Stories

Meant to Bee

Meant to Bee

Meant to Bee

Bees have been a bit of an obsession for Jim Janeczek since he was a student at Saline Middle School. But it took 45 years before he was able to make his dreams of beekeeping a reality.

He tells his story as he conducts a tour of the Grange Hall Road Apiary in Tecumseh Township, also known as Janeczek’s backyard. “My seventh-grade teacher, Mr. King, was a beekeeper,” Janeczek explains, pulling out a honeycombed tray from the manmade hive. “He gave a lecture about bees and then he brought in a book about bees and loaned it out to whoever wanted to read it. And I did. And he eventually had to ask for it back because I read it over and over. It stuck in my mind.”

The beehives are stacks of wooden boxes painted in different colors, some white, some pink, some blue. The bottom box features what he calls a “landing zone,” a slanted piece that juts out for bees to enter and exit the hive. Inside the middle box are eight frames which sit horizontally, similar to a file cabinet. There is a small space between each one. Janeczek pulls one of these frames out to show where the bees make the honey. These are pre-formed to make it easier for both the bees and the beekeeper, he explains. It speeds up the honey-making process.

Bees buzz around the yard, going back and forth from a flowering crab tree and the hive’s entrance.

“Five years ago, at the age of 52, I got the opportunity to try this,” he said. “The first year, it didn’t work out at all. The bees left as soon as I put them in the box. The second year, I started with two colonies and ended up with seven, due to splitting and swarming. They all made it through the winter and the third year I ended up with 14 colonies.”

To build up his knowledge, Janeczek said he took classes on bees and beekeeping at Matthei Botanical Gardens. He started out in the beginner class, a 10-month course. Each month the students would spend four hours learning what the bees would do in the next month so they could prepare. He continued with the intermediate class, then the advanced class in Novi through the MSU Extension program, and read books, attended lectures and visited farms with a thousand beehive boxes.

As he talks, he lifts the lid off one hive. The bees are fairly calm and busily crawling around in and out of an oval-shaped hole, where there is a sticky residue Janeczek said is called “bee propolis,” also known as “bee glue,” tree resin they gather from buds and cracks in tree bark. The bees add secretions to the resin by chewing on it and then add beeswax to it. Worker bees use this as a construction material to cover the interior of the hive and seal the boxes and the lid. They also use the bee glue to cover individual honey combs where eggs and pollen are stored.

“In the fall and in the spring, I cut the cap of wax off and that’s how I get the honey out,” he explained.

Janeczek sells his harvested honey locally under his Grange Hall Apiary label, and Arlo and Alisyn Brandl of Tecumseh Bread and Pastry use Janeczek’s honey in their bakery products.

The apiary is very labor intensive, he said. “It’s a lot of work and it’s fairly expensive to get started, but there are a lot of people doing it now.”

Janeczek grew up in Saline and attended Eastern Michigan University. He is a design engineer at Uniloy in Tecumseh, working primarily with plastic molded containers. His wife, Kim, also a Saline native, is a teacher at Lincoln Consolidated Schools and helps with the apiary. They have three children, Alex, Abby, and Aubrey.

Janeczek has two other hive locations, both in farm fields that have gone fallow and now have wildflowers, trees, and a water source. The water is very important for bees, he said. In fact, on his deck he has a large dish filled with water, which is regularly crowded with bees from the hives. A few buzz around and in and out of the water, carrying droplets with them to the hive. “Bees use a lot of water,” he said.

Bees also are keen hive-keepers. They keep their hives clean, even clearing out dead bees. In fact, as some bees are entering the hive with pollen tucked under their legs like tiny yellow footballs, others are pushing a dead bee out through the entrance and onto the ground.

Janeczek said the colonies grow quickly. The queen is shaped slightly different from the rest of the hive. Her thorax is about 1-3/4 times bigger than the average bee. All of the worker bees are female bees, while the drones are males.

“The female bees do all the work, they gather the pollen, make the honey, and take care of the incubating bees,” Janeczek said. “The drones have one purpose in life and that is to mate with the queen and create more bees. They basically hang around and wait for the queen to fly by.”

Once the queen has mated with many drones, she returns to the hive and lays eggs. It takes about three weeks for the baby bees to mature.

“In the fall, the girl bees don’t let the drones back in,” he said. “The queen lays the eggs in the combs. I usually leave about 80 pounds of honey in the hive for the colony for the winter. The bees will make a tight cluster around the queen and then the cluster moves around the hive, the heat of it thawing out the frozen honey so that they can move around and eat the honey all winter.”

The queen and all of her “ladies” will outgrow the box rather quickly, Janeczek said. “The old queen will take about half the colony and swarm,” he said. “They come out like someone turned a faucet on. There are hundreds, thousands maybe, and the swarm is about the size of a basketball. They’ll usually go to a tree nearby.”

When this happens, Janeczek will get a ladder, climb up and shake the swarm into a bucket.

“They are all around the queen,” he said. “They’re trying to figure out what she wants to do. Then I’ll bring them to a new box.”

About a week after this interview, Janeczek demonstrated his skills with a swarm. The colony had broken off from a larger hive in a black walnut tree and settled on a large limb in a yard. Janeczek brought a hive over and set it near the fallen branch. Then he donned his beekeeper’s hat and gloves and picked up the branch. With a swift motion, he slammed the branch onto the top of the open hive. Bees began crawling around the top and sides of the hive. He slammed it again, and the last of the bees fell off. Some retaliated and flew after Janeczek, and he took off at a dead run, brushing the bees away. Once he returned, he still had a dozen or so on the back of his shirt and on his pantleg, but he was able to sweep them off. “I did get stung quite a bit,” he said. “But, I’m okay.”

After about three hours, the bees had all entered the hive and Janeczek was able to cover it and take it home. The wild swarm is adjusting well to its new home at the Grange Hall Apiary.

Janeczek is enjoying his hives and is fascinated by the intelligence of the colonies and the way they are able to communicate with each other. He said it takes about 10 years before a beekeeper can be considered “expert.”

“This is my sixth year, so I have four more to go,” he said with a grin. “But you never really stop learning, do you?”


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