Walworth County beekeeper sees activity as a lifelong hobby
TROY TOWNSHIP — When approaching a hive, it's best to stay calm and move slowly. Otherwise, you might get stung.
Monday was hot and sunny in the town of Troy. If it gets much warmer, John Kendall said, you should not even think about approaching the boxes that house his bees because the heat makes them too ornery.
Kendall is a hobbyist beekeeper and president of the Walworth County Beekeepers Club, a group that meets monthly to talk about the basics of beekeeping and to plan outreach events. One of the club's goals is to educate the public about the habitat loss, viruses and mites that threaten native pollinators' numbers, he said.
The club has more than 50 members who care for about 1,000 hives.
Kendall teaches 4-Hers how to tend hives because he sees beekeeping as a lifelong hobby that has lessons in food production for kids who are generations removed from farming ancestors.
His love for beekeeping led him to mentoring Tom Czarnecki, an Elkhorn father of seven who stumbled onto the club online.
This year, Czarnecki is shadowing Kendall, but next year he plans to build the wooden framework to start his own hives—a process that usually begins in April. He said Kendall's willingness to mentor him for a season is just one example of the generosity of the beekeepers' club.
For Czarnecki, the hobby has become a family affair. His son Gavin, 9, and daughter Lilly, 12, were on hand to help with the bees at Kendall's farm Monday afternoon.
“It's really become a family event, and there's nothing better than tasting honey right out of the hive,” he said.
Czarnecki was drawn to the hobby for the “romance” of learning what he considers a lost art while spending time with his family.
Kendall spends one day a week servicing 17 hives scattered around town. Each hive houses about 7,000 bees, a number he said will swell to 60,000 to 80,000 per hive by July if the bees are healthy.
Kendall starts collecting honey in June, and the final harvest is August or September, when the honey is darker.
If everything goes very well, the season will last six months—April to October.
Kendall, a retired farmer, still runs a 100-tree apple orchard on his property, which he says has flourished since he started beekeeping six or seven years ago. Although he
doesn't advertise his honey, he said he sells about 60 pounds a month.
When it was time Monday to open one of the boxes near a tree line, Gavin aimed the bee smoker—a device that puffs smoke to calm the bees—at the rows of square, wooden frames slotted side-by-side in the box. Bees spilled out of the hive as Kendall gently lifted a frame laden with honeycomb.
Neither Kendall nor the Czarnecki family appeared threatened by their proximity to thousands of bees. They moved deftly and calmly, even after Kendall was stung on the forearm.
Getting stung is part of beekeeping, and Kendall said the bee's venom helps ease the pain of arthritis. He's quick to point out, though, that every bee sting also means the end of a bee's life.
Kendall says beekeeping was easier decades ago. Now, hard-to-pinpoint illness can sweep through and kill an entire hive. He lost all his bees to unknown causes last winter.
“I think the bees might be telling us something … (that) it's time to wake up and take care of Mother Nature,” he said.
Kendall watched the bees coming and going from the hive Monday and said he could spend hours watching the inner workings of “bee society.”
When asked how long he plans to continue keeping bees, his answer is definitive.
“Till the day I die,” he said.