The buzz with the Bee Keeper

By Carolyn Owens

Isn’t honey delicious? Have you ever wondered about the honey-cultivating process or just wanted to sit down and chit-chat with a beekeeper? Well, meet Kim Campbell of Campbell Apiaries in Charleston, Ill. who sells his honey at the Urbana Farmer’s Market, and enter the world of bees.
Q: How long have you been keeping bees and making honey?
A: This was a hobby originally, and I don’t remember exactly, but it was probably the late 1980s.
Q: How did you acquire the hobby?
A: I actually saw an ad in the want ads for some bee equipment and bees for sale. I got a couple of colonies and enough equipment for that and went back for more.
Q: How long have you been participating in Urbana’s Market at the Square?
A: This is, checking back to my records, my 11th year at the Farmers’ Market.
Q: Why did you choose to participate in Urbana’s Farmer’s Market?
A: I actually took over for another beekeeper who had a spot here. [I participated in another market] in Charleston, [Ill.]; it’s a small market. I never really could make much money. It was a Wednesday market.
Q: Is traveling from where you live in Charleston, Ill. to Urbana worth the trip?
A: It is, otherwise I wouldn’t. I get up at 4 a.m. to get here. I try not to stay up very late on Fridays.
Q: The market lasts from May until mid-November. What do you do from November until the start of the market in May?
A: I sell [Campbell Apiaries Honey] to grocery stores in the area, so I am working year round. I sell to several [stores] in town, [including] Meijer and Strawberry Fields and County Market and Jerry’s IGA. I am [also] a representative for Country Kettle, and I also sell those [products] to the stores here. Those [Country Kettle’s products] are Amish made preserves, salsa and barbeque sauce.
Q: Did you always know that you wanted to work with bees and make honey?
A: No, I actually did not know until later. My father and his aunts had bees when they lived on the farm, and a lot of people who were in farming would have bees. But, no, I did not know any history on that until much later. I just picked it up. I thought it was interesting. I had read a book about a father and son out in California and had gotten a world’s record for honey production out of one hive. I cannot think of the name [of the book]. Their last name was Abi, sounds like ‘bee.’ I got interested in that, but thought it would be dangerous. It’s really not; it’s more dangerous dealing with the public.
Q: How long do you plan on participating in Urbana’s Market at the Square? Do you plan on participating in any other markets?
A: Until further notice, just this one. It’s a lot of work. This is a large enough market that it’s worth coming to. The City of Urbana does a great job here.
Q: What does the work for each Saturday entail?
A: Mainly, bottling and getting enough stock ready, and selling to the stores.
Q: What about keeping bees?
A: Well, it used to be that they kind of took care of themselves. Unfortunately, we had to medicate them because of mites in the country. We had trouble keeping bees alive. But, you don’t have to go out and feed them, like you would your pet or your livestock. I mean bees do take care of themselves. It’s not like you have to make sure they brush their teeth or get them to school on time. You would just go and check visually how they are doing every so often. Then it’s basically end capping the cells of honey, and extracting that by centrifugal force.
Q: Is it hard to keep bees in the cold weather?
A: On days like this, below 60 degrees, they cluster inside [the hive]. This is the end of the year for them. They are all watching cartoons. They work during the growing season much like farmers do. So if there is nothing growing, they are not making honey.
Q: Do you get a lot of University of Illinois students as customers?
A: More so now than in earlier years when I was here. This is better advertised. It used to be rare to see students, mainly because students don’t get up early on Saturdays, especially if they stay out late on Fridays. Kathy Larson had managed our market for nine years, and she just left a couple of months ago for another job, but did a fantastic job managing this for the city of Urbana. It’ll be difficult to find somebody that did a good a job as she did. She’s very efficient with her advertising.
Q: Does your honey have different flavors?
A: Depending on floral source and weather, we mainly get clover here in the springtime and late summer we get a wild flower. It’s basically whatever the bees find that they like. What’s confusing to a lot of people is you mainly will get a light colored honey like clover or a blend in the grocery stores, and people just assume that that’s what honey is all about. But there are several hundred different floral sources. Whatever I get on me when I am bottling is my favorite.
Q: What is the best honey to buy?
A: I’d say you’d normally get a better quality of honey from a beekeeper. And I’m not pushing my product. If you find honey from a beekeeper, taste it. Find something that they like from a floral source and go with that instead of things that they’ve heard or read about. So, use your taste buds. Let your taste buds do the walking.
Q: Do you ever think you will get tired of doing this?
A: Oh yes, every few weeks depending on how the business is, how many questions the customers ask and how good of a day it is. I have noticed that this time of year it’s not quite as busy because the produce selections are declining a little bit in variety, and the weather is getting a little bit cooler, and if we have a home U of I football game that sometimes slows things down a little bit. I have noticed in the summer that if you have a nice cool Friday night and a nice cool Saturday morning, people are really easy to get along with. There are exceptions.
Q: What’s your favorite part about the market?
A: It helps to be out here with the public because they’ve always got questions. It helps to put a face in front of the business. It’s better than setting up a card table in a grocery store.
Q: Are the bees OK with you taking their honey?
A: Yes. It’s ok with them and it’s ok with me because when they are busy working, about half of them are actually out in the fields working. So, you have less bees in the hive. As long as they are out working, and as long as you are not mashing a lot of them, they don’t really pay much attention to you.
Q: Have you ever been stung by a bee?
A: Anyone who keeps bees have been stung. If you are wearing a suit, it’s more difficult for them to get to you, and it’s almost like a mosquito bite. If you are the commercial beekeeper or too cheap to buy the suit, you’ll have to get stung and take it. Of course, you’ll curse a lot too.