It doesn’t take much to get up close and personal with thousands of honeybees in North Dakota. Just sign up to take a tour — a bee tour.
Hundreds of people are lining up to take a walk through Llerenas Apiaries bee farm to learn how bees operate, communicate and work together to make that sweet, sticky nectar.
“Most people see bees outside and on the roadside and they don’t think much about them,” said Joaquin Llerenas. “We do the tours to show people what bees are really like.”
Joaquin and his wife Kristy have owned and operated A Touch of Honey since 1986, using a Farm Service Agency loan to help with start-up costs. This is the first year they have opened the grounds for tours.
Joaquin said it was Kristy’s idea after speaking with representatives from North Dakota Agri-tourism. Unfortunately, her allergy to bees keeps her from interacting with the actual tour, “but she is 100 percent hands-on with the honey,” said Joaquin.
The nearly two-hour tour starts with a video and discussion of how bees work, the benefits they provide to agriculture and how they make honey. The tour group then suits up in proper beekeeping attire to mingle with the bees. Joaquin pulls large frames out of big white boxes filled with bees, honey and honeycomb.
“We show them how the bees fill the frames with honey. We’ll try to locate the queen if we can because sometimes it’s difficult to find her in a full hive,” said Joaquin. The group then walks to the processing plant where they are shown how honey is extracted, processed and bottled.
“The tour is safe and extremely interesting as you get to observe the bee activity up close,” said Daniel Weber, FSA County Executive Director, who was one of the first people to take the tour. “You will leave with an appreciation of honey production and the byproducts of honey.”
Tours are given on Mondays by appointment only. Within the first three weeks of opening, 33 people buzzed to the fields to gain the experience.
“We’ve had a very good response,” said Joaquin. “We have had calls from different parts of the state, from schools and individual private parties.”
But this family business — that will one day be passed on to Joaquin’s son and two daughters — isn’t all about the honey. Kristy has turned the brown sweetener into lotions, lip balms, creamed and flavor-infused honeys that are sold alongside jars of the everyday liquid kind.
It’s a long road from where he started, coming to the United States from Mexico in 1969. Joaquin said he was sponsored by an American beekeeper, who taught him the business. “I’ve always wanted to have my own business and beekeeping for me was a great fit,” he said. “It was tough starting out, but we managed to grow the business, and we continue to grow.”