People swat at them, scream at the sight of them and run from them — and the possibility of their painful sting — but most love the sticky, thick, uber sweet, amber liquid they leave behind. It’s the honey bee we are talking about. While they cause a fright for some, many who know them well study, care for and even revere the bees, not only for their sweet product but for environmental, health and other reasons.
A beekeeper of seven years, Andy Lohrman of Brazil, said the reasons he got into beekeeping originally “aren’t close to why we love it now.”
Andy and his daughter, Sophie, 16, have become beekeeping experts, with their services being sought after locally and statewide. Some seven years back during a dinner with neighbors, a friend told Andy, “Guess what I did today. I bought some bees and I’m getting into beekeeping. You can order them online.”
Andy at once said, “What? Wait! You bought bees? Show me.”
After being shown, “I ordered bees that night.” He said he had always been interested in bees and was especially interested in the honey they would produce. He had apple trees that never produced, and he knew the bees could help.
But Andy’s investigative mind took him much farther.
Andy knows investigation because he has been with the Indiana State Police for 26 years and is a lieutenant and commander of the Crime Scene Unit for ISP’s forensic lab.
He started studying anything he could find on honey bees while waiting on his bees to arrive. He began to see theories and thoughts on honey bees and his love of debating and questioning took him much deeper than the ordinary beekeeper.
He said: “I was asking who has the best base for what they believe? Who had the right ideas?”
His favorite experts were bee experts from the 1800 to early 1900s era.
A.I. Root, who wrote “The ABC’s and XYZ’s of Bee Keeping” and Walter T. Kelly are a couple of his favorites. There were a lot of discoveries made between the 1500 and 1850s about bees but nothing like what Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth discovered in 1851 — bee space and removable hive frames.
Discovery of removable hive frames “revolutionized everything,” Andy said. “It made it possible for us to be ‘beekeepers’ today and to really see what the bees are doing.” It gave people the ability to manage bee colonies.
And instead of just watching bees come and go, Sophie said, people can now study them inside their hives without destroying their domains.
That led to discoveries like the “waggle dance,” Andy added. The waggle dance is a figure-eight dance bees do to share information with other bees in different colonies about directions and distances to flowers, water sources or new nest sites — an amazing communication system among these flying wonders.
Sophie has followed her dad into the bee business and learned from him. “I learned to love them gradually,” she said. “Dad’s excitement drew me in but the more I learned about them the cooler they came to be.”
Within a few years, the father/daughter team became so passionate about honey bees they started to teach others about them.
Her dad said Sophie stole the hearts and interests of people at her first state beekeeping conference when she addressed an adult audience of beekeepers and said, “I know I look young. I am young. I am 13 years old but don’t let that concern you — I assure you I have 20 years of beekeeping experience.”
After that comment and her speech, Andy said they began requesting his daughter. So, Sophie has spoken at the last three state conferences and a the spring Bee School in Indianapolis as well as before local groups. Through it all, Sophie has excelled and won the respect of many as a young beekeeper.
At the beginning of their bee journey another local citizen, Fred Froderman, told Andy they needed to start a local organization of beekeepers, and so the Clay County Bee Keepers Club was formed and now has some 80 members. Andy also served on the Indiana Beekeepers Association Board. That club joined the Indiana State Beekeepers Association to form one organization that exists today, the Beekeepers of Indiana. Andy was instrumental in organizing that merger and he also helped start a Vigo County beekeeping club.
This time of year the Lohrmans are in demand to remove swarms and relocate them. Spring and summer are good times for swarm sightings — a time when the bees swarm together to find new nesting places. Swarms take around 24 hours to find a new site. The Lohrmans have been called to remove swarms from churches, fast food drive-throughs, grocery store fronts, mailboxes, houses, trees — just about anywhere and everywhere.
Andy says bee vacuums on the market are not the best so he designed one himself called “The Swarminator.” It sucks bees into a hive body that the vacuum sits atop, enabling the brood — the babies — to be introduced right back into the hive before the Lohrmans leave the site.
They then take the new colony to a new location, disconnect the vacuum and set out the new hive all ready to go.
The Swarminator vacuum also allows them to suck bees from leafy branches of bushes and from down chimneys and other situations that would otherwise be impossible to save the bees.
Andy also designed his own Oxalic acid vaporizer called the Dy-no-mite Oxalic acid vaporizer.” It delivers this acid into the hives at just the right temperature to kill a parasite called varroa mites — the number one enemy of honey bees —y et the acid doesn’t harm the bees.
The Lohrmans sell both of the beekeepers products at conventions and they are also available at their beekeeping classes.
And the upstairs of the Lohrmans’ new bistro, the Honeysuckle Hill Bee-stro on North Murphey Avenue in Brazil, is full of equipment for sale and is the official home of The Honeysuckle Hill Bee Supply store.
Their “Bee-stro” serves many dishes with a touch of their own harvested honey.
The Lohrmans also raise their own queen bees to keep their hives as gentle and productive as possible. These queens are also for sale to hive owners. A queen bee can make a difference in the attitude of her workers, Andy said. He says he produces genetically sound queens that have the most desirable traits which include, good hygiene; a good, gentle temperament; being a good honey producer; and ones that winter well. Raising queens is a specialized and intricate job and not one done by many beekeepers, he said.
You can become a beekeeper for around $400, according to Andy, and once the bees are established, their sweet product will pay for your beekeeping. The Lohrmans manage 35 hives. You can expect one hive to produce 50 to 100 pounds of honey per year, he said.
Gardeners love the honey bee. Most know how important they are to high yields of vegetables, flowers and plants. But even if you don’t want to have a hive on your property, or you don’t want to actually be a beekeeper, the best thing you can do for the environment in this area is to plant flowering trees, according to Lohrman.
And just leaving dandelions and white clover in your yard aids the bees. “Until I had bees, I tried to get rid of those, but now I look at them and see them as food for bees.”