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Laker Honey adds new partner, plans to expand

Shaun Mathias (left) holds the smoker, which helps bees calm down, while Kevin Mathias inspects the beehive. (Leah Ward/The Globe)1 / 2
Kevin Mathias displays a frame from a Laker Honey hive. The light brown cells represent the brood, or eggs. (Leah Ward/The Globe)2 / 2

HERON LAKE — Laker Honey LLC out of Heron Lake has entered into a partnership with Worthington’s Forbidden Barrel Brewing to supply the honey for the microbrewery’s honey-brewed beers.

The partnership joins five others that Laker Honey has made with area businesses during its eight years of operation. Kevin and Julie Mathias of Heron Lake started the business in 2012 and have been forging partnerships along the way.

Laker Honey products are also sold at PJ’s Mini Mart in Heron Lake, Connie’s Beauty Shop in Okabena, Virginia & Company in Jackson, Jim’s Amoco in Brewster and the Daily Apple in Worthington.

The scope of Laker Honey will expand as new leadership is added. This year, son and daughter-in-law Shaun and Claire Mathias of Blaine took charge of the marketing and sales side of the business; Kevin and Julie continue to handle day-to-day operations. Shaun and Claire will also oversee an expansion into the Twin Cities area toward the end of this year.

Kevin Mathias explained his love for the business during his years of beekeeping.

“Once you’re around bees, you like what they do,” he said. “Every day, you’re curious about how they’re doing.”

This daily curiosity is fueled, he explained, partly by struggling bee populations nationwide. In the 1980s, the varroa mite was introduced to beehives in the United States. Varroa mites reproduce inside drone cells and devastate bee colonies.

Beginning in early fall, Kevin said, beekeepers have to start treating their hives for varroa mites. If they don’t, the bees have only a 30% chance of surviving the winter.  

Other threats to bees include pesticides, loss of pollen sources and climate change, he added,

Despite beekeepers’ best efforts, Kevin said throughout southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa, bee colonies typically experience 40% to 50% death loss over the winter season.

When a colony is decimated, beekeepers need to buy more bees from a supplier. They have the option of purchasing either a package, which comes with 6,000 to 7,000 bees and a queen, or a nuc (pronounced “nuke”), which also includes everything a beekeeper needs, like brood, honey, frames and boxes.

Beekeeping is not easy, Kevin emphasized, but it is worth the effort.

There are some steps local communities can take to support bee populations, the Mathiases added.

“A lot of people like a nice green lawn,” Kevin said. “It has its costs.”

Dandelions are the first source of food for bees in the spring, while they search for tastier flowers. Removing them from yards can hurt hungry bees.

Claire Mathias added that planting wildflowers gives bees additional pollen sources.

Shaun Mathias continued that there are nonprofit organizations that focus on supporting bees, and people can give financially to those efforts.

The Mathias family will see the fruits of their diligence at the end of the summer, when it’s time to harvest the honey. If honey is harvested too soon, it will have too much moisture, causing fermentation.

Harvest takes about a month. The Mathiases will spin the honey out of the frames, then set the frames out for the bees to clean before packing the bees up for the season.

They don’t take honey from the hive body, which lives in the bottom two boxes of the colony. The bees need that honey to sustain them through the winter.

Laker Honey usually gets more than 1,000 pounds of honey each year, but with the addition of Forbidden Barrel to its partners, it has planned for about 1,800 pounds this year.

Claire said honey is used in all sorts of natural products, such as lip balm, lotion, soaps, candles and deodorant. Laker Honey offers some of these products at its various partnerships.

Shaun added that local honey is good for allergies because it is made from local pollen.

All Laker Honey products come from raw, organic, natural honey.

“Bees make the world go round,” Shaun said. He explained that without bees, there wouldn’t be fruits, vegetables or nuts. Life on earth would look substantially different.

Laker Honey is in the process of establishing a brand, including printed T-shirts.

“We like working with local businesses,” Shaun said. He encourages any business interested in a partnership to contact Laker Honey at lakerhoney.com.