CHILLICOTHE, Ill. –What started as a beekeeping hobby for Luke Harvey four years ago, has now become more of a lifestyle.
“It was really rewarding to have just the two hives. Then I thought, ‘Well I’ll just get one more.’ So I got another hive. And one more became one more, then one more,” Harvey said.
Twelve hives later, he now has just under one million bees in his care.
The busy creatures helped Harvey launch Riverview Road Apiary in Chillicothe. He sells honey and candles and also helps educate people about setting up and maintaining hives.
“One out of every three bites of food that we eat is pollinated by a bee,” Harvey said. “So locally, pumpkins, watermelon, cantaloupe, a lot of nuts, zucchini this time of year, squash–they’re all pollinated by bees.”
Harvey’s interest in beekeeping started when he got stung by one in the neck.
He said, “I thought it was really interesting that they’d come out of the hive and actually come sting me. So I started reading about them. And as you read about them—just a little bit about them—you’ll find that they’re really more complicated than we ever give them credit for.”
As a biomedical engineer by trade, Harvey finds similarities between his line of work and bees. He says the roles mirror one another from problem-solving skills to efficiency in getting work done.
He said, “They’re little engineers. Yeah, mathematician engineers. They’re really neat.”
It’s a dangerous line of work. Harvey said he may get stung upwards of 100 times a year.
“It does hurt and it never doesn’t hurt,” he said.
Beyond the painful stings, Harvey faces other challenges, including trying to keep his bees away from pests, diseases and winter death.
“Fifty percent of your hives will die over winter. So if you’re treating it as a livestock like a farm livestock, that’s a pretty tough loss to overcome,” said Harvey.
He said it can be a disheartening process.
“It’s always sad to see. You actually become attached to your bees. They have different personalities for the hive,” Harvey said.
But it’s an important job that he finds fulfilling.
“It’s really encouraging to like hatch your first queen,” Harvey said. “Right? Or to have—bring in your first honey. The first honey harvest is—has a magical moment to it.”