Shannon and Corey Zuroweste were driving through the intersection of Fifth and Cedar streets in Washington early last month when Shannon noticed a large number of bugs flying around in front of Cedarcrest Manor nursing home.
“I think those are bees,” she told her husband.
They would know. The Washington couple have been hobby beekeepers for about five years now, despite the fact that Corey is allergic to bees. It was a project they started after the death of their newborn son, Logan, as a way to honor his memory.
Their operation, Logan’s Bees LLC, now includes eight hives of honeybees which they keep on chemical- and treatment-free properties outside of New Haven and Beaufort.
The work is a family operation, with the Zurowestes’ young children getting involved when and where they can. Chloe, age 7, is nicknamed the “Queen Bee” because her favorite part of helping care for the bees is locating the queen.
“That girl can find the queen amongst thousands of other bees in no time,” the business’ website, logansbees.com, notes. “She takes pride in her bees and besides finding the queen, her favorite thing to do is pick them up and pet them.”
Her younger brother, Xavier, 4, is dubbed the “Chief Extraction Officer.” In other words, he serves as the honey taste-tester making sure the product is up to snuff.
Corey and Shannon have nicknames too. Corey is the “Bee Whisperer,” because of his ability to calm even the wildest swarm, and Shannon calls herself “Pin Cushion,” because she seems to get stung at least once every time she works with the bees.
The youngest Zuroweste, 2-year-old Natasha, is referred to as “Swarm Bait” for her ability to “call” in the swarms.
With Logan’s Bees, the Zuroweste family wants to help strengthen the bee population.
“Our main focus is helping to naturally bring about stronger colonies that can thrive on their own, and rehoming to bee friendly bee yards with no chemicals allowed,” their website reads. “Along with working our own bee yards, we also have a love for educating others about bees and their importance. We believe that children should be educated on the roles that honeybees play in our everyday lives and that is why our own children are included in our hive inspections.”
So back on Saturday, July 7, when the Zurowestes came upon a bee swarm on the ground near the front steps of Cedarcrest Manor, they offered their services. With the Cedarcrest administration’s permission, they pulled on their gear and set out a small hive called a nuc.
“That’s what is called swarming,” Corey Zuroweste explained. “As the queen is getting older, they’ll expand the hive.”
The old queen leaves with half of the colony, and the half that stays behind begin raising a new queen, he said.
The half that leaves, like the swarm on the ground in front of Cedarcrest, will cluster someplace until they find a new home, said Zuroweste. It could be on a tree branch, a vehicle, the ground . . .
“They are usually only there for a day or two until they find a new suitable home,” he said. “What we do is try to provide that home for them.”
The bees hadn’t been on the ground in front of Cedarcrest very long. The grass had just been cut a hour before, and the groundskeeper said there were no bees at that time.
“So we were just there in the right place at the right time,” Shannon Zuroweste remarked.
The couple said they usually get four or five calls a year from people who want help removing a swarm. It was a little unusual to see the swarm at Cedarcrest on the ground, said Corey Zuroweste.
“Most times they go up higher,” he said.
‘Rehoming’ the Swarm
Wearing a beekeeper’s jacket, hood and gloves, Zuroweste sat down on the ground near the swarm at Cedarcrest and, with the nuc hive open nearby, he carefully placed his hand in the mass of honeybees and they soon began to swarm on his gloves.
“The way my glove started pulsing with them was amazing,” Zuroweste remarked, describing the experience as both exciting and calming at the same time.
The buzzing noise is calming, like white noise, he said.
Zuroweste noted that in some cases he places a branch or something like that close to the swarm to get the bees to climb on it so he can place it near the hive. But at Cedarcrest, he noticed the bees were already crawling on his glove, so he just sort of lightly brushed them into the hive.
“There is already some honeycomb in there, and we will put a cottonball with lemongrass oil, because that mimics the queen pheromone,” said Zuroweste.
It took about an hour to collect all of the bees into the hive, which they transported to the property outside of New Haven. There, the bees could come and go from the hive as they pleased, and actually that colony opted to find a new home elsewhere.
“That happens sometimes,” said Zuroweste, matter-of-factly. “Some stay, some go.”
All of the colony additions the family has made to Logan’s Bees since launching the operation have come from swarm captures or cutouts, where they actually had to cut out part of a building to rehome a hive.
Not Afraid of Being Stung
Despite his allergy to bees, Zuroweste is not afraid of being stung by them. In fact, he has been stung a couple of times in the last five years.
The family keeps a shot of epinephrine with them just in case, but so far Corey has never needed to use it. Over-the-counter Benadryl has worked just fine, he said.
Shannon, who has been stung the most in the family, said even helping with a swarm capture doesn’t usually lead to being stung. As long as you’re not swatting at them, those bees aren’t usually aggressive because there aren’t any babies there, said said.
The couple does use a smoker to help calm the bees when necessary, like on a cloudy day, when bees are generally more aggressive.
Early on in their beekeeping, there was one hive that became too aggressive so the couple responded by killing the queen.
“It sounds horrible, but they will raise a new queen then,” Corey Zuroweste said. “There’s something wrong with the queen if the bees are being too aggressive.”
“The queen’s temperament sets it for the whole hive,” Shannon Zuroweste explained. “We felt horrible, because it was one of our first hives, but we had to do it.”
The Zurowestes noted too that honeybees die after they sting a person (or any mammal), so they only sting as a last resort.
Their kids, who have their own beekeeper suits, are careful around the bees, but not fearful of them.
“I like to help the small bees who can’t fly in the hive,” said Xavier. “I put them on my thumb and put them in there.”
Chemical-, Treatment- Free Beekeeping
In getting their beekeeping operation started, the Zurowestes did a lot of research and also sought out information from other beekeepers. They attended some meetings of the Meramec Valley Beekeepers Association in Sullivan, which meets the first Sunday of the month at 2 p.m. at Peace Lutheran Church, 1040 South Service Road W.
“They are such an awesome group, and so helpful,” said Corey Zuroweste.
What’s different about Logan’s Bees is that the Zurowestes only place their bees in areas that do not use any chemicals or pesticides.
They place their hives in areas where people want the bees to help with pollination, which in turn gives their bees good places to “work.”
“There is nothing allowed to be sprayed around them,” said Corey Zuroweste. “We don’t allow any treatments, and we don’t feed them anything, because we are looking to build stronger hives, so that if something happened to us, they could survive on their own.
“It helps us out because it gives the bees a good home. They have plenty of food to eat on and everything . . . so much variety of plants and wildflowers all over the place.”
The bees can come and go from the hives as they please, and the Zurowestes go out to check on them every week or two.
“We will open the box up that houses them and check through the frames. We are looking to see if there are any pests in there, like hive beetles or mites,” said Corey Zuroweste. “There’s all sorts of things that could happen.”
They also are looking to check honey production, which indicates the health of the colony, to see how the brood is looking and to make sure the queen is laying eggs.
“We aren’t so concerned with finding the queen,” Zuroweste said. “We are mainly looking to see if eggs are being laid, because if eggs aren’t being laid, then we know there’s an issue.
“You can kind of see if a queen is starting to go down hill because she lays eggs in a pattern,” said Zuroweste. “But when the pattern starts getting real wonky, you know they are probably going to replace her.”
For Fun, Education
The Zurowestes are not trying to make money with Logan’s Bees, and they aren’t even that interested in selling honey.
They take any extra the bees produce, but are careful to make sure the bees have enough for themselves. They do sell the extra honey — last year they had about 300 pounds — to recoup some of their expenses.
“At Logan’s Bees we believe that the best honey comes from bees that are free to be bees,” the website reads. “ . . . we allow the bees to do what they are best at, pollinate plants. The extra honey is a bonus.”
Last year they sold out of their extra honey in a few weeks, all by word of mouth sales.
Many people eat raw honey to help reduce allergies. The Zurowestes’ children like to eat it up with a spoon. Other people say they like it spread on toast, like jelly.
So far the Zurowestes have kept a pretty low profile with Logan’s Bees. People find them mainly through friends.
Eventually the couple said they would like to be able to give presentations on beekeeping and educate people about the process.
“We’d like to have an observation hive that we could take around to the schools to teach kids,” said Corey Zuroweste.
“Our kids really enjoy it, and it’s a good learning experience,” he said. “They can’t get this anywhere else.”