not in the morning or evening, and never when it’s really windy or raining.

“It’s always nice to find your queen, but it won’t always happen,” Bethel said.

Beekeeping can be a tenuous trade, in this way. The bees may decide to make a new queen, which Mike said indicates that something is wrong with the old queen, or they're getting ready to swarm. If they swarm, half the hive could leave.

If The Metzs can’t find the queen, they look for larva as a sign that she’s around.

“You’re looking for what are called teacup cells, which are cells that the rest of the bees will make if the queen is sick or if they’re ready to overthrow the queen. It’s okay to find them, but you want to make sure that they’re empty,” Bethel said. “If they’ve taken a larva and put it in there and are feeding it royal jelly, then that means they’re making their own queen."

The Metzs rely on a support system of fellow bee keepers in the area, so if they ever run into a problem with their hive, they can call others to get advice on how to handle it.

While some people may not be excited about the idea of having thousands of bees in their yard, Bethel and Mike encourage people to ask questions and learn about them.

“Come check it out," Bethel said. "If you think that it’s an issue, come check it out."

“It’s just relaxing, watching them," Mike said. "I put an engine in my truck a couple weeks back and I started getting tired or frustrated doing something, so I’d go sit by the bee hive and watch the bees come and go. It’s very therapeutic. I never thought it’d be that enjoyable just sitting and watching insects coming and going.”

Bethel Metz October 06, 2011 at 05:40 PM
Thank you for the wonderful article!!! With 2/3 to 3/4 of our food relying on pollinators and the honeybee population declining, it is imperative to spread the buzz and get more people interested in beekeeping. Our hive has expanded to the current population of around 100,000, and they are amazing, beautiful creatures. The beekeeping classes are offered through the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee. Thanks, Sarah!!!
Rory Linnane October 06, 2011 at 07:18 PM
Thanks for the extra information, Bethel!
Angie C. October 08, 2011 at 11:43 AM
Is a permit required or what kind of permission is necessary?
Bethel Metz October 09, 2011 at 10:19 PM
@Angie: Please contact me directly at metzbjade@yahoo.com

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