RIVER HILLS — One of the largest individual bee farmers or apiarists in Wisconsin is also allergic to bees.
“When I first started I had really bad reactions. I guess now after being stung thousands of times, I don’t have the reactions I used to," Chad Nelson, who co-owns Fairy Garden Hives with his wife Barbie Brennan Nelson, said.
Chad Nelson harvests hundreds of pounds of honey every year from multiple hives. He has multiple at his home in River Hills, but he also operates hives all over Milwaukee County.
“In the peak of the summer, maybe six million bees if I had to individually count," he said.
Even though there is the danger of getting stung every time Nelson goes out, he doesn't mind too much. After all, he keeps waking up every morning and tending to his hives.
“There is a sound of chaos in here. But there’s also maybe a zen to it," Nelson said.
“What’s the zen?” reporter James Groh asked.
“Just that buzzing. It just drowns everything out," Nelson said.
This is just another day for him - checking on his bees and harvesting honey.
He makes artisanal, raw, and unfiltered honey. It's just about the most pure local honey you can get. He sells it raw or as balms, soaps, and lotions in a few local stores and online at fairygardenhives.com. They also sell infused honey-like ones with jalapeños, habañeros, and Carolina Reaper peppers. Fairy Garden Hives also partners with places like Forest Home Cemetery, Hunger Task Force, and sells large batches to people who use them as wedding favors. Nelson does this as a hobby with his wife Barbie.
“I think once you’re in it you’re in it. So it’s just something we’ve grown to love over the years, and it’s fun. We get our 11-year-old son involved," Barbie Brennan Nelson said.
All their bees are local. That means they came from within nine miles of their River Hills home as opposed to the more common practice of importing them from other places.
“I think it’s fun. It’s giving back to nature. I mean no bees, no food," Brennan Nelson said.
They also harvest honey every week as opposed to once a month or once a year like most people. The honey flavors change as bees transition from pollinating early blooming flowers to later blooming flowers. May tastes different from June which tastes different from July and so on. It's one of the key ways Fairy Garden Hives differentiates itself from competitors.
“Taller plants that take longer to flower, so sweeter more mature taste, more mineraly, more traditional tasting honey," Chad Nelson said.
However, the season is coming to an end. Cold weather is on the way. Bees will start hunkering down, so this is some of the last honey of the year.
While Nelson loves harvesting honey, it's a lot of work. So he's not too sad.
“Most people think that beekeeping is easy. It’s not. It’s very hard. You go out in 96-degree weather. You put a snowmobile suit on. You have 6 million bees trying to sting you. You’re lifting 80-pound boxes all day.”
It's a bittersweet moment. Nelson loves beekeeping, but the end of the season also means he doesn't have to worry about getting stung anymore.