By Mike Kessinger of the Hays Daily News
SYLVAN GROVE — North of this small town, there’s a country road with a field of sunflowers.
On a still and quiet day, you can hear the sound of thousands of bees. All working, many of them eventually cross the road to the stacks of white boxes — all labeled Labertew Apiaries, Sylvan Grove, KS.
The bees find the apiaries by following the queen and make their way into the boxes where the hives are, which includes nine frames where production of the honey starts.
Across the road from the sunflowers, someone passing by might not notice the stream of bees crossing to the hives
“We’re typically between 1,000 to 1,500 hives,” said Ben Labertew, who runs Labertew Apiaries/Labertew Honey with his father, Stan.
The Labertews have boxes of hives in seven north-central and northwest Kansas counties.
“We try to scatter them around,” Stan Labertew said. “A bee will work in a 2-mile circle. It’s nice to not overlap them too much. We’re looking for the sweet clover, alfalfa, soybeans and sunflowers this time of the year. We probably got about 200-plus hives on sunflowers right now.”
In the fields, when the frames of the hives are full, the Labertews load the apiaries and bring them into town where their shop is located in downtown.
Stan Labertew has been involved with the process since he married his wife, Sandy, more than 40 years ago. Ben was born into it, and they have kept it a close-knit family business.
“People say, ‘How did you get into it?’ ’’ Stan said. “And I say, ‘Well, I married a beekeeper’s daughter, and I’ve been getting stung ever since.’”
Ben’s wife, Angie, a teacher in Sylvan-Lucas Unified Schools, helps the father and son with the marketing and sales of the honey they keep to sell in the area. She does the work on the Labertew’s Facebook page, posting pictures and video, answering questions about the business and how everything else is done.
The Labertews will sell their honey to local businesses. It hasn’t been used for only the sale of the honey. Flyboy Brewery in Sylvan Grove purchases some of the honey for different beer it brews.
Most of the hives the family has are loaded each year on a semi and shipped to California. It is usually in the winter when the hives are taken west, where the Labertew bees will pollinate fields like almond groves. Then the hives are brought back to Kansas, and the cycle starts again.
In the back of the Labertew shop, the production is done. Boxes are lined along the limestone walls. Many of them have been in the family for generations — some of them more than 80 years.
“There’s not many (of the older boxes) left,” Ben Labertew said. “Just that they’ve lasted that long is pretty impressive.”
When the moisture is right inside the hives, the bees will seal the honey with wax.
That is where more of the human element of the honey production will begin as the Labertews will run the honey through machines, starting with the uncapper that uncaps the honey from the comb.
“That’s as raw and pure as you’re going to get,” Stan Labertew said as honey ran off the machine and into the buckets below.
Once it has gone through the uncapping process, the honey goes through the spinner, which is taking the honey off the comb. The comb then can be reused. After it has gone through the rest of the production to be cleaned, the honey is put into large tubs.
In a business that has become somewhat obsolete in some areas, the Labertews have been able to keep their production strong for the most part — and they plan to keep it that way.
“We have a cousin in Smith Center, and he runs about the same number that we do,” Stan said. “I think between the two of us, we’re running about half the commercial honeybees in the state of Kansas. It shouldn’t be that way.”
“It didn’t used to be that way,” Ben added.
“I don’t think (bees) will ever become extinct, because it’s mother nature,” Stan said. “I think we will be extinct before that honeybee is. Mother Nature has a heck of a way of taking care of things.”
Used by permission of the Hays Daily News