An 8-year-old boy and a beehive usually don’t mix. Typically there’s either a scream and a sprint, or a whack-and-destroy impulse that doesn’t end well.
But Joe Latshaw was different. Even at age 8, he was utterly fascinated with bees. Instead of using his allowance for LEGOs or Transformers, Joe purchased a starter colony of bees.
Maybe it’s the nature of bees – how they keep track of the sun and the distance they’ve flown when searching for food – that captivated the young Joe. Or the waggle dance the food scout performs to tell the rest of the hive precisely where to fly. Or how in winter, bees cluster into a ball in the hive, beating their wings to keep things a comfortable, consistent 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Or the free dessert – sweet, gooey honey – they produce for the taking.
Joe’s father, David, then a professor at The Ohio State University, helped an adolescent Joe gain access to the honeybee lab on campus, where he shadowed researchers. By 16, he had secured a summer job as an apiary inspector for the Ohio Department of Agriculture. That’s unheard of for a teenager who’s barely old enough to drive.
“He came to inspect about 100 hives I had in Jefferson Township in the early 1990s. I was shocked at how young he was,” Dana Stahlman, past president of the Ohio State Beekeepers Association, recalls. “I gained respect for him almost immediately as we started through my hives. I knew he had a great future ahead of him.”
Joe, now 36, operates Latshaw Apiaries on Harlem Road with his wife, Leah, 33, and son, Jacob, 5, and is renowned in the bee world. He breeds two types of queen bees – Aurea and Karnica – for desirable character traits, selecting for gentleness, disease resistance, hardiness in winter and, ultimately, better honey production.
The breeder queens are then sold to commercial beekeepers throughout the U.S. and Canada. Those beekeepers, in turn, hire out their beehives, trucking them to California’s flowering almond groves in February and Maine’s wild blueberry barrens in May, pollinating the Texas and Georgia peach crops in between. Apples, watermelons, strawberries, pumpkins – billions of dollars’ worth of fruits and vegetables wouldn’t be possible without bee pollination.
To assist in breeding so many bees, Joe designed the Latshaw Instrument – a tool that facilitates queen bee insemination. Field-testing research is as close as Joe’s own back yard.
“We’ve got about 100 hives,” he says. Known as Langstroth movable frame hives, some are nestled on the 3-acre plot behind the Latshaws’ cream-colored house, out from the white picket fence and the big stand of maples. Others are scattered over an 18-mile radius – at the fields’ edge, in out-of-the-way spots at some 20 area farms. Joe follows sustainable beekeeping guidelines.
“We stay away from commercial truck farms,” he says. “Pesticides can result in mountains of dead bees in front of the colonies.”
Even without the deadly pesticides, bees can have it rough. Colony collapse disorder has plagued bees nationwide beginning in 2006, and has gone largely unexplained. Varroa mites and vast temperature swings in winter can affect hive health.
“I manage the situation, looking for bees that can tolerate and adapt,” Joe says, rather than treat with chemicals.
Leah, who teaches biology and environmental science part-time at Capital University, has created a thriving business selling pure, raw and comb honey.
“Honey is an obvious by-product of my work.” Joe says, smiling.
Experimenting with herbs and spices, Leah has also developed two infused honeys – habañero, with a pronounced kick, and vanilla bean, smooth and sweetly scented – that have become instant hits at local farmers markets.
For those resolving to eat healthfully and locally, the nutrition components and curative properties of pure honey are significant. Several of Leah’s customers purchase the honey with allergies in mind.
“Even though it’s anecdotal evidence – the research is debatable – they remark on what a world of difference local honey has made in relieving their allergy symptoms,” Leah says.
Guy DeAngelis, naturopathic physician with the Center for Alternative Medicine in Worthington, concurs. Raw (unpasteurized) honey has a myriad of uses in his practice, from strengthening the immune system to healing ulcers.
“Even the ancient Egyptians knew of its antibacterial properties,” DeAngelis says. “It can be used as a topical treatment for acne, to soothe sore throats or ease acid reflux.”
Harvested once or twice a year in mid- to late summer, the Latshaws’ honey ranges in color from pale amber to deep caramel – depending on food source and weather – with a flavor intensity to match.
Joe eschews the white hazmat-style suit and cumbersome gloves associated with beekeeping for jeans and a T-shirt at work. A few puffs of smoke from his portable smoker confuse the bees long enough for Joe to examine the hives.
“I do wear a veil,” he says. “I mean, vision is important.”
Bees forage within a 1-mile radius, Joe explains. Their favorite destinations in the Latshaw yard are the apple orchard, peach and cherry trees, and the raspberry patch. The bees may scout to see if Jacob has provided an additional pit stop.
“Last summer, Jacob planted sunflowers in his little garden patch,” says Leah, “and the bees were all over them.”
Rhonda Koulermos is a contributing writer. Feedback welcome at email@example.com.
Easy Favorites from the Latshaw Family:
1 container whipped cream cheese (4oz.)
3 tsp. pure local honey
3 Tbsp. raisins
3 Tbsp. chopped pecans
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
Stir all ingredients together. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Use as a spread on crackers, toast, muffins or your favorite bread.
Honey Puffins (a great recipe for kids to help with)
1 cup pure local honey
1 cup peanut butter
2 cups dry oatmeal
2 cups Rice Krispies cereal
Combine honey and peanut butter in a large bowl. Add dry cereal and oatmeal. When thoroughly combined, scoop by tablespoon and form into balls. Refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes before eating (if you can wait that long).