- About Us
- River St. Bakery
312 North River Street
Ypsilanti, MI 48198
9am - 9pm
By Kait Keim
Stephanie Hannar has been working with honeybees her whole life and has been stung countless times. Her family began working with bees when her father was still young. Her grandfather found a good deal on a couple of hives and brought them home in the mid 1960’s. Home was a small (centennial) dairy farm in Schoolcraft, Mi, so beekeeping fit right in. Grandfather Phillip ran the show in addition to working at the paper mill. At 83 he is “retired,” but still selling honey equipment and supplies and lives where the Hannar “headquarters” lie. Stephanie’s dad, Brian, was 15 when he started beekeeping and he hated it! He thought the work was tedious, hot, and hard on the back! Somehow he manages to look beyond all this, because working with the bees is now his full time job. Her dad worked at Stryker after graduation, but came back to the family beekeeping after almost a decade away. He much prefers being his own boss, being outside, and he even calls the bees “his girls!” Stephanie laughed as she noted that, “My dad and grandfather will both die with their boots on!”
Her brother, David, is seventeen and is allergic to bees! Despite his allergy he still works with the bees and has been on allergy shots for the past seven years! Stephanie herself has been officially beekeeping since she was nine. She also grew up participating in 4-H. She worked with horses for over seven years, but had the most fun raising beef cows (less drama). She is currently studying Communications and English and she wants to move away from Michigan after graduation. As with most family businesses, the job is never ending, but manages to link together the older generations, whom are comfortable in their work, with the younger generation, still looking to explore their options in life. Stephanie and her dad are the main owners and operators of the show, but just like her dad earlier in his life, she has visions of life without the bees.
Stephanie’s father runs the beekeeping part of the production. Like you can probably imagine, they wear full suits with hoods and use smoke to calm the bees. When the bees are mad they follow you and won’t leave you alone, but once they sting they die. Beekeeping is partly a trial and error process. “The work itself is tedious, but the bees are fascinating.” The Hannars have 1,900 hives in total, spread over Southwestern Michigan and beyond. The hives are placed in groups about a mile apart of each other, which is the bees’ normal range. Farmers will rent hives to pollinate their crops, and sometimes, large fields will have up to twenty-four hives.
Each hive will have one Queen, male drones for mating (without stingers), and sterile female workers. Each worker bee has a different job and during the busy summer may only live six weeks because of loads of hard work! Queens last about two years on average. The hives will raise two or three queens growing at a time, and the strongest survivor becomes the next queen. Too many bees in a hive will cause a break off swarm that will find a new location with the old queen and one of the young queens will take over. Queens are not born any different then the worker bees, but being fed Royal Jelly makes them unique. It is an extremely nutritious, thick, milky-white creamy liquid secreted by the hypopharryngeal glands of the nurse bees. Queen bees are raised exclusively on royal jelly and it accounts for their incredible size, fertility, and longevity. Royal Jelly is also well known for the beneficial health effects it can have for humans, and more uses are still being discovered!
For the winter the bees are moved to Florida and placed into fields. The hives are moved at night and travel by semi-truck. They keep honey production going in Florida, which they monitor from a house in Chiefland, FL. To move all the hives it takes five semi-trucks. The Hannar's bees have been migrated to and from Florida for about a decade now and have definitely enjoyed a higher survival rate with their hives. The bees don’t let the hive drop below between 80° and 90° degrees. They keep the hives very clean and they survive the winter with their honey stockpile. Hives are made of two deeps, which are there for the bees’ own use, and the supers on top, which weigh about sixty pounds each. A strong hive will produce between six and eight supers in one season!
In March the bees come back from Florida and are placed into the fields. They are left buckets with sugar water and medicated for mites to begin the season here in Michigan. It is normal to lose around 500 hives a winter from a combination of reasons. To always have a supply of queens, on hand they order boxes of queens UPS. They come unborn in queen cells with worker bees traveling as their escorts. The supers go on in June, and keeping up with the bees is a full time job! The Hannars regularly check the hives for health, production levels, and queen strength. If a queen is doing well then the bees are more laid back and focused on their work. The bees are more volatile when the queen is struggling. If a hive's queen is doing too poorly, they will actually kill off the queen and replace it with a new UPS queen!
Stephanie bought the bottling, sales, and distribution portion of the company from her Grandfather three years ago. Early August is the beginning of harvest season and that is when they begin pulling off the supers, shooing out any stray bees, and placing them onto the skid to bring to the warehouse. From there they go onto the conveyor belt into a machine that cuts the outer caps of wax off, and then put in an extractor to spin the honey out. The honey then travels through a heater and is whipped to divide out the wax and is then strained. Huge tanks store the honey, and they eventually fill 60-gallon drums for shipping. Eight drums of honey sell wholesale for around five grand and in a good Michigan season they will produce around 250 drums of honey! About forty drums are sold directly by them at their headquarters, to stores such as co-ops, and also at farmers markets. Bells and other local breweries also buy honey from them. The other 200 drums are sold wholesale to Grobes. The color and flavor of honey differs depending on the blossoms visited by the honeybees. Colors range from water white to dark amber and the flavor varies from mild to bold. The color of fresh honey is related to its mineral content and is characteristic of its floral source. Eating honey from your local area has been shown to help to ease seasonal allergies. Other bee related products are Beeswax, Propolis, and Pollen and are all well known for their health building properties. If you wish to know more about these amazing insects and their handiwork you may want to visit: http://www.texasdrone.com/ as I found this site very helpful and informative!
Stephanie Hannar reflected at the end of our conversation that what she would miss the most, if she ever does leave the family business, would be her customers! She loves that people are always happy to see her when she stops by with a delivery of honey. Sure sounds like a sweet job to me… I know the Ypsilanti Food Co-op is always happy to have her honey in stock! If you would like to contact Stephanie with any questions about bees or beekeeping, please contact her via e-mail at: Hannar.Stephanie@sbcglobal.net. Enjoy the honey!
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