- Associated Press - Sunday, April 17, 2016

ST. MEINRAD, Ind. (AP) - Some monks brew beer or cobble shoes. Brother Simon Herrmann keeps bees.

The 28-year-old monk took over the St. Meinrad Archabbey’s hive last year when he began his three years as a junior monk at the monastery in Spencer County. Each monk has his own job to do to help support the community, and generally the superiors - leaders of the monks - want the brothers to come up with their own work. That way, Herrmann said, they know the monks will be interested in what they’re doing.

Beekeeping is traditionally a monastic practice, so when Herrmann asked to take over the hive, the superiors were happy to oblige. Herrmann’s family, which lives in Oxford, Ohio, were supportive as well.

“My brother was like, ‘Yeah, didn’t you know Dad used to keep bees?” Herrmann said. “And I was like, ‘Really? Cool.”

Herrmann grew up in Ohio and first came to St. Meinrad as a high school student participating in One Bread, One Cup, a ministry of the archabbey. While in college at the University of Dayton, he returned to the abbey as an intern, and he took a job at the abbey a few years after graduation. He became interested in monastic life during his internship, but he “had some growing up to do” and didn’t decide to pursue monasticism until he took a job in the development office.

“That allowed me to have even a closer experience with the monastery praying with the monks and going to Mass almost every day before work,” Herrmann said. “(So far,) it’s been great.”

Herrmann is one year into his temporary vows, which last three years and come before the solemn vows that tie a monk to monasticism and a single monastery for life. He’s also one year into this tenure as the monastery’s beekeeper. Before Herrmann took over, Father Anthony Vinson took care of the abbey’s single hive, down from the eight or nine Herrmann was told once lived on the property. Vinson had several other tasks at the monastery, however, so he was happy to pass the bees off to Herrmann. Vinson hasn’t totally abandoned the bees. Herrmann often goes to Vinson with questions, and Vinson will remind Herrmann of tasks coming up with the bees when they run into each other in the lunch line.

Overall, beekeeping isn’t a labor-intensive job, Herrmann said.

“I used to take care of our chickens here … and that’s a daily thing,” Herrmann said. “It’s a very brief, like 10-minute daily thing where you go in and collect the eggs and top off their water. But with the bees, there are certain times of the year when it’s more involved.”

Most of the work comes during the changing seasons. In the spring and fall, beekeepers have to prepare the hives for the shift in weather. In the spring, Herrmann removes the mouse guard, which keeps rodents from getting into the hive and eating the comb and honey the bees rely on for food, and checks on the bees to make sure they’re healthy and that not too many died off during the winter. In the fall, Herrmann attaches the mouse guard and removes the honey. There’s no set time for honey collection. It all depends on the weather and when the bees become less active. To know when to collect honey, a beekeeper must watch his bees.

“I think the most stressful and the most hectic (time) I experienced last year, and I think because it was new, was actually getting the honey,” Herrmann said.

Last year, Herrmann enlisted the help of novice monk Tony Wolniakowski to collect the honey. Neither of them knew what to do. Herrmann remembers the two just standing and staring at the hive for 10 minutes trying to figure out what to do. Eventually, they figured out a system.

To collect honey, the beekeeper removes the frames from the supers - the smaller boxes on the top of the hives - brushes the bees off the comb with a special, soft-bristled brush and cracks open the wax. Then, the frames go into a honey barrel that spins and forces the honey out of the comb. Herrmann’s honey barrel is powered by a hand crank. Last year, Herrmann collected three gallons of honey. This year, he’ll get more. He added two more hives just after Easter.

The monastery had all the supplies for the hives; the monks just needed the bees. Two packages each containing a queen bee and a few pounds of bees arrived in the archabbey’s mail room the week after Easter for Herrmann to pour into the hives.

Herrmann thought about quitting the bees more than once last year during the hours of research, YouTube videos and not knowing what he was doing. But he kept at it.

“It was kind of like a lesson in monasticism,” Herrmann said. “This is potentially where I might be living the rest of my life, and so this kind of simple lesson in beekeeping helped me as a monk because if I want to give up on this, what else am I going to give up on? … But now that I have stood my ground with beekeeping and learned more about it and worked with other people to learn more about it and understand it better, I can see how cool of a hobby it will become.”


Source: The (Jasper) Herald, https://bit.ly/1MuSTLG


Information from: The Herald, https://www.dcherald.com

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