Grant County family sweet on honey

Farm Forum

The buzz in North Dakota tends to be the booms of the big oil and tales of black gold. But there is another state crop that is sweeter.

In 2014, the state produced more than 42 million pounds of honey, making North Dakota the largest honey producer in the nation, said Samantha Bruner, state bee inspector with the North Dakota Department of Agriculture.

The end of June to the end of August marks the honey flow for Kevin Jensen, owner of Heart River Honey. Jensen, his wife Kris and five sons combine efforts to reap the honey from their hives in Grant County near Carson during the honey flow season.

“Most people think you set the hives out, and you just go over and turn a tap, and the honey just runs out like in the cartoons,” Kris Jensen said. “The hardest thing is to get people to understand that it is business; it’s not just fun and games. It’s hard work.”

Kris Jensen has been involved in bee keeping and honey extraction on and off for the past 30 years. Her father, Duane Johnson, was the proprietor of Rosedal Apiaries. Kevin Jensen worked started work for Rosedal Apiaries in 1997. He became co-owner with Johnson in 2001, and they changed the name of the company to Heart River Honey. In 2012, Kevin Jensen bought out his father-in-law’s shares.

“I enjoy it, and I think as a family we are closer than most families,” Kris Jensen said. “A lot of farm families work together like this. We seem to get along, and we are easy with each other. We joke, we tease, but yet we are concerned for each other.”

While many families struggle to sit down and share a meal together, the Jensens are able to work side by side and accomplish their goals.

For the five Jensen boys, beekeeping has been a part of their lives since early childhood. Nick Jensen, 22, the oldest son, has been helping with the honey flow since he was 10, and the youngest son, Gus, 9, is already chipping in with this year’s honey flow.

“I like working with my family. I feel like my opinion matters,” Nick Jensen said. “It’s not too bad, when I was a teenager we would butt heads occasionally, but, since I grew up, it has been really good actually.”

“I am proud of that,” Kevin Jensen said. “I can’t say what I did to get that, but maybe sitting down together for dinner every night was part of it.”

The Jensens’ honey flow has been going strong for more than eight days with more than 3,355 gallons of honey extracted so far. The family is aiming for 33,000 gallons of honey to be extracted within the next six weeks.

Along with his family and hired hands, Kevin Jensen manages 4,000 hives containing from 50,000 to 70,000 bees. It takes 12 bees working together their entire lifetime, six weeks average, to produce about a teaspoon of honey, Kevin Jensen said.

The years can have up and downs in the honey business, he said.

“It’s like farming, but I cannot complain. … It has treated me pretty good,” Kevin Jensen said.

Besides the sweet honey, another byproduct of honey extraction is bees wax, used for medical purposes, cosmetics and candles. Natural honey can also be a remedy for allergies. Kris Jensen points out that bees are in one way or another responsible for every third bite of food, due to its pollination activities.

“You got to have bees to pollinate the alfalfa so the cattle can eat the alfalfa,” Kris Jensen said. “Even though it is meat, still the bees and pollinators are involved.”

So remember before swatting a friendly bee saying hello, remember he might be collecting the honey for your breakfast toast down the road.

Also, when meeting a beekeeper during the honey flow, ask him or her to wash any hands before shaking them, or your palms will be wearing honey all day.