- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) - When he was first asked to become a beekeeper at Conception Abbey, Brother Anselm Broom wasn’t sure if it was a serious request.

“At first, I thought it was a very interesting idea, but that it will probably pass,” Brother Broom says. “A month later, Father Benedict came again, so I thought he must be serious. At that point, I said ‘OK, I’ll give it a try.’”

Three years ago, he started working with local beekeeper Jerry Auffert on three beehives on Conception Abbey’s 1,000 acres. He now has five hives that produce honey for the Abbey’s bookstore, the St. Joseph News-Press reported (https://bit.ly/1nqfSuu ).

“It was something that, while I wasn’t interested in it since I’d never thought about it, once it struck me as a possibility I could spend a few more hours outside, it was a nice break,” says Brother Broom, who teaches Latin and philosophy at the Conception Seminary College. “I view it as a hobby.”

Each of the abbey’s five beehives hold as many as 60,000 bees each, although it’s usually closer to 40,000 or 50,000, Brother Broom says. Bees have to be ordered in the spring, either from other local beekeepers or through a supplier.

“A truck would bring them to Nebraska (from California). I would pick them up from Nebraska and drive back with them in the truck of the car,” he says. “They come in a little cheap wood box with little chicken wire, almost. There are 10,000 bees in a box.”

Bees are wild animals, and they are able to provide for themselves, Brother Broom says. He watches for signs of disease or other issues in the spring, summer and fall.

“Really, it’s mainly just observation,” he says. “They do their own thing.”

If a queen bee dies, he has to replace her by ordering a new one (which can be mailed in an envelope), or hope the hive replaces her on its own. Queen bees can live for more than five years and lay up to 2,000 eggs a day, according to the International Bee Research Association.

During the winter, he has to keep the hives shut, which helps keep them warmer. In the other seasons, he estimates he spends several hours a week monitoring the hives and preparing for honey gathering, which usually happens in September or October.

“The modern hive is divided into boxes. The bottom two boxes are what beekeepers think they need to survive over the course of the winter,” he says. “Anything above the two boxes that they fill up, we take.”

Honey, deposited on wooden frames inside the hive, is sealed off with beeswax by the bees. When it comes time to collect the honey, Brother Broom removes the boards and slices off the beeswax with a hot knife.

“Then you put the frames of honey in an extractor and spin it. It spins like a washing machine and the honey goes down the side and comes out a spigot at the bottom,” Brother Broom says.

The honey is bottled for the abbey’s bookstore as it comes out of the extractor, ready to eat.

“Bees are actually very, very clean,” Brother Broom says.

A healthy, mature hive can produce as much as 60 pounds of honey each year, although Brother Broom says he usually sees totals closer to 30 to 50 pounds per hive. According to the International Bee Research Association, foraging bees must fly an equivalent of three times around the world to produce one pound of honey.

Collecting the honey can be a physically demanding job, Brother Broom says.

“The 30 pounds of honey, plus a wooden box is heavy,” he says. “Honey is very dense. Working with 30-pound box after 30-pound box can add up to a long afternoon sometimes.”

Working with the beehives forces him to work slowly, which he says can be calming. He has been stung twice in three years.

“The only time I’ve gotten stung was when I’m rushing around trying to get things done. It is a job that forces you to slow down,” he says. “As long as you go on a nice day and do what you have to do slowly and methodically, they pretty much ignore you.”

He harvested about 100 pounds of honey from the hives last month, which he says is an “OK year.” Almost all of the honey goes to the bookstore to sell. He has sold out the 1-pound jars of honey every year.

Although he still considers it a side hobby, he would like to see it grow in the future.

“I would like to perhaps be able to stock the bookstore year round,” he says. “I’m not sure that’s possible.”


Information from: St. Joseph News-Press/St. Joe, Missouri, https://www.newspressnow.com

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