A Beekeeper for 62 of his 85 Years on Earth Keeps On Buzzing
At 85 years old, Jerry Apple is an inspiring man who has been a beekeeper for longer than many of us have been alive. He has loved bees his entire life and has cared for them for 62 years.
This past year he suffered many losses. His own 'queen bee,' best friend, and beloved wife, Alice, died in November 2020. Nearly half his bees froze to death. He has been trying to keep his small bee business afloat during the pandemic.
On the day 8,000 new bees arrived at his home from Georgia, it was going to drop below 30 degrees that night. Jerry lost more bees this past winter than he ever did in 62 years of beekeeping, so he decided not to risk losing the new bees. They could wait another day or two. Exposing them to freezing cold was not an option. He set their boxes in his garage to wait.
Jerry loves his bees and they probably know it. They give him prime honey. Everybody from far and wide tells Jerry that he has the best honey. As a beekeeper his two main jobs are selling honey and collecting hives of unwanted bees from people wanting to remove them from their property.
This unrelated 5:39-minute video by JPthebeeman shows how to attract swarming bees to your bee box:
Alice used to help in the beekeeping business, bottling and selling honey and she invited customers in for chats. They didn’t practice the ‘here’s the money, here’s the honey’ business model.
In Jasper, Indiana, Jerry is known for much more than just that. He has left a unique mark on his community in many ways. He and his wife sold honey at the farmers market for years. He went to all the schools and talked with kids about beekeeping. He has a beehive mailbox at his house and signs that read, ‘fresh bee pollen’ and ‘local honey for sale.’ The inside of his house is like a bee-themed hive with ‘everything bee’ from floor mats to honey-filled mason jars to bee face masks. And then there is his breakfast, which includes honey in his coffee and oatmeal most days.
His bees are like kids with personalities of their own. Some are shy and hardworking. Others are mischievous and get in trouble. He devotes a lot of time to caring for them and is aware of the hazards that bee colonies face like pesticides and cold weather, to name just two. Weather-wise, this year was devastating for bees. There never was a winter like it, according to Jerry. It takes time to recover.
Jerry lives alone now, but his large family of seven children and three stepchildren keeps tabs on him. His daughter, Lisa Knebel, helps him bottle the honey now. His friend and helper, Dan Schroeder, is a beekeeper he has worked with for over a decade. He helps Jerry do things he’s too old to do now.
It’s two days later, and a bit warmer, but a little too windy. Time for those new bees to move into their new home in Jerry’s garden. Jerry and Dan put on their bee suits and veils, and Dan has a smoker ready to calm the bees. According to Dan, once the bees are released from their boxes, some will fly off and swarm around, confused. The smoke will help because they’ll think there is a fire, which will sooth them and they won’t feel the need to attack anyone to protect their queen bee. They will receive sugar water once they are settled in their new hive and will start making honey eventually.
The stragglers that escape will probably return as the queen’s pheromones (scent) lures them back. The queen will rest in a small cage inside the hive for her own protection, but Dan and Jerry will return in 3 days to free her so the entire hive can ‘bee happily ever after.’
Dan does quite a bit of the work now since he is younger and stronger and knows what to do, but Jerry still holds his own and has no plans to slow down. When asked how much longer he’ll continue as a beekeeper, he assures people he won’t stop until dirt hits his coffin.
Jerry is an inspiration to everyone, especially to bee lovers. This past year has been bittersweet for him, with personal tragedy and losses that would have made many people give up and pack it in. Instead, his love for the bees continues to fill his heart and keep him engaged. If you'd like to read the full story about Jerry in detail, you can read it here.
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