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Hob’bee’ist’s career takes off

Father and son are creating a buzz in Dixon

DIXON – Father and son Jim and Zak Heintzelman began beekeeping as a hobby 3 years ago.

A friend of Zak’s ordered a beginner’s kit online, and that was all it took to pique his interest. 

“I decided it would be interesting to try,” the 25-year-old said.

“That was 20 hives ago!” his dad said.

The hobby quickly became a passion, and Zak was offered a job with Honeyland Farms in Wisconsin and Florida, leaving his dad to tend the “hobby” hives. 

His year now split out of state, Zak doesn’t have much time to work his own hives. But whenever he visits, he and Jim suit up and tend them together.

“I started as Zak’s helper a few years ago,” Jim said. “It’s a great hobby and really nice father-son time. They are great little creatures, and I enjoy working with them.” 

They keep their hives in a natural setting among prairie grasses, which gives the bees plenty of pollen and nectar. Highly populated areas are not conducive to successful beekeeping. 

The new Big River Beekeeper’s Club gathered recently at the Heintzelman hives for a demonstrational meeting.

Susan Kivikko, state bee inspector, was on hand to help Zak check the hives and four distinct life-cycle phases; egg, larva, pupa and adult. She also helped split the hives.

Explaining to the group of about 10 members, Zak said he periodically splits them to create more hives, requeen and stimulate production.

He came to the meeting prepared with a couple of extra queens he ordered online. Each hive must have one queen whose sole purpose is to reproduce.

Dave Durnen, like Zak, started beekeeping just a few years ago, though he admits with a laugh that he began the hard way.

“I’d been admiring five swarms in a hollow walnut tree,” he said with a chuckle. “Jim [Ortgiesen] here was helping and so was my wife [Nancy].”

“Helping,” the operative word, he said, and still laughing, continued, “Managed to capture three of the five swarms, but I was up at the top of a folding ladder, sawing off the branch, with 30,000 bees.”

As the weight was getting to him, Jim and Nancy were down below, steadying the ladder.

The bees were getting restless, Ortgiesen said, and he and Nancy simply “took off.” 

Durnen said he was “only” stung about three times that day as he crashed to the ground.

“I hate telling you this but, I’d do it again,” Durnen said with a broad smile.

He, Ortgiesen – who has five of his own hives – and other beekeepers sell their honey locally, and to friends and family. 

Durnen and his wife’s production has become quite large. He said they sell 1-pound bottles, which actually are 16 ounces when filled with weighty honey, at Selmi’s in Rock Falls.

“And I always carry honey with me in the truck, because I always run into people who want it,” he said. “I pulled 360 pounds off of 4 hives!”

Kivikko said the meetings will give hobbyists a chance to connect with others who share the interest in beekeeping.

“We all learn from each other because no two colonies are alike,” she said. “Like families, colonies raise the family differently. And no two beekeepers are alike, either.”

Zak said he enjoys beekeeping because of the time spent with his dad and said, “It’s really just nice to be outside, be a part of nature, and enjoy a little creature that does a lot of work.”

Learn more

For more information about the Big River Beekeeper’s Club, contact the Whiteside County Farm Bureau in Morrison at 815-772-2165. Meetings are held every other month on the first Sunday; locations vary.

Selmi's Greenhouse and Farm Market, where local honey can be purchased, is located at 1206 Dixon Ave., Rock Falls.

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