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Couple have made bees their business
J.M. Sikes explains the inner workings of a hive as wife Freida looks on. - photo by Photo by Julia Harrison
Visiting a beekeeper’s hives is an enlightening, unique experience that need not come with painful side-effects.

Local beekeeper J.M. Sikes and his wife of 48 years, Freida, proved just that.

Sikes, a lifelong resident of Richmond Hill now in his early 70s, has been in the beekeeping business for over 30 years. It is something he has done “on and off” all his life, having learned the craft at a young age from his father.

“It’s not a real bad business to get into: you can sell everything you get, even the wax,” Sikes explained.

The main end result, of course, is the honey. And honey from the Sikes’ bees, which I was lucky enough to sample, is absolute ambrosia.

He and Freida tend to multiple yards containing roughly 600 hives altogether. They do everything – from ensuring the bees’ health to moving hives to processing honey – on their own.

“Some people think you just put a jar in there and the bees will fill it,” said Freida. “It’s not that simple. It’s a lot of work.”

The bees collect pollen daily, visiting plants or trees currently in bloom, and deposit it into cells in the hive. When the honey is ready, the Sikes get the bees off of each flat rack, load the honey-filled hives onto their truck, and take them to their honey shed for processing. Their honey is as close to straight-from-the-hive as you can get: it’s finely sieved just once before being bottled.

In addition to extensive knowledge and experience, Sikes has a natural feel for his chosen career. You can sense a mutual respect shared between him and the honey bees.

“If I had my choice right now if I was a young boy … I’d rather do bees than anything I can think of,” said Sikes.

As he guided us amongst the hives, the bees buzzed around, curious. Freida held a small smoker filled with pine straw, our only form of protection. J.M. was able to touch the bees and pull a full, humming hive out of its place to show us. He allowed me to hold the surprisingly heavy hive. With a scraping tool, he opened a few cells, exposing pure honey for us to taste.

Through all of this, an hour spent amongst the bees, and none of us in anything more than everyday clothes, not a single sting was suffered.

“We just have the gentlest bees I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Sikes.

A gentle being himself, Sikes is willing to share his knowledge and love of beekeeping with anyone who may be interested.

“I think it’s a real good thing for young people to think about,” he said. “I’m surprised schools don’t get real good beekeepers to come in to talk to the kids.”

For more information on the Sikes’ beekeeping, or to purchase honey, please call them at 727-2015.

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