Jonathan & Mieke Engelsma and their 7 children are 3rd and 4th generation beekeepers. Jonathan first got started with bees as a high school student in the early 80s, when his uncle (a commercial beekeeper at the time) recruited him to help him one afternoon in his bee yards. Shortly thereafter, Jonathan started a few hives of his own, and except for a period of time in which the family lived in the Chicago area (urban beekeeping hadn’t caught on yet at that point) they have been working with bees.
In recent years, while beekeeping remains a very pleasant family activity for us, it has also become a very challenging endeavor. Pests such as the varroa mite have made it very difficult to keep our colonies healthy and surviving the winters. Though we haven’t had problems with it yet, some beekeepers also struggle with a rather mysterious problem (or is it a combination of many problems?) known as “colony collapse disorder” or CCD. The jury is still out on what exactly is causing CCD. While scientists are busy sorting out the mysteries of CCD, most entomologists and beekeepers do agree that a number of factors are impacting honey bee health at the present. Due to the unknown risks, costs, and basic ineffectiveness of the original synthetic chemical treatments for mites, we have been adopting integrated pest management (IPM) approach to managing mite levels in our colonies. For example, most of our colonies are now on open mesh flooring (OMF). Mites that fall off bees or are knocked off in the grooming process cannot regain access to the hive. We also employ drone traps, and monitor mite levels constantly, reproducing our own queens selected from colonies that have a track record of low mite counts. We selectively use natural occurring compounds (formic acid and thymol based products) that have proven to knock back mites (and are formally approved for use in the hive) to treat more aggressive mite infested hives. For other ailments, instead of antibiotics we regularly rotate out our old combs (combs are literal sponges for all kinds of nasty stuff) with new frames to keep the hives clean and healthy. In an attempt to better understand the health of our colonies and manage them, as of 2015 we are now participating in the Bee Informed Partnership’s Tier 4 Real-time Disease Monitoring program.
The kids are also quite involved with the bees, from assembling and painting equipment in the winter months, to working in the bee yard with Dad, and extracting and selling the annual honey crop. Beyond the valuable honey and beeswax products that our bees happily produce for us, we believe there are many benefits in keeping honey bees. For instance, it is a wonderful way to get close to, and involved in God’s absolutely amazing creation. Beekeeping is a constant source of joy and inspiration and a pastime that never ceases to inform us on the intricate natural order and balance that exists in creation. Beekeeping is also good for the environment, in that many fruits and vegetables in our locality depend on the domestic honeybee for pollination. Finally, from a parent’s perspective, it is a wonderful tool for teaching our children good common sense life skills.
Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.