Sunday, August 31, 2008

Lifetime As Sweet As Honey

Detroit Free Press:  
Article by Tony Lascari
Photo by Kevin Benedict

The sign hanging in John Bacon's front yard is simple but effective. The black and yellow "Honey" sign advertises his sweet homemade product.

Bacon, 85, has worked with bees for 75 years. He helped his dad with bees in 1933, and his family got their own hive in 1934. He's continued since, with a break during World War II.

Bacon still collects bees when swarms form in the community. He uses his bees to pollinate two local orchards and sells the honey they produce.

"This year has been a pretty good year," he said, with the bees producing good amounts of honey and several people in the community contacting him to collect swarms.

"I've had eight swarms this year," he said. "It's more than I've ever had."

This year he had an unusual experience when he was asked to remove a swarm from a runway at MBS International Airport. He had to leave the runway for two landings and a takeoff before he could finish his work. He estimated he collected 10,000 bees at MBS.

Bacon sells his honey for about $1.15 per pound. His bee journal from 1970 shows the price at 13 cents.

His most popular size is a quart jar, which he said is about three pounds and goes for $4.50. Comb honey has picked up in popularity with people interested in healthier foods, he said.

He used to distribute it through Jack's Fruit & Meat Market in Bay City, Essexville and Midland, but now he does business from his home in Auburn.

Bacon was born and raised on a farm and was drafted into the military in 1943. After going to gunnery school, he flew 25 combat missions over Europe. He got shot down on Aug. 9, 1944, and became a prisoner of war. He was liberated around May 9, 1945, in Germany.

He returned to Michigan and worked at Dow Chemical Co., then went into carpentry before becoming a mail carrier. But Bacon has always been interested in bees.

His bees are kept in his backyard and a portion of Bacon's garage is dedicated to honey production and storage.

He said the work is fun and productive and he's never had any trouble with the neighbors.

"I told them if there's a problem I'd move them out," he said, and it hasn't been an issue.

Bacon is a member of the Saginaw Valley Beekeepers Association, and he's seen increased interest in recent years.

"The last couple of years there's a lot of hobbyists getting into it," he said, with people wanting to care for the bees and sell honey to friends.

The bees are fairly easy to maintain and produce the honey on their own.

"You keep them alive and make sure they have room, and that's about it," he said.

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