As people take up hobby beekeeping and bees continue to succumb to diseases, one Northwoods beekeeper has made it a goal over the years to help educate people about the process.
Nate Sheppard continues our We Live Up Here series with the story.
A bright yellow sign hangs in front of Hansen Honey Farm’s main shop. It shows a cartoon bee with two words written across it: Bee Crossing.
The sign not only informs visitors as to the nature of this farm, but also serves as an appropriate warning. Where there is honey, there are bound to be bees nearby. Thousands and thousands of them. And for Chris Hansen, founder and president of Hansen Honey Farm, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’ve always found that the bees were incredibly fascinating. Just the way that they work, they operate, how much they benefit the environment. And the fact that you can get a food product from them on top of it without actually killing bees. Not like a cow or a pig or anything like that.
His love of bees eventually led him to start Hansen Honey Farm in 1998 with only two hives. From then on, the business grew until he had nearly 200 colonies. Until only a few years ago, Hansen lived with his family in a small house near the Rhinelander High School. They didn’t have much space for their growing family and honey business, but they made it work.
Really beekeepers don’t require a lot of physical space. You do need it but usually you can find that with other landowners. You know, you kind of work out a deal. You give them a little honey and everybody walks away happy.
Eventually, in 2015, the growth of the business led Hansen to purchase a property off of Highway 8 where his family could live and he could have space for his business to grow.
This place here has just been a real blessing that we’re at now. We’ve got 20 acres and we’ve got a great big warehouse and I’m already out of space.
In their new space, Hansen has been able to expand beyond selling honey into also providing education and equipment to anyone who is interested in starting their own hives. But beekeeping is not always easy, especially in recent decades. There has been an increasing loss of bees due to a variety of factors. One of the biggest challenges for beekeepers is keeping bees healthy.
There’s a lot of things that are ailing them. Most of it is mite related. The mites themselves will cause a lot of stress to the bees. And then you get other environmental issues whether it’s a long cold winter or lack of food in the hive and so they’re on the verge of starvation, or other stressors like pesticides and herbicides and fungicides. When you get too many of those things piled on they just give up. And it’s hard for the bees.
When Hansen isn’t focused on bee health and making honey, he really enjoys teaching others about bees.
In fact, if you stop by the shop, you can see them in action for yourself. Just to the right of the door as you walk in, there is a large wall mount observation hive that allows you to see both sides of the comb. Bees can come and go as they please through a custom built hole in the wall.
You’re able to watch the queen lay eggs, you’re able to watch the bees build wax, take care of the young larva and pupa that are in there, move honey and nectar around. Everything that a hive would be doing you’re able to watch it in real time. That’s impressive for a lot of people. We have a lot of people that just stop by the shop just to come check this thing out. It be nice if they bought some honey too. I’ll take the visitors I like talking to people. It’s a small abbreviation of an actual hive.
The observation hive was built by a local craftsman who also had an interest in bees.
He knew I wanted to have an observation hive in the shop. He says, “I wouldn’t normally do this, but I’d love to build you an observation hive.” So he traded for a bunch of bees for himself and brought me this massive observation hive. It’s just been a beautiful piece in this shop and I’ve had a few universities ask about it and how they could get one
But that’s not the only curiosity you’ll run into in the shop.
This bear that we’ve got mounted in the shop, two years ago he got into the bee yard, through the fence and ended up destroying 15 hives. And it wasn’t so much physical damage in like the equipment, he just wiped out most of the bees in the brood.
Hansen partnered with the wildlife services to trap the bear. However, the animal had become too problematic to relocate, so they ended up having to put it down.
We actually had a family that was interested in the meat. We had all the stuff arranged. We put the bear down, they came in, took the bear, harvested the meat from him, brought me back the hide and I sent it in to get mounted and now we’ve got him sitting here standing on top of a hive. It’s a neat piece in the shop here and compared to the one I had wandering around here last year, this guy looks little.
Chris Hansen loves the work that he does and his passion for bees is evident. If you’re in the neighborhood and want to learn more about bees, or just see the bear for yourself, Hansen always welcomes visitors.
I like showing other people about bees and beekeeping even if they don’t have a desire to get into it themselves. They come in and they ask questions and I love the opportunity to educate.
For more information on Hansen’s Honey Farm, head to www.hansenhoneyfarm.com or visit off of Highway 8 in Rhinelander.
Nate Sheppard is a freelance multimedia artist who specializes in video and audio production. He’s currently based in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. He also enjoyed making the music for this story which is, of course, in the key of B Major.
This story was funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Wisconsin Humanities Council supports and creates programs that use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin.