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Beekeeper Buzz: The Heatons

Beekeeper Buzz invites you to meet beekeepers from around the State of Michigan.

The only surprising thing about Sylvia and Lyle Heaton having honeybees is that they didn’t do it a lot sooner. This lively couple bought a nearly century-old farmhouse in the country west of Lansing and spent twenty years molding Mother Nature's landscape, that is as much as she would allow. Now, it is a sprawling, inviting homestead dressed up with a cornucopia of native plants, three ponds, a split rail fence and other furnishings that speak of a love of everything natural and genuine.

Lyle is a retired Methodist minister who plucks thoughtfully on his guitar in quiet hours. Sylvia is a biologist for the state of Michigan. Her specialty is aquatic biology, but were she to do it all over again, she may have chosen to be a botanist. She has a talent for coaxing green things out of the earth. Her garden is a feast for the eyes, blooming with native plants. Wild columbine. Cup plants. Spiderwort and Vervain. A veritable smorgasboard for a honeybee.

But it was Lyle who thought they should keep bees. For years, the two discussed it while they raised two kids, Zach and Emily. When the grandchildren began to arrive, they figured they were running out of time and they had best get to it.

They started off with just a couple of the beginner hutch type top bar hives. These were hobby hives with observation windows where they could watch and learn about the goings on of bees without disturbing them too much. That first winter, the bees all died. But in the spring they ordered a couple more packages of bees, and soon their little apiary grew from two to ten. Last fall they went into winter with ten hives, and came through the spring with six, and are now getting ready to split those hives, and will soon have eight. Queens are busy laying thousands of eggs while workers bring in bright yellow pollen by the basket load. The worker bees’ tiny pollen baskets are filled to the brim with loads of pollen. The Heatons enjoy bottling honey, and making candles, lip balm, salves and soaps with the bees wax. Last year, friends noticed that the honey had a distinctive cinnamon flavor. Sylvia admitted to sprinkling cinnamon around the entries and openings in the hives, because it seemed to keep the ants from getting into the hives. She had no idea the bees were going to pick up the grains and use them in the honeycombs. However, the taste of cinnamon and honey is not a bad thing in the final product.

The Heatons will keep on maintaining their hives and plan to add a few more this year. They will keep finding ways to give back to the environment they so love and respect.

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