Leisurely pastime turns into lifetime livelihood for this Sioux Honey beekeeper
Go ahead. Ask Bob Newswander how he got started in beekeeping. “I tell people that beekeeping is a hobby that went amok.”
If that’s the case, it’s been a lifelong hobby for Bob. A beekeeper for 50 years, he’s learned to put his bees before almost everything else.
“You’ve got to give 100% attention to your bees. It has to consume you; you have to be in the hives every day. When you’re in the hives, the bees are telling you what’s going on. You can see stuff. After 50 years of doing it, I can just walk up, and you just know, you can tell. It’s just the way they look, the size of them, the way they move – even the sound.”
Beekeeping is hard work, and, to succeed, you have to be committed to it and not be afraid of hard work. Bob shared his secret for 50 years of success. “The bees have to be your first love. My wife’s not pleased with that, but that’s the way it has to be sometimes,” he says, quickly adding with a laugh, “She’s been a pretty good sport about it.”
A faithful devotion
Bob clearly loves his bees. “Bees are really a natural product of the creator. Sometimes you tell people about bees, and they can’t even believe what you’re saying. They’ll say, ‘That couldn’t be true,’ but it is true. They’re a really marvelous insect.”
“In California, we had a whole bunch of hives right in the middle of an almond orchard. The trees were big enough, it was a total, complete canopy. I walked over there, and I stood by a hive, and I could watch the bee come right through the canopy right down in his hive. From above the canopy, he knew where his hive was, even though he couldn’t see it. How he does that, only the creator knows.”
Like so many Sioux Honey Association Co-op members, Newswander Apiaries is a family operation. Bob’s son Michael traded in his engineering career to join his dad in the bee business.
Michael grew up around beekeeping before he went off to college to get a degree in engineering. About 11 years ago, he thought, “I’ve got sons that need to have good experiences learning how to work, and I wanted to spend more time with them. So I quit my job as an engineer.” Looking across the landscape, past the trees to the mountains on all sides, he says, “And now I get to work in an office like this.”
So what is so appealing about beekeeping? “Working for yourself and dealing with a wonderful creation of nature. There’s just nothing better than being outside digging in a beehive, building beehives, pulling the honey off at the end of the year. That’s a culmination of your efforts through the spring and summer.”
Joining Sioux Honey
A member of the Sioux Honey Association Co-op since 1970, today the Newswanders’ beehives are spread out across more than 6,000 square miles of southeastern Idaho and northern Utah, with their base of operations in Preston, Idaho, in the Cache Valley. As a long-time member of the co-op, they can tell you firsthand the advantages of membership.
“This co-op has existed for lots and lots of years. It’s just a group of fellow beekeepers that are members. And as members, we have a say as far as what happens with the co-op, how it works, because it basically is owned by us. Sioux Honey Association Co-op is owned by its 200-plus members.”
Bob says, “Our philosophy is to give the bees all of your attention. If you do that, you don’t have the time or the energy to market your honey, so you need to turn it over to an organization that works well with you, that will take care of that responsibility, so you can spend 100% of your effort in keeping the bees alive. I want to just run bees, and I want to run as many hives as I can and try to be successful in keeping as many hives alive and healthy as I can.”
All about the bees
If you’re catching a theme, it’s all about the bees for Bob. He is quick to point out the role that his bees play in pollinating so many food crops – key among them are the almond orchards he takes his bees to every February and March, almost 1,000 miles west. “It’s a very important part of agriculture in America – well, the world. Without the bees, we’d all live very differently.”
Bob is adamant that consumers should know where their honey comes from. When you know the individuals who produce the honey, and you know they’re producing it in America, you can trust that it’s pure and clean. “It doesn’t have antibiotics in it. People need to know it’s safe to eat. The more we learn about non-natural sweeteners, the more we learn that honey is the best way to go. It’s a natural sweetener.”
Not only do the Newswanders love bees, they love honey. And like all beekeepers, they get to enjoy it in special ways. They related a recent story: “The other day one of our employees brought a loaf of bread to work in the extracting room, and we all put slices of bread under the outlet of the spinner and ate a bunch of bread with honey on it, and it was fantastic. So, there’s a lot of ways (to enjoy honey), but a good, thick, heavy honey on bread is pretty awesome.”
Bob’s happy that his son is continuing in the family business. “It’s a good business and a good way of life,” he says. With Michael shouldering the bulk of the daily work, Bob doesn’t have to run the entire operation on his own. “It makes it so I can still be involved at an older age. It’s been a good deal because retirement has never set too good with me. I prefer to be active and involved.”
Now that he’s closer to retirement, maybe Bob needs to find a new hobby – for the next 50 years.
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