Beekeeper Ken Walters sells honey throughout Mercer County.

Ken Walters, of Lawrence, tends to one of his beehives, which are located on the properties of several farms in Mercer County.

Lawrence beekeeper starts Yellow Bee to share the sweet raw honey

Some things to know about beekeeping: If a beekeeper approaches a beehive wearing dark clothing, the bees often swarm, thinking he’s a bear or some other type of predatory animal. A typical full size beehive usually houses about 60,000 bees. Consumers should always choose raw honey.

Ken Walters easily rattles off these facts and more to anyone who asks. In fact, answering questions and sharing information is one of the things the Lawrence resident loves most about his work as a beekeeper.

Walters, 51, is the founder and owner of Yellow Bee, which he officially launched just more than a year ago. Walters’ honey is sold at nearly 20 locations, including Lawrence Township’s own Michael’s Restaurant, Terhune Orchards, Trenton Farmers’ Market and Maidenhead Bagel Company.

But you can often find Walters — and his honey — at fairs and farmers’ markets, where he shows off his products and educates passersby.

“The farm fairs are nice, because of all the people I get to meet,” he said. “One couple … wrote a book of beekeeping. They gave me a copy of the book and autographed it.”

Aside from selling honey, Walters also offers an Adopt a Hive program and educational presentations at fairs, farms and group events. As an Adopt a Hive participant, an individual will learn the beekeeping trade from Walters, and care for a specific hive for a season.

The hive, which looks like a stack of wooden boxes, is a more organized version of a tree, Walters said. Each box has 10 frames, and as the bees continue to build up each frame, Walters adds more boxes.

The bees build the honey comb with wax, forming hexagonal shapes where honey will eventually be stored. When the bees bring back the nectar from flowers, they turn it into honey and store the honey in the comb, sealing the top with more wax when the comb is full.

A full hive typically has about 60,000 bees, Walters said. He also has a demonstration hive, which has glass sides so the bees’ work is visible, that holds about 20,000.

“I really just liked working with the bees,” he said of getting started. “You never like getting stung but…you kind of get used to it. I got stung a lot in the beginning, but the last couple years, I haven’t been stung at all.”

Walters’ first foray into beekeeping began six years ago, when he was still living in Burlington. A friend of his ordered his own hive and began taking care of it, and Walters, fascinated by the process, decided to order a hive of his own.

He kept the hive on the property of a local church, and soon was reaping the delicious reward of raw honey, which he passed along to his family and friends. Since then, what started as a hobby really took off.

Soon, Walters immersed himself in bee research. He started taking bee classes at night at Rutgers Camden and searched videos and tutorials.

When he moved to Lawrence the following year, he started looking to find a home for the bees on a local farm. The living situation would not only be convenient for Walters, who had no room to house a bee colony at his condo just off of Franklin Corner Road.

But keeping the bees on a farm was a solution that would be mutually beneficial. Now, Walters keeps the bee colonies at several local farms, including Little Acres Farm in Lawrence and Oasis Farm in Robbinsville.

At Blue Moon Acres Farm in Pennington, farm market manager Natalie Rockwell explained that the bees add to the natural balance of the ecosystem that keeps crops healthy and free from predators. The bees’ biggest contribution to that ecosystem, she said, is pollination of the crops.

“The way we do that is crop rotation,” Rockwell said, “and letting cover crops, or certain types of grasses, grow in certain fields. So then there are places for nesting birds, and they take care of some of the bugs, and then [other insects] add to the pollination, so it’s a whole ecosystem.”

The natural ecosystem and crop rotation means the certified organic farm does not have to rely on synthetic pesticides to ward off particular bugs that destroy the crops. The pesticides they do use, Rockwell said, are natural, not synthetic, and are not frequently used.

Walters can see the diversity of the bees’ travels when he comes to maintain the hive, depending on what crops they are currently pollinating.

“What’s fascinating is seeing the different types of pollen that come into the hive,” he said. “So I’ve seen red, yellow, a whole myriad of colors of the rainbow.”

Walters still maintains a 9-to-5 work week as a safety coordinator at Layne Christensen, a water management, construction and drilling company in Beverly. But he checks weekly on each of the hives to make sure they’re healthy.

For Walters, the beekeeping is an investment as much as it is a hobby, and he hopes that one day his efforts will allow him to make beekeeping his primary occupation.

“A lot of guys just let [their bees] sit for a couple months, they don’t worry about it too much,” he said. “But I look at this as an investment, as well as a fun thing to do, so you wan to maintain them and you want to take care of them.”

He collects honey from the healthy hives twice a season, usually walking away with about 40 pounds of honey each time. To extract the honey, Walters takes out the frames and cuts off the wax top, which he uses to make candles. He then puts the uncapped frames in a centrifuge to spin out the honey.

It’s important to note, Walters said, that all the honey he sells is raw.

“You always want raw honey, because it’s the best for you, because it retains all its nutritional value…you never want to heat honey,” he said.

When Walters talks about heating honey, he’s referring to heating it to above 110 degrees. That’s the threshold, he said, when you start to lose some of the nutritional value, noting that most honey found in standard food stores has likely been heated.

Summer is the prime time for honey production in the hive, and Walters is set to have his honey and other products on sale at several fairs this fall.

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