Bethel and Mike Metz aren’t just honey producers, they’re advocates for bees and the good they do for the world
Bethel and Mike Metz aren’t out to recruit beekeepers. They just want to make people understand that honeybees are friendly and important to the food chain.
“It’s an uphill battle,” Bethel said, “but if you like food, you like bees.”
The Metzes manage three hives at their Port Washington home and have 50 others they harvest honey from in Ozaukee County.
Bethel approached her husband about keeping a hive at their home in the spring of 2011 when their son Baker was struggling with eczema, allergies and asthma.
“After his medication, he would have this spike of anxiety and artificial energy,” she said. “The more I looked into natural remedies, everything was pointing toward beehives.”
Taking small amounts of local bee pollen introduces allergens into a person’s system to build immunity.
It’s one of the reasons the Metzes believe their honey, which is branded as Bethel’s Seven Hills Honey and is sold at the Port Washington farmers market, has become so popular.
“When you have to advocate for something you love, you realize how much you really love it,” Bethel said.
The couple orders its bees from Dadant & Sons, a Watertown supplier, which gets bees from California.
The bees are brought in on semi trucks in screened boxes that cost about $100 each.
The Metzes then introduce the bees to hives in nine locations throughout the county.
Each hive has about 5,000 bees in the spring, but that number can multiply to as many as 100,000 by late summer.
The different locations of the hives gives the honey a different taste, Bethel said.
Honey from Newburg, for example, tastes different than Port Washington honey because of what kind of pollen the bees are eating.
“They’ll eat everything from goldenrod by the bike path to a tomato plant on somebody’s front porch,” Bethel said.
Mike, who also owns a small trucking business, said the honey from Newburg this season is “incredible.”
“When I extracted it, I took a half-gallon for myself,” he said. “I’m not sure what they got into, but it was delicious.”
The beekeeping operation hasn’t always been a smooth ride.
When the city discovered the Metzes were keeping a hive on their property in 2011, it was ordered removed.
They then worked with the city to draft an ordinance regulating hives on their property.
According to city law, they are allowed three hives at their East Van Buren Street home.
The process of harvesting honey starts when the bees “cap” a frame by drying it out.
The Metzes then take a fork with small tines on it and carefully scratch the caps open. The honey is then put in a large centrifuge and impurities like blades of grass are strained out.
“When the nectar flow is high, we could fill an empty frame, which is about seven pounds, in about a week,” Bethel said.
The hives never leave Ozaukee County, she said, even in the winter.
Each hive needs about 150 to 200 pounds of honey to make it through the colder months, so the Metzes have to make sure they leave enough for the bees to survive.
In the fall, the hives are taken to a central location for the season.
“If it’s about 40 degrees and sunny, they’ll go on what we call cleansing flights,” Bethel said.
Weather is an important factor in the quality and quantity of honey each year, she said.
This year, the couple has been so busy tending to the hives they didn’t make it to the farmers market to sell their product until mid-August.
“The first day we were there, people were buying as much as five gallons at a time to get them through the winter,” Bethel said.
The business doesn’t come without risk.
When they go to harvest honey, the Metzes almost always wear beekeeping suits.
“It all depends on what we’re doing and the individual hives, but if we’re going to harvest, we suit up,” Bethel said. “If you go in there and it’s 95 degrees and humid, they’re going to be angry.”
Getting stung is part of the job, although Bethel said she doesn’t get stung very often.
Mike sometimes refuses to wear a suit and usually pays for it.
“A few years ago I got nailed in the legs about 20 times and then they just went up my arms,” he said. “That was rough.”
The key to staying safe is not to swat a bee or get in the way of its hive, Bethel said.
“They know where they go in and if something is in its way, they back up,” she said. “They’ll usually give a warning.”
While the Metzes enjoy selling honey, they are beekeepers first.
“The honey at the end is the byproduct,” Bethel said. “It’s the bees first and then they just happen to have this product we deal with.”
Image information: Honeybees are a part of life for Mike and Bethel Metz of Port Washington. The couple has three hives at their home, which produce tasty honey sold as Bethel’s Seven Hills Honey.