Tough Jobs Tuesday: Benzie County Beekeeping

There’s a lot buzzing in Benzie County this spring.

These bees produce much of Northern Michigan’s prized honey.

But how is it all done?

Who are the hidden beekeepers and what do they do every season to harvest the golden honey?

Those are the questions Samantha Radecki answers in this week’s edition of Tough Jobs Tuesday.

“There’s good days and bad days, and you go ‘why am I doing this, am I nuts?'” said Greg Griswold, Champion Hill Farms. 

Greg Griswold, who casually goes by Griz-bee, has spent 30 years caring for bees.

Today, Champion Hill Farms has nearly 200 hives scattered across Benzie County.

“The bees themselves are fascinating, I learn something new about them every year, you know they are just amazing, just resilient, industrious creatures,” says Greg. 

He bravely enters their hives every week.

Spring is a busy time of year.

This is when the bees start to wake up, and search for pollen sources.

“A couple days ago, I was in one of my locations and the temps got up close to 60 and I could tell the bees just found some of the pussy willows,..because as I’m working the bees and blocking the entrance, a cloud of bees was behind me covered with all their pollen sacks full of yellow pollen and as soon as I get out of the way, the cloud of bees all comes back into the hive.”

He let us tag along too.

We dove right in as Greg introduced new bees to his hives that didn’t make it through the long winter.

“Sorry, I just wanted to make sure it didn’t crawl up your sweatshirt, that’s the worst,” laughs Greg. 

These bees are not aggressive in nature, but they will defend their hives so when we go in there, it’s important that we wear a veil for protection.

“They’re too busy taking care of business, they are too busy working and trying to get to the nectar source and get back,” says Greg.

To do this job with bare hands, you have got to stay calm and have no fear.

I asked, “So the key is you don’t want to swat them?”

“Don’t swat them!” Greg warns. “That’s an aggressive behavior and then they respond to aggressive behavior with aggressive behavior.”

Remember the stories of Winnie the Pooh always searching for honey?

Well, that holds some truth in Benzie County.

Greg has to put up electric fences to just to keep the bears away.

“Well bears do what they do, they’re actually after the larva, there’s a ball of larva inside everyone of these hives, and that is what they’re seeking,” explains Greg. “The honey is kind of like frosting on the cake.”

But as Greg says, the bees are incredibly resilient.

Hundreds of thousands of them will overtake these hives this summer.

“A thousand bees will hatch right there, when you start doing the math,” says Greg. 

How much honey will this hive produce in a season?

“I want it to produce 100 pounds, it may not, you never know.”

Even though it’s tough, Greg says there are a lot of things to love.

“My favorite thing about this job is …I’m outdoors every day, I see things every day,” explains Greg. “Last time I was here, I had a pair of swans fly over my head, these tree tops right here, I see whooping cranes, I see eagles, I see fawns, I just love being outdoors.”

But it’s not all relaxing.

“I call it the Armstrong method, which means everything’s heavy, you’ve got to move it around,” says Greg.

And the bees are always surprising him.

“Something that’s really bizarre, well I don’t know if it’s bizarre, but something I came to the realization of is that a colony of bees can have 50,000 individual bees in it but it operates like one organism.”

No matter how crazy his job may sound, Greg wouldn’t trade it for anything.

He harvests hundreds of pounds of prized honey every season and does this work with a smile.

“It’s fun I like it, even though occasionally you know somebody will ask you, ‘why do you like to …what is it about stinging insects, what is it you like about that?’ I guess I don’t think about that part.”