25 Years of Beekeeping
by Amy M. Orr
“Growing up on a farm,” says Cindy Sheets, “you learn to work hard together. You learn that plans change often, especially with the weather.
“Best of all, you learn to do things in the company of your family—who are also your biggest critics!”
The Huntington County native spent her childhood on a small cattle and hog farm. Her parents, Charles and Charlene Sheets, still farm over 100 acres there and raise black Angus cattle.
Cindy later reared her own children on what she calls a “mini farm.” Their livestock and crop choices were based on the family’s own needs—“from pigs, chickens, tomatoes, beans, apples, grapes, cherries and, of course, our beloved honeybees.”
When Cindy and her family first purchased a few bee hives in 1991, they never dreamed their new “hobby” would eventually become a significant source of income. She explains, “We started keeping bees because we had planted a small orchard, and the fruit trees were just not getting pollinated properly.
“We heard that honeybees were the answer, so we bought a couple of hives—and fell in love with the bees.” The family sought the help of other beekeepers as they learned to care for their hives. And, Cindy’s children were very involved.
“They both had their own bee suits,” she recalls, “and they went with us wherever the day led. My daughter Sadye is a climber and was often found not far from us in a suit in the top of a tree.”
Sadye adds, “Because I was small then, I didn’t have to work as hard as my brother. So, much of the time, I was able to play in the creeks near our apiaries—which made up some of the best time of my childhood.”
Cindy adds, “My son was a little older when we first started, and he was typically at our sides. They often took naps under the truck where it was safe away from the bees and cool from the hot sun.”
Both children and bees flourished, though not without a few major challenges. In the mid-90s, Cindy says, the family lost over half of their hives to mites.
She adds, “Keeping them alive is the hardest thing. It used to be easy. Now, there are many things that affect the health of the honeybee. Not only are there mites, beetles, and disease, but the latest problem was the colony collapse disorder.
“Other factors play in, also, like the way that people takes care of their yards. Our pristine, green lawns that many Americans treat with chemicals has eliminated food sources for the bees—they like the clover and dandelions.”
Still, before Cindy and her family downsized to approximately 200 hives a couple years ago, their collection was the largest in the state of Indiana, at more than 4,000 hives. As the number of hives grew, the family began harvesting more honey than they could use. Cindy first started selling honey with a roadside stand that operated under the honor system.
“We only sell raw honey at our farm—the best stuff,” she says. “When you pasteurize honey, it destroys all the good stuff, like the vitamins, minerals and pollens that help boost our immune systems.
“Our honey is brought in, and we extract it by cutting the wax caps off and then spinning in a centrifuge. The honey is pulled out by centrifugal force and then is pumped into barrels for storage. It sounds simple, but it is a heavy, sticky job.”
There are many uses for honey, beyond its nutritional values. “It helps our immune systems by building a resistance to pollens in the air. Why? Because bees work many of those plants that cause seasonal allergies, so if we eat some local honey, it helps build tolerance.”
Since cough syrup is no longer recommended for young children, many moms look to a natural treatment—raw honey! But, Cindy points out, honey should not be given to a child under 12 months of age.
Today, Cindy adds honey to a variety of other products offered at her store known as “The Bee Hive” located in the farm’s big red barn. “Honey is great for problematic skin, which is why we have it in our line of skin care products. It is a natural humectant, meaning it helps hold or pull in moisture.
“Honey is also a natural antibacterial—which is why it never spoils. Honey has been used for minor cuts and burns. In the bee yards, if someone got a bee sting, I would even use a dab of honey to help with the sting.
“We make honey and beeswax soap in a variety of scents made with essential oils. Beeswax can be used for a bazillion things, but we use it in our line of skin care products because it has a natural SPF of about 4. In our lotions and lip balms, it also serves as a protective barrier to outdoor elements.”
The Bee Hive also offers creamed honey, creamed cinnamon honey, peanut butter honey, vanilla bean honey and cut comb honey. Other items include beeswax candles, bees oil, which is used for cutting boards and wooden utensils, and other products made in Indiana, such as wooden ware, pottery, jewelry, popcorn, jams and more.
Cindy offers classes in basic beekeeping, soap making, basics of essential oils and blending essential oils. And, Sadye raises and sells queen bees and nucs, as well as packaged bees.
“I love the retail store,” Cindy says. “I love interacting with the customers and teaching classes. I make most of the products, but Sadye is really starting to help with some of those, too.”
A third generation has arrived on Sweet Life Honey Farm. Referring to her one-year old daughter, Sadye says, “She will probably not remember her experiences this year, but I’m sure I won’t forget sharing this great year with her.
“Beekeeping was one of the best choices I have ever made for my family. It has taught me that plans fall through and having several back-up plans is vital. I am truly blessed.”
The Bee Hive is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday—or, shop online.