The Bee Man

The Bee Man

Konrad Bouffard, the man behind Round Rock Honey, is giving Austinites a glimpse into the secret lives of bees.

The air is cool, around 56 degrees, at the Round Rock Honey Beekeeping Academy, and as a result we don’t hear any buzzing as we near the tidy row of hives, anonymous in our identical white beekeeping suits. Konrad Bouffard, the school’s owner and a Master Beekeeper, and Lance Wilson, the class instructor, explain that at around this temperature, the bees cluster for warmth, forming a tight ball within the hive. They also slow down to conserve energy, so the only bees we see at first are parked atop the wooden boxes, almost motionless.

Once the duo has their smokers working, which are used to calm the bees, Bouffard pours a line with honey at the base of the first box. The bees respond almost immediately, crawling out from the lowermost opening and soon covering the sweet line, which Bouffard explains they will clean and recycle. As he pries open the hive, the diverse class of 17 students from Austin, Round Rock and beyond, ranging from early 20-somethings to grandparents, draws a collective breath. The feeling of wonder, usually unique to children, is almost palpable, as we all gather closer to witness the activity inside the hive. Even Bouffard, who has been keeping bees for over a decade, shares our awe. “No matter how much time is spent in the bee yard, it’s never enough,” he says. “Bees cannot be figured out, they are far too complex. They have moods and personalities, and they are both very predictable and unpredictable. There is a spark of the divine in the hive.” As he lifts out the first frame to show us the honey, some of the bees take flight. Rather than buzzing around us, as they would do in the summer months, they quickly alight on our suits, with some people attracting more than others due to scented shampoos and perfumes. From the safety of our canvas suits, we have the opportunity to observe these amazing insects up close, as they crawl over the mesh veils guarding our faces, some subtly raising and lowering their stings, which Bouffard explains is a sign of aggression, occurring as they release a scent signaling danger to the rest of the hive. He places a pollen patty, made from water, pollen (a protein source) and honey, in the hive, which quickly attracts and excites the bees. The next frame he lifts is abuzz with activity. He is even able to point out some of the bees doing their remarkable “round dance,” which communicates not only that a food source is nearby, but exactly where it is as well.

After making our way down the row of Langstroth hives, opening and inspecting each one for pests, checking on production and feeding the bees one pollen patty per hive, it is time to return to the classroom for a recap and honey tasting. In addition to running the school, Bouffard’s primary business is in raw, all-natural honey sales via Round Rock Honey, which he started in 2003. He opened the Beekeeping Academy in 2007, partially as a backup for times when honey production is low due to unusually high temperatures and drought, and expanded it this spring in anticipation of the extreme summer, making it the largest beekeeping school in the world with approximately 4,500 students attending classes annually at their ever-growing number of schools in Texas and across the United States. At $125, the introductory class lasts about two and a half hours and is offered each weekend, weather permitting. It provides a basic introduction to bees, beekeeping and honey production, with half of the time spent in the classroom and half on-site at the apiary. Bouffard explains that this class is for “people looking for information and a fun experience.” The school also offers a Master Beekeeping course, which takes about a year to complete and covers honey harvesting, bee removal, swarming and more. Thus far, Bouffard reports that with a few exceptions, the students who have completed this course and set out to start their own apiaries have had success. He recommends starting the Master class in January, and says that by March a student could set up their own hive and have their first honey harvest somewhere between April and June.

Although the hives we visited as a class are set up for educational purposes and the honey produced there is not sold, Round Rock Honey has apiaries with 12 to 15 hives per site scattered throughout Central Texas in more than 90 different locations to ensure the most diverse mix of local pollens possible, making it an obvious choice for allergy sufferers in the area seeking relief. Rather than varietal honey, Round Rock Honey is a true wildflower honey, so the flavor and composition varies based on the plants that are in-season when the honey is harvested. The harvesting and packaging process is designed to keep the honey all-natural and raw. It is never heated or filtered through diatomaceous earth, so the pollens, trace minerals and complex sugars are not compromised. Bouffard, who has a culinary background, achieves the dark gold color and unique flavor in his honey by carefully blending the honeys gathered from his different apiary sites. “When you heat honey, it breaks down the sugars, and all the good things that are in honey. We know how to blend honey in such a way and how to treat it once it comes out of the hive — meaning that we don’t treat it,” Bouffard explains. “All that taken together makes for the world of our trade secrets.” Round Rock Honey is available at some farmers markets, grocery stores, including Whole Foods, Central Market and most H-E-Bs, specialty shops and restaurants in town, such as TRACE and Truluck’s, but Bouffard recommends ordering it online from roundrockhoney.com, since they provide free home delivery in the Austin and Dallas areas.

Album

The Bee Man, Photography by Dan Winters
The Bee Man, Photography by Dan Winters
The Bee Man, Photography by Dan Winters
The Bee Man, Photography by Dan Winters
The Bee Man, Photography by Dan Winters
The Bee Man, Photography by Dan Winters
The Bee Man, Photography by Dan Winters