BIG PRAIRIE, Ohio – These days, niche marketing is a popular buzz word. For Joseph and Marion Yoder, it is a way of life.
Their farm, located just outside of Big Prairie, is an excellent example of sustainable agriculture. This energetic husband and wife team not only manage their farm, they both have an unusual profession from spring through fall. They are honey bee inspectors for Holmes County and part of Wayne County.
Marion has been inspecting bees for about five years and Joseph received his certification in 2005.
As they travel around their assigned territory, they’re on the lookout for a new hive on a farm. “New beekeepers may not even realize that they are required by law to have their hives registered with the state of Ohio,” Joseph explains.
Their own hives. Every year, they inspect more than 700 hives, plus tend to 75 of their own. They harvested approximately 1,500 pounds of raw and comb honey from their hives last year.
When you visit their farm, don’t expect to see rows of gleaming white hives. Almost all of the hives reside at various locations around Holmes County.
“Many people don’t have the time to devote to maintaining a healthy honey bee population,” Yoder said. “By having bees on their property, they receive the benefits of pollination for their farm or garden, but none of the work or investment involved.”
He said the average time spent on each hive is a minimum of five hours yearly.
Avoid the swarm. His first advice for anyone considering beekeeping? Try not to let hives swarm.
“When this happens, half the population leaves and you will have 50 percent fewer bees to produce honey,” he explained.
“Put on supers in March so they have plenty of room to make honey and replace the queen when necessary. Scrape out queen cells during swarm season in late April through May.”
Mites hit hard. There are three main varieties of honeybees. James Tew, state specialist in beekeeping at The Ohio State University, writes that “… A selected variety of the Italian honey bee is the most common breed of bee in use in the US. today. Modem beekeepers are particularly interested in genetic disease- and pest-resistant qualities. Camolian and Caucasians are other breeds that are available.”
But no matter what the type, all honeybees are susceptible to mites.
“Mites will never go away,” said Marion Yoder. “We have to learn to live with them until we can breed mite-tolerant bees.”
She recommends the use of Mite-away II, which is a type of formic acid that doesn’t stay in the wax like some other mite treatments.
“Leave it in the hive about three weeks, she adds.
Saying she’s still a “novice beekeeper,” Marion Yoder keeps in touch with a mentor and also taps into the honeybee lab at OARDC in Wooster for information.
Diversified. In addition to tending to their honeybees, the Yoders raise Iamb, beef and free range chicken. The beef is an Angus-Limousin crossbred. Both the sheep and beef are fed a diet of grass, hay and natural grains.
As with the honey, they can barely keep up with the demand for the natural meat. They do not have to advertise; most sales are by word of mouth.
Besides the livestock, Joseph Yoder also raises 50 acres of hay, 25 acres of open pollinated corn and 15 acres of soybeans. He also finds time when the farm work is slow to practice his trade as a carpenter and builder.
Marion supplements the family income by spinning, weaving and selling her wool roving on eBay and at the Great Lakes Fiber Show in May at Wayne County Fairgrounds in Wooster, Ohio. Her family raises Shetland sheep for wool and her brother John Gunther does the shearing.
The Yoders’ expansion plans for 2006 include registered Nubian milking goats. The Yoders usually milk three or four goats at any given time and their goats have been shipped as far away as Texas.
Also new this year will be egg sales and 14 varieties of organically grown, heirloom garlic. The Yoders are also considering co-op bulk food sales to accommodate customers’ needs.
But one of the best byproducts of being in business for yourself, Marion says, is “having lunch at home together every day with Joseph!”
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* The Shepherd’s Fold
133306 County Road 100
Big Prairie, OH 44611