Beekeeping in Johnson County 6

Sean Wheeler, M.D.

Sean Wheeler, M.D. became a backyard beekeeper almost by accident. Three years ago, a swarm of bees found the tetherball in his backyard, and, for a day or two considered it as a potential home, but unfortunately, they left after a short time. That was when Wheeler decided he wanted his own hive and has had bees ever since. During this time, he has learned a few things about keeping bees: they are fun and the more you learn about them, the more fascinating they become.

At first, Wheeler did not know that much about beekeeping, but he took the plunge anyway. He ordered the bees from Georgia and purchased the hive and other materials to get started. He did know that the first winter would be hard on them, so he carefully insulated the box, and, amazingly, they made it through that first winter. They continued thriving, and Wheeler plans on getting another hive this spring since it is wise to have at least two hives in case there is an infestation in one of them.

They did not take any honey the first two years because they wanted the bees themselves to have plenty of honey for the winter, and, if you take it all, they will starve. This past year, he did not want to take too much, so he only took some from a couple of screens. He was amazed by how much honey there actually was; he was able to fill seven large jars of honey. As much as he and his family enjoy the honey, he really appreciates the benefits he sees around him since he gardens, raises fruit trees and grows grapes.

As far as hobbies go, Wheeler says keeping bees is very entertaining because one is constantly learning about them. For example, they maintain the temperature in their hive during the summer by gathering water droplets, then they flap their wings, thus creating air conditioning in the hive. In the winter, they seal off the hive; then they accumulate in a small area and buzz throughout the entire winter to maintain a warm temperature within the hive using this kinetic energy. He says that once you figure out how the hive works, it becomes even more interesting. Wheeler is the father of six children, and he feels these experiences have given his children more respect for not only bees but nature too.

There is some work in maintaining bees, and Wheeler has learned the best ways to work around them by trial and error. When you need to get into the hive for any reason, you need to suit up and light the smoker. The smoke makes the bees think there is a fire so instinctively they start to consume the honey which makes them extremely sedentary and sleepy. While they are in this state, he looks for eggs, larvae or capped brood—where the babies incubate. This tells him the queen is alive and doing her job. He does this three or four times per summer; he knows that other beekeepers check more often, but he likes to keep a hands-off hive.

Wheeler does not belong to any bee organizations, but he talks with other beekeepers when he needs advice. He has found the beekeeping community is extremely helpful. They are a community of people working to keep bees going since they are vital to our humanity. He recommends anyone wanting to get started with beekeeping just jump in and figure your way through it. Wheeler is proof that you do not have to be a professional beekeeper to successfully raise bees and reap the benefits from this mighty pollinator.