Hiltz Bee Farm was named Beltrami County’s Farm Family of the Year – Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – Les Hiltz once swore he would never raise bees.

But then Hiltz Bee Farm was born, and since 1987, he’s been a self-proclaimed “bee boy” and devoted his life to these busy, striped brown and yellow insects.

“We were building a shed for my uncle that day and a guy came in a day late,” Hiltz explained. “Everyone was asking him why he was so late, he said he had to take care of his bees in the morning and I thought, ‘Who in their right mind would raise bees?’

“Well, guess who?” He added with a laugh.

Hiltz Bee Farm was recently named one of 85 recipients of the University of Minnesota Farm Family of the Year for 2022 after being nominated by a fellow beekeeper.

Their farm was selected as a Beltrami County winner by the UMN Extension Committee based on their demonstrated commitment to developing and supporting agriculture.

Bees wander around the hives at Hiltz Bee Farm on Wednesday, August 24, 2022.

Maggie Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

“This year’s Minnesota Farm Families of the Year reflect the breadth and diversity of agriculture in our state,” Extension Dean Bev Durgan said in announcing the winners. “The University of Minnesota is proud to honor these families and their innovation and dedication to Minnesota agriculture.”

Just outside Bemidji, Hiltz and his wife, Ruth, live on a short dirt road with a large pumpkin patch, several rows of sugarcane and 14 beehives.

It all started 34 years ago when a friend told Randy Friskin Hiltz it would be nice to see some pumpkins in his field down the road from his house.

“So I planted an acre and a half of pumpkins and weeded them by hand, but there were no bees,” Hiltz said. “(The squash) would bloom and then fall off, there was no pollination.”

After seeing the deteriorating pumpkin, Hiltz went into the house Friday night and told his wife he would take the disk to the garden the next morning — she declined, but he was optimistic.

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Les Hiltz points to his pumpkin patch at Hiltz Bee Farm on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022.

Maggie Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

“Ruth told me to wait another day because maybe some bees would show up,” Hiltz said. “Low and behold, Sunday came, it was full of bees, and I (eventually) got two takeaway pumpkins from it.”

Then everything changed. Hiltz realized: “If we don’t have bees, we don’t eat.”

When Hiltz began researching the beekeeping trade online and learning from other experienced beekeepers, he realized it was better to start with two hives instead of one because 10% of bees “sit around watching TV all day.”

She kept four hives during the first year to get into the groove — mostly to pollinate the squash — until she eventually reached the 14 hives she keeps today.

“The most hives I’ve ever kept was 17, and my best year was in 2015 when I got 2,450 pounds (of honey) from 12 hives, I was grinning from ear to ear,” Hiltz said. “Last year I caught 12 hives and made 1,650 pounds, which is good for a drought year. I didn’t think I would get so much, but it was very good.”

While Hiltz is left to take care of the bees and extract the honey, Ruth uses the honey for many other purposes, including making a number of delicious dinners.

While he couldn’t pick a favorite dish, Hiltz said his baked beans were the best.

“He’s got a pot on him as we speak,” Hiltz said with a laugh.

Ruth said she struggled with bad allergies for most of her life before the honey bees arrived. It even makes him travel out of state to see different allergists.

“I have allergies most of the time,” Ruth said. “I used to go to La Crosse, Wis., to get my allergies checked, but in the meantime I was drinking a teaspoon of honey four times a week.”

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Hiltz Bee Farm honey is available at Sunrise Foods and Downtown Meats in Bemidji.

Maggie Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

With a mixture of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, iron, zinc and antioxidants, honey is used as a natural sweetener, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial agent.

“It works,” he added, “and I haven’t had to (drink honey) since.”

Ruth said honey is also good for cuts, wounds and burns.

While most of Hiltz’s honey is sold door-to-door, the couple also participates in craft shows and booths at the Beltrami County Fair. People can also find their honey at Sunrise Foods and Downtown Meats in Bemidji, they said.

Hiltz’s farming genes go back to his grandfather, who grew sugarcane and cooked it for syrup. As a change from bees and pumpkins, he decided to try sugarcane.

“My grandfather grew sugar cane and had a press to press it and cook it for syrup,” Les said. “So this year I said, to heck with it, I’m going to try it. It’s over my head right now, they usually grow 8-10 feet tall.

His mother was also a farmer.

“My moms family in South Dakota grew sorghum for the chickens, so I have some,” she said.

Hiltz wasn’t always a farmer, he was a longtime employee of JW Smith Elementary School, retiring in 2002.

“I told them I was out the door when I hit 62,” Hiltz laughed. “Now I’ll keep bees until I can.”

Believe it or not, removing the hives from the back of an old semi-truck where he keeps the heat at 95-100 degrees to keep the honey from solidifying and then churning out tons of gold is not Hiltz’s favorite part. your job.

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Bees wander around the hives at Hiltz Bee Farm on Wednesday, August 24, 2022.

Maggie Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Hiltz noted that her best days were spent in a classroom at a local elementary school, showing children what a day in the life of a beekeeper is like. He also gives presentations on how to keep bees to people all over the state.

“When I go to kindergarten, teachers often tell me that they don’t know how long I can hold their attention because they have such a short attention span,” Hiltz said. “I’m just saying don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.”

Just as he keeps his bees, he captures the attention of 5-year-olds, showing them every step of the business with real beehives and all the tools that go with them.

“They don’t say a word the whole show,” he continued, “but after I’m done, I open up to questions, and finally, they do a good job, they really get into it.”

Hiltz doesn’t just teach kindergartners, she’s stepped into a leadership role in the beekeeping community as she’s taken a number of new bee apprentices under her wing. He invites them all to his hive to show them the ropes, but if there’s a problem to be solved, he’ll also visit their hive.

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Just outside of Bemidji, Les Hiltz and his wife, Ruth, raise lots of pumpkins and 14 hives of bees.

Maggie Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

“When I started, another guy was doing what I was doing, and he had about 20 beekeepers under his wing,” Hiltz said. “Then I took over the business and now I have up to 220 beekeepers.”

Ruth added that they are always looking for more beekeepers and anyone interested should call (218) 751-6597.

“It’s fun, but it’s a lot of work,” Hiltz said. “You really learn to appreciate nature, and with bees you never live long enough to know everything about them.”

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Hiltz Bee Farm honey is mostly sold out of their door, interested buyers can find their honey at Sunrise Foods and Downtown Meats in Bemidji.

Maggie Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

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