SKANDIA - When Joel Lantz gives a talk about bees, he counts off people in attendance: 1... 2... 3.
"Then I point to the third person and say, 'you don't get to eat anymore' because one out of three people in the world depend on bees to eat," he said. "And bees are in trouble."
The trouble for bees is something called colony collapse disorder.
At left, some of the bees that Joel Lantz has at his bee hives in Skandia are shown. Lantz estimates he may have as many as half a million bees at his property. Below, Sue and Dave Payant, at left, who are keeping bees for the first time, watch as Lantz explains how to extract honey from the frames that are from the inside of the hives they keep at their Dickinson County camp. Lantz is one of the founding members of the Superior Beekeeping Club, which includes about 200 members. (Journal photos by Renee Prusi)
"They are trying to figure out what's causing it," Lantz said. "It's pointing right now toward some chemicals. And it's bad because bees are so important to what the world eats."
Lantz, a retired school principal, has been beekeeping for more than two decades and since moving to the Upper Peninsula after retirement, he's become the leader of the Superior Beekeeping Club, which has nearly 200 members.
Lantz has shared his love and knowledge of bees with scores of people who want to know about beekeeping.
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For him, his fascination started more than 20 years ago when his daughter Cassandra wanted to do a 4-H project.
"She thought bees would be a cool project," Lantz said. "So I helped her with it. Then kids grow up and leave home and guess who still has the bee project?"
Lantz grinned as he spoke those words because he's completely happy to be a beekeeper. He's glad to create a buzz that grows into an interest for others.
"Every year, I do a seminar at the (Peter White Public) library," he said. "Last spring, there were 100 people there. More and more people want to know about bees."
On this sunny August morning, other people were journeying to Lantz's home in rural Skandia for an important event for beekeepers: Extraction day. In a sauna-warm outbuilding on Lantz's land - honey flows better in warm temperatures - extraction of honey was being done by a variety of visitors over the course of more than eight hours.
"I wouldn't be beekeeping without Joel's presentation at the library," said Mary Kramer, who with her significant other, Dan Rabine, was the first to extract honey that day. "I had always thought about it and after Joel's talk I went ahead and ordered some bees that night. I have been hooked ever since and that was four years ago.
"Joel made it seem so do-able, so possible. And it is."
Rabine has become fascinated by beekeeping, as well.
"When I came into the picture, Mary was already beekeeping," he said. "I fell into all of it. It's great. I had an interest before but never did it. I hadn't met Joel yet."
Lantz replied: "Dan has the smooth personality suitable to a beekeeper."
Patience is one of the attributes good for someone interested in becoming a keeper of bees.
"It takes time," Lantz said. "But you do get wonderful honey."
Each of the individuals extracting honey that day was leaving a small jar, marked with their name and the area in which they keep their hive. Those small jars will become tasting samples at a future Superior Beekeeping Club meeting.
"The colors and flavors vary," Kramer said.
Lantz said many factors go in to the final honey product, depending for instance on the types of flowers the bees are exposed to.
Sue and Dave Payant are first-year beekeepers who brought the frames from their manmade hive to Lantz's home for honey extraction.
"Our hives are at our camp in Dickinson County, The Nodding Trillium," Sue Payant said. "We have plums, apples and flowers that the bees will like. We got involved (in beekeeping) because it was something that really appealed to us. You can order hives, but Dave built his own, with dovetailed corners, very precise.
"We worry about our bees when we are not there And we've found we make more frequent trips to camp to check on our 'girls' in the hive."
The Payants set up a water source for the bees, adding small rocks in the troughs so the bees have something to land on and won't drown.
"We are so excited to be doing this," she said. "It's so much fun."
Russian bees are the variety the Payants purchased.
"We chose the Russian bees because they are more resistant to disease," Dave Payant said. "They are more aggressive and survive winters better.
"Most of our friends are interested in what we're doing. They want to know more about it. Some say that bees freak them out, but most are really interested."
The Payants have even named some of their bees, picking Russian handles like Boris, Natasha and Nikita.
As more beekeepers arrived to extract their honey, Lantz explained that this year was a bit different.
"Last year, we extracted two times. This year, it will be just this once," he said. "The goldenrods and asters are already out and those are fall flowers. I was worried if we waited until September or October, there wouldn't be anything left for the bees for the winter. So that's why we are doing this now."
Marquette Township resident Sue Taylor knows about bee survival.
"My bees did not survive last winter, so I had to get new bees," she said as she extracted honey from her panels. "This is just my second year as a beekeeper. Last year I got four quarts of honey and it was wonderful. This year, I am making sure to not remove it all so there's some left in the hive for the bees for winter."
Dave Payant said Lantz has been an invaluable teacher for the budding beekeepers group, which first formed in 2008.
"We email Joel with lots of questions," Payant said. "He knows so much."
Lantz is humble about the praise.
"I get them to do the basic functions and they will learn as they go along," he said.
For more information about beekeeping, visit Lantz's website at upbees.weebly.com.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is email@example.com.