Eleven years after buying his first beehive, Steve Hahus still considers beekeeping a hobby.
But it’s not uncommon for the 62-year-old retired Apollo High School teacher to answer calls on how to take care of bees, build his own wooden boxes for his hives and collect swarms throughout the county.
While at AHS, Hahus taught biology, anatomy, physiology, microbiology, zoology, and outdoor education.
“I had a very good background in beekeeping, I guess you could say,” Hahus said. “All of this is involved in beekeeping.”
Hahus’ interest goes beyond home beekeeping.
He spent three years tracking honey bees to see what types of trees and plants they collected nectar and pollen from.
Hahus called bees “extreme generalists,” meaning the ability to thrive in a wide variety of environmental conditions and use a variety of different resources.
“I walked I don’t know how many miles and hours – everywhere – to see what the bees were collecting,” Hahus said. “That’s over 80 plants.”
In January, Hahus became president of the Green Valley Beekeepers Association.
His involvement in beekeeping and the local association started with a fellow teacher.
“A friend told me about it; Obbie Todd, who I taught with at Apollo,” Hahus said. “He had bees, and he kept annoying and annoying me.”
This persistence from Todd led Hahus to purchase a beehive in 2011 from a local beekeeper.
And since then, Hahus has had up to 15 hives, which are now down to 13 – 12 of which he maintains on his Utica property. The other hive is kept at his brother’s house.
“I catch swarms, and that’s where I got all my other bees,” Hahus said. “Last year I caught 17. I caught six here, and the rest were from people who called me and had swarms around their homes. It’s a good way to get free bees, and lots of free bees, if you want them.
Hahus added that the swarms usually occur between late and mid-May.
“That’s how bees reproduce and establish more hives — they swarm,” Hahus said.
But before the bees can swarm, the hive must survive the winter.
During the winter months, the honey bees – up to 20,000 – will huddle together to generate heat and won’t break out until the outside temperature reaches around 55-60 degrees.
Hahus said the bees starve before they break the cluster, so he monitors his hives’ food levels on mild winter days that allow the bees to break the cluster to forage. If the hives run out of food, he can add a frame of honey or sugar planks to the box.
And to make sure his hives survive the winter, Hahus said there are three keys: keep them from losing a lot of heat, add food if needed, and treat them for Verroa mites, a parasitic mite. external that attacks and feeds on honey bees.
“In 10 winters, I’ve only lost one hive, so I know it’s working,” Hahus said.
Hahus also extracts honey, which he bottles and sells, from his hives twice a year, in June and September. He also sells hives and queens.
Along with keeping honey bees, he builds his own wooden bee nest boxes called superstructures, or “supers” for short. This is where the hives live and store their honey.
“People give me scrap lumber, so I don’t have to buy lumber,” Hahus said, adding that he applies deck stain to preserve the supers longer.
When he first started attending Green Valley Beekeepers Association meetings, Hahus said there were about 12 people there. But now their number has increased to around 80.
Hahus credited outgoing chairman Jim Mason with helping expand the group.
“When he was in that weak state, he did a really good job promoting us,” Hahus said.
Hahus said he enjoys introducing others to beekeeping, which has given him “something to do.”
“I’m retired, and I guess that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re retired,” Hahus said.