Bees are couple’s life, love

Staff writer

For Bill Vinduska, a hobby turned into a way of life.

He said that he just wanted to have some bees around for the honey.

“You can’t just have one hive,” Vinduska said.

He bought a ready, honey-making colony of bees for around $300.

“You can’t really tell what you have until you have something to compare it to,” Vinduska said.

Then two boxes of hives transformed into three and now he has almost 200 hives spread out among his farm in rural Marion, his brother-in-law’s residence, and his girlfriend Candy Gfeller’s property near Stillwater, Okla.

Honeybees have buzzed their way into every part of Vinduska’s life. He met Gfeller online at a beekeepers Web site, while he was looking for equipment. They chatted and immediately saw a mutual admiration for bees.

“He was as crazy as I was,” Gfeller said.

Vinduska and Gfeller eventually became work partners and a relationship developed. The only time they do not spend together is when Gfeller works with hogs as a separate hobby.

“I have to draw the line somewhere,” Vinduska said.

They operate two businesses together that have a symbiotic connection.

Vinduska and Gfeller work the 200 hives for Vinduska Apiaries and sell the honey. The hives are a series of boxes. There is the super on the bottom where the queen bee can lay up to 1,000 eggs a day. From there, Vinduska and Gfeller continually put smaller boxes on top. The stacks can reach up to seven boxes high; on Saturday, one of the hives had already reached six boxes.

They have two main harvest seasons — July and October — but there is a lot of work that goes into getting the hives ready.

In the winter, Vinduska has to make sure bees have enough food to survive.

In the spring, they have to be aware of the bees that are swarming. A hive can reach maximum capacity. When this happens, half of the bees collectively fly away from the hive to find a new nest.

“It’s like a tornado of bees,” Gfeller said.

Vinduska and Gfeller try to direct the bees into a new box waiting to be colonized.

“It’s easier to work with the bees than against them,” Vinduska said. “Bees are going to do what they are going to do.”

Honeybees are not easy partners. Though Vinduska and Gfeller have European honeybees, which have been making honey for people for centuries, they can still be temperamental.

If a hive loses a queen, anytime a person lifts the lid of that box the bees will attack with furious abandon until they can replace the queen. Vinduska said that he will take a queen from a different hive, but the bees may not take to the new queen. He said it is better to let them work it out on their own.

A predator could agitate a hive. Raccoons and other animals may scratch at the hives at night to force the bees into a waiting trap.

And, to answer the most common question they are asked, Vinduska and Gfeller definitely get stung.

“We’re happy if we only get stung once or twice,” Vinduska said of his daily trips to his hives.

While coordinating with the swarming season in the spring, Vinduska and Gfeller also have to make sure the bees have flowers to pollinate. Near one of the sets of hives at their farm in rural Marion, Vinduska planted vetch that makes a honey, which is sweet but not prone to quickly crystallize.

“It’s all about timing,” Vinduska said. “when to subdivide, when to pull honey. Even experienced beekeepers can have trouble with that.”

In the summer, Vinduska and Gfeller check the hives every weekend, making sure they keep up with the pace the bees are setting. When the bees fill up a box with honey, they will stop breeding and eat the honey that they’ve made. Vinduska and Gfeller don’t want that to happen, thus they keep adding boxes filled with plastic combs on top of the supers. Vinduska and Gfeller buy the boxes with plastic inserts because even though the bees will make their own wax they will use the plastic fillers, which cuts down on honey making time.

Eventually it is time to harvest the honey. The boxes, which initially weighed 10 pounds, are 60 pounds at that point. The beekeepers take out the inserts, scrape off the bees, and then take them back to their shop to extract the honey with knives or scrapers.

Vinduska and Gfeller sell chemical-free honey at craft fairs, local farmers markets, and Carlsons’ Grocery in Marion. They don’t use any pesticides to keep harmful insects away and they do not pasteurize their honey. Vinduska said honey is sweeter and has more nutrients than the honey from major producers that has been pasteurized, but it will also crystallize and may have to be heated to return to liquid.

“Only in the United States do people expect honey to be liquid,” Vinduska said.

Vinduska and Gfeller sell some honey and use the rest for brewing and winemaking.

“We’re better at producing it than selling it,” Vinduska said.

Then there is their other business.

Vinduska and Gfeller also run a bee removal service out of Wichita. The removal service is where they make the bulk of their money and where they get most of their bees.

“We want local bees,” Vinduska said. “(Bees from somewhere else) you don’t know how they’ll do here.”

They split time evenly between the removal service and apiaries. Removals occur throughout the year with more removals coming in the fall.

“It is hot, dirty work,” Vinduska said, “and sometimes, very thankless.”

While Vinduska and Gfeller will be called to remove hives in trees or other outdoor hives — like one they pulled off a Bank of America sign Friday in Wichita — the majority of jobs involve cutting and removing a hive from behind a wall or securing it from a chimney.

In the majority of jobs, people do not realize how large a hive has become. In one case, Vinduska said he encountered a hive that was 6 feet long. He wasn’t prepared for the massive hive, approaching it without a bee suit, and was stung 75 times. The job took seven hours.

“I try to forget the nasty ones,” Vinduska said.

But, Vinduska and Gfeller get paid handsomely for this work and obtain bees that are survivors.

It’s obvious that Vinduska and Gfeller love working with bees.

On Saturday, both of them were wearing bee shirts — Gfeller a brightly colored honeybee T-shirt and Vinduska a beekeeper shirt.

Vinduska even has a tattoo of a large bee, displaying its stinger, on his right forearm.

It’s their love of bees that inspired the love for each other and makes paying nearly $100,000 for equipment not seem as harsh.

“It just kind of permeates your life,” Gfeller said.

 

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