Local honeybee farm offers much more than honey

Jodi Zachmann pulls a comb full of brood (bees that haven’t hatched yet) out of the concrete column at Legacy Vintage Store in Liberty Hill. (Courtesy Photo)

Jodi Zachmann pulls a comb full of brood (bees that haven’t hatched yet) out of the concrete column at Legacy Vintage Store in Liberty Hill. (Courtesy Photo)

By Christine Bolaños 

Honeybees do much more than produce sweet nectar. They are critical to the ecosystem and their honey can even be used for medicinal purposes.

Jodi Zachmann, owner of Jackass Honey Farms in Liberty Hill, plans to begin selling honey locally and takes it a step further by offering free removal and relocation of honey bee swarms, as well as educating the public about bees and their hives.

“As far as taking them out safely, our main thing is we’re no kill unless absolutely necessary,” Zachmann explained.

One local business owner has already witnessed Zachmann’s passion for bee education and safety after she safely removed a swarm of bees from her business.

Melissa Fiero, owner of Legacy Vintage Store in Liberty Hill, found a bee swarm in a column in front of her business. She tried reaching out to several organizations and private companies, all of whom either could not remove the bees or charged too much. Then Zachmann heard from a neighbor about what was going on and she reached out to Fiero.

“When I bought the property about two years ago one of my columns had a tiny hole in the mortar and I noticed the bees. I didn’t think much about it and then they started to fly around more and more and then it was concerning,” Fiero said.

She contacted the Williamson County Beekeepers Association who got the bees down. Fiero then stocked the column and thought she didn’t need to worry about it further. However, the bees returned to their nesting place and Fiero once again set out to find some help.

After several dead-ends, one of her customers told Zachmann about the situation and the Jackass Honey Farms owner set out to learn more about the situation.

“They came and brought a ladder, climbed up into the tree and got those bees down. She said, ‘You saved half the hive. In order to get the rest out of the brick column we’d have to destroy it,’” Fiero recalled.

Fiero was uncertain about destroying the column but in the end it was more important to her to save the bees.

“I’m such a tree hugger. I couldn’t do it. I just knew there were thousands of bees so I called her and let her come and tear down my column. She took out buckets full of honeycomb and honey and she got all the bees and took them all away,” Fiero added.

The experience was unique on Zachmann’s end because she usually doesn’t do anything related to demolition.

Two days later she received a call from Fiero who told her the bees had swarmed into a tree and wrapped around a branch.

So, with her mother’s help, Zachmann went to Legacy Vintage Store dressed in full beekeeper suit gear, and took the bees down.

One thing to note about honeybees, said Zachmann, is that they don’t generally sting unless agitated or irritated.

“They generally don’t sting because they can’t because they fill their bodies full of honey so that where they end up going they have food. We went out there and took a hive body. It’s about a foot deep. We took that out there and we kept the limbs away from the swarm up there on the ladder,” Zachmann explained. “Then you shake the branch and the bees fall in and then you cover it and you bring it back down and then you wait.

“If you get the queen in the box then they’ll stay in the box in the hive. If you don’t have the queen she’s still on the tree the bees will make their way back up to the tree limb,” she continued. “So you turn around and you climb back up there and you shake it again. It’s a process just to get all the bees. If the queen bee gets in there it’s really neat. You can tap the side of the box and all the bees just march right in like foot soldiers.”

The swarm is made up of about 30,000 to 40,000 bees and the hive that was cleared out had another 40,000 to 50,000 or so.

“What happens when you have a hive and the population is too big for the hive itself is that they will turn around and create another queen and three quarters of the hive will swarm either with the original queen or the new queen when she hatches,” Zachmann explained. “One third of the hive along with the queen is left there for her to keep producing.”

Honey produced by the bees rescued from Fiero’s business could come as early as late summer. Zachmann said she plans to sell honey at Legacy Vintage Store and Mercantile Feed Store, both located in Liberty Hill.

“Whenever you take bees like that in a swarm or a hive and you turn around and you transport them and you put them into a hive body, it takes time for them to be able to draw out wax to be able to deposit the honey and then, because you relocate them, it takes awhile,” Zachmann added.

“They send out scout bees that go out and try to find flowers with nectar and pollen and then they come back and through a little dance, called ‘Waggle dance,’ the bees will shake their abdomens and it will tell the other bees what direction to fly to be able to get the nectar and the pollen to get to the flowers,” she said.

“Then they bring it back and then the honey is essentially nectar. It’s been regurgitated over and over and over again by the bees. So they eat it and then they throw it up and then they eat it and they throw it up and they eat it and they throw it up,” Zachmann continued. “Eventually it gets thick enough to be honey and then they deposit it into the honeycomb and then they fan it to evaporate the water out and then they cap it off with wax.”

One interesting thing about honeybees, the bee expert said, is that they don’t normally sting unless they feel threatened. It is human nature to want to smack a honeybee but that’s not necessarily a good idea, she explained.

It lets off a banana odor pheromone that alerts other bees one of their own has died. They begin getting more aggressive and start stinging in order to protect their hive.

Any time a hive is extracted, the bees get agitated because their home is disturbed and they no longer feel safe.

Though Jackass Honey Farm has been operating for three years, this will be the first year the farm will produce and sell honey.

The amount of honey the bees produce correlates with the queen’s age and production cycle.

“The queen we have right now is going on three years old, but she has been so good to us. They say to replace the queen every two years but she’s doing so good I don’t want to replace her this year,” Zachmann said. “Maybe next year we’ll use another queen for that hive.”

She said bees use water to air condition their hives. They deposit water into the honeycomb. They don’t want the honey to get too hot because then the wax can start melting. The summer and fall are prime seasons for honey production.

Jackass Honey Farms offers honeybee swarm removal free of charge.

“Our thing is first of all we want to protect the bees. We don’t want them to start spraying them with poisons and trying to kill them. We don’t want them to become a problem to someone who’s allergic to bees and we don’t want a lot of kids around. We don’t want anyone to get hurt,” she explained. “We bring them back here and they have a happy place to live.”

Zachmann reiterated the importance of bees to the ecosystem.

“It is estimated that one out of every three bites of food a bee is responsible for. It’s very important for pollination – they pollinate our crops, our flowers. If they’re not pollinating our crops our food source is going to go out,” she said. “We’re not going to have the corn, or the wheat or the oats that we need to be able to survive.”

Jackass Honey Farms would like to offer A Day in the life of a Beekeeper next summer, which is an opportunity where visitors can see the bees, wear a beekeeper suit, and learn the beekeeping process by actively participating in it. The purpose would be for the participants to have their own honey jar they helped produce.

Teachers have asked Zachmann to come to their Austin area schools to teach about pollination and the role of honeybees to that process.

To learn more about Jackass Honey Farms ‘like’ its page of the same name on Facebook.