A friend of bees

He’s been stung hundreds of times, but beekeeper and honey seller Mike Metz loves bees as a gift of nature

Mike Metz tended to a few of his many hives. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

The buzzing of thousands of bees might not be the most soothing of sounds to most people, but it’s music to the ears of Mike Metz.

“To me it’s very relaxing,” Metz said. “When you’re working among nature like that, the smells of the nectar and the flowers the bees have been upon are just beautiful. I find it very therapeutic.”

Mike has worked with bees for a decade as owner of Seven Hills Honey of Port Washington. He started with a hobby hive and realized he loved the bees. He remembers as a kid in Cedarburg watching the behavior of bees intently as his grandfather worked with them.

“I must have some beekeeping in my blood,” Metz said.

Metz also has had plenty of bee venom in his blood. He estimates he has been stung more than 500 times while pursuing his hobby. If he gets a few stings while working on a hive, he said, the venom acts like a tranquilizer and he will sleep well that night. He claims the venom also helps prevent arthritis.

For the most part, Metz knows which of his hives have bees with anger management issues and which are more easygoing.

He leaves the grumpy ones alone as much as possible until he comes to get their honey in fall, he said.

“You’re always suited up when you have a hive with potential (angry bees),” he said, adding he once had about 300 stingers in his gloves and suit after working with bad-tempered bees.

All hives, however, can be a bit perturbed during hot and humid weather. They just prefer not to have intruders storm into their homes and open the doors and windows.

“Just like people, they’re trying to regulate the temperature and moisture. They get grumpy when you go in there,” he said.

Metz begins working with bees in late May through mid-June, during swarm season. He’ll check out hives every eight to 10 days.

When a queen decides the hive has outgrown its home or there is too much honey, she will create anywhere from about five to 30 queen swarm cells, pack them with honey and put them on the bottom of the hive’s frame.

After they hatch, they fight to the death and the winner becomes the new queen. In the meantime, the old queen leaves with about half of the workers in search of a place to start a new hive.

Often, that ends up being in a barn or a house, so Metz does what’s called “forcing the swarm.”

If he finds swarm cells, he looks through anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000 bees for the queen. He puts her in a box and takes out some of her eggs to make a new home in a different location.

Metz doesn’t have a home base for his bees. He keeps them in 12 locations in the area, including Grafton, Saukville, Belgium, Cedarburg, Newburg, Jackson, Fillmore and around Port Washington. He’s got a waiting list of people who want his bees on their property to reap the benefits of pollination.

Metz pays the homeowners in honey. He only takes what he needs each fall.

“The honey I take is the excess. They get to keep what’s in the lower boxes,” he said.

The bees, he said, use the honey in winter for food.

Metz winterizes his hives by wrapping them in 2-inch thick Styrofoam. If they’re low on honey, he cooks down 10 to 20 pounds of sugar that turns into a candy board for backup food.

Metz keeps each of his location’s honey separate. Some is lighter and some darker, depending on where bees get their pollen.

He said he likes honey flavored with basswood from linden trees and the urban honey that has a buttery, smooth complex flavor from his Saukville bees.

He admits he’s a honey snob.

Metz recommends using darker honey for cooking and lighter versions for coffee and teas so as not to overpower the drink’s flavor. He regularly uses some in his greek yogurt with berries.

Consuming honey from about a 50-mile radius of where someone lives helps counteract allergies to plants in that area, he said.

Metz buys most of his bees from a supplier in Sullivan. He also does removals and keeps those bees. This month, he moved a hive from a tree in Glendale to Saukville and hopes they can rebuild a home in time for winter.

“It was absolutely beautiful,” he said. “It was 22 inches tall by 15 inches wide, with seven to eight pieces of comb. I feel bad for destroying what they had.”

Metz has lost his share of hives due to colony collapse disorder. He thinks the bees were poisoned by pesticides or fertilizer. Bees leave the queen and die off.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think it will ever stop,” he said of pesticide use.

Other threats include ants, hornets and yellow jackets and bumblebees, which try to steal honey. Cinnamon can repel most ants, Metz said, but bees have to handle the wasps and hornets on their own, either stinging them to death or clustering around them and causing them to die from heat; bees can handle hotter temperatures than those predators.

During droughts, some hives will prey upon weaker colonies and steal their honey, he said.

For people who have bee hives on their property, he recommends leaving them alone or having a beekeeper pick them up. He said lawn mowers driven near hives usually won’t bother the bees unless grass clippings are sent in their direction.

While Metz loves working with bees and sells their honey at the Port Washington farmers market, he makes his living running a trucking business. His hobby, which becomes a full-time job during summer, isn’t a big money maker.

“It’s a lot of work with little profit,” he said, but added, “The personal payoffs are priceless.”



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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