With some trial and error, Borntrager was able to learn not only the art of beekeeping but also insect breeding while in Tennessee.
Over the years, his honey harvesting techniques, as well as breeding abilities, have improved.
When Borntrager left Tennessee, he left his bees behind but not his interest in them.
Soon he established new hives in Texas, and today he has 300 hives spread around Bee and Live Oak counties.
From the hives, he is able to obtain honey, wax and the materials needed to make chapstick.
In a good year, Borntrager said the hives can produce 100 pounds of honey.
But bees, like everything else, are temperamental and don’t like the drought. To make a good amount of honey, the bees need to have rain and a spring of blooming plants to pollinate.
If the year has been dry, Borntrager will supplement the bees with additional food.
“I feed them high fructose corn syrup or sugar water or a pollen substitute,” he said.
He said the last time his bees produced 100 pounds of honey was in 2004.
Besides making products for himself, Borntrager also sells bees and raises queens that are sold to beekeepers in Corpus Christi and San Antonio as well as shipped all over the county. He said that just last week he shipped a queen and bees to a keeper in Florida.
Making a new hive or “nuc,” as Borntrager calls it, takes some skill. First, he must remove some of the frames from an established colony and place them into a separate super box. The frames removed must contain honey, eggs, larvae and, of course, bees.
Once in the new super box, the worker bees will start feeding the larvae royal jelly. The larvae are fed that for the first three days and, after that, the bee that is selected the queen will continue to be fed only royal jelly every day while the others will have a more diversified diet. The larvae that have their diet changed after three days become the worker bees.
Feeding the queen only the royal jelly allows her to grow larger in size and allows her ovaries to develop so she will be sexually mature.
Once the queen matures, Borntrager goes in and marks her either with a number or colored dot so she is easily identifiable in the hive.
Early on, he keeps the nucs in an outbuilding on his property so they are protected from the elements and development is ensured.
After a nuc is established with the queen, it can be moved outside.
Borntrager is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to knowledge about beekeeping, bee breeding and honey harvesting.
He is ready to share his knowledge and love of bees with people and will host beekeeping workshops over the summer. The products he produces from his active hives are also for sale in the shop on the Borntrager land off Gaitan Lane in south Bee County.
Christina Rowland is the regional editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 119, or at regional@mySouTex.com.