“There’s no graceful way to put on a bee suit,” Liona assured me as I awkwardly suited up inside Round Rock Honey’s warehouse. She’s seen her share of eager beekeeper novices, having taught bee keeping classes for the public during the summer, and for home school and other groups year-round.
Round Rock Honey founder Konrad Bouffard joined us, and together we drove a short distance to a group of bee hives. They sit in plain sight of a busy road, but theft is rarely a threat or concern. Few people are equipped to face a hive full of angry bees, no matter how much they’re craving honey.
Before approaching the hives, I snugly fit my gloves over the sleeves of my bee suit, so that no skin was showing. I pulled my suit down over my shoes, and Liona checked my suit over to make sure all Velcro and zippers were in place.
Armed with a smoker, Liona and Konrad approached the hive first. The trick lies in making the bees think their hive is on fire, which prompts them to gorge themselves on honey as if its the last meal of their little lives. With the bees distracted, the beekeepers are able to access the honey more easily.
Each bee hive houses rows (and often stacks) of bee frames, which hold the honey. I was astonished to discover that a full frame of honey can weigh 8-10 pounds. And though its not always the norm, bees are capable of producing that much honey in only two weeks.
However, the process of converting honey from the frame to a bottle you might buy at a store requires careful study and a detailed recipe. I stuck the finger of one of my gloves into a frame of honey and tasted the honey through my mask. I couldn’t believe how bitter and unpalatable it was.
I thought all honey was sweet and delicious, but the reality is that honey in a hive tastes like the flowers surrounding that hive. Not only is bottled honey blended from hives in different locations, it’s also blended with honey produced at different times of the year. The result is the balanced and familiar honey flavor we’re used to!
After tasting their honey, Konrad Bouffard can tell you exactly what flower his bees have been visiting. His expertise began with four hives in his backyard. “I got stung a lot more during my first two years,” he admits. An incredible opportunity opened up when Konrad was gifted 1,000 hives from a friend of his grandmother. That gift allowed Round Rock Honey to grow into what it is today.
It takes more than hives to make a successful honey company, though. Konrad is younger than the average beekeeper, but he takes his responsibilities seriously. “Most beekeepers don’t work that hard. Manual labor is required if you don’t want to lose everything.”
Konrad knows what it’s like to lose and have to start again. He lost 30 hives to flooding in Round Rock three years ago. Last year’s drought took 20% of his hives – a whopping 800 hives. Still, Konrad has persevered with what he calls an “extreme sense of urgency,” and he says his attitude has led directly to the success of Round Rock Honey.
Not everyone is cut out to be a beekeeper. They must withstand high temperatures, stress and heavy lifting, and have the ability to stay calm in situations they can’t get out of. Because of these challenges, Round Rock Honey offers bee removal services, which can range up to $450 for difficult cases. Potential customers sometimes balk at these prices. But knowing what it takes to work around bees, Liona finds herself wanting to say, “Okay, you do it.”
Konrad has survived getting several hundred stings in one hive visit. Not too long after, a sting sent him into anaphylactic shock. At another time, Konrad accidentally left the side of his bee suit unzipped. Bees flew into his suit, and before he knew it his veil was filled with bees. They stung him around eight times on his neck, but he thought he could make do with a trip to the drug store. As he remembers it, the pharmacist took one look at him and said, “Oh yes, I think you should go to the hospital.”
Despite the danger and the injury, Konrad and Liona obviously love what they do. As they took us on a tour of Round Rock Honey hives housed on various tracts of private property in the Round Rock area, we saw bees feeding on honey at one of the hives. “They’re so cute,” Liona exclaimed.
They’re certainly amazing creatures. Eric couldn’t get over the complexity of bee society, from mating to breeding to re-queening to dying. I find it fascinating that a queen bee only mates for one day, then lays 1,000 eggs every day for as long as she lives.
If you’re interested in learning about bees, how to care for them, and what being a beekeeper really involves, I highly encourage you to take a beekeeping class at Round Rock Honey. Learning with them has been one of my favorite Austinot experiences so far. And yes, you will get a chance to suit up and visit the hives yourself if you take the class!
Are you brave enough to visit a bee hive?
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