Hive-Minded: Mike Wrobel Shares the Buzz Around BeekeepingApr 26, 2023 03:02PM ● By Sara Locke
Photo by Bill Sitzmann.
Mike Wrobel has a high-clearance, high-stress job: Chief Adversary Analyst, Current Operations Division, Global Operations Directorate, United States Strategic Command. After serving for six years of active Air Force duty, Wrobel has worked as a civilian Air Force contractor for more than 30 years. As such, he takes his free time extremely seriously.
“My co-workers like to tease me that I have 459 hobbies,” Wrobel said. “One day around 15 years ago it occurred to me that honeybees were very cool, very interesting.”
Keeping up with Wrobel as he riffs on what it is exactly that makes honeybees “cool” is a lot like asking a young nephew about his favorite dinosaur—a swarm of specialized terminology abuzz with endless enthusiasm.
“One thing I learned quickly is that a lot of people are going to join the bee keeping community with a lot of knowledge they gleaned from YouTube. I cannot stress enough how many well-intended people are putting out incorrect information on YouTube,” Wrobel cautioned. “There are a lot of trends, a lot of gadgets and processes that look really great, but that aren’t sustainable or good for the bees.”
Wrobel credits his connections with Omaha Bee Club, where he serves as vice president of the board, for helping him learn to sift through misinformation to find the knowledge buried within.
“I started with four hives initially, and some years I lost more bees than survived,” Wrobel recalled. “At one point, my business, BeeHive Guys, sold bees, queens, and nucs (nucleus colonies) to new beekeepers. Honey was a byproduct of the business. But after purchasing a semi[truck] of bees, which included 432 hives out of California, we realized that the bees had been exposed to pesticide. The hives went into failure, and we took a huge financial hit.”
Wrobel rescaled his operation and returned the focus to hive maintenance and honey production, rather than breeding and queen rearing.
“As a hobbyist, rather than a commercial bee farmer, you’ll spend about an hour per hive every week,” he explained. “More hives and higher levels of keeping will obviously require a greater commitment. But as I approach retirement, I think maintaining about 80 hives is the right scale for me.”
Wrobel’s BeeHive Guys is presently the only full-feature bee supply retailer in the Omaha area. While some shops will carry or connect hobbyists with odds and ends, BeeHive Guys offers everything one needs to raise, rear, produce, and protect colonies. However, Wrobel is more than an enthusiast—he’s a passionate purveyor of knowledge, which he shares generously and jovially with anyone who cares to listen.
Wrobel started with the same anxieties about bees, including being stung that anyone would have. In his first years of keeping, maintained the hive in full protective gear.
“It gets hot out there, and you’ve got all of this extra gear on and you’re sweating, getting more and more anxious,” he recalled. “You can’t feel as well with these thick gloves on protecting your hands.”
It occurred to him that there had to be a better, more connected way to work with his bees—and he wasn’t alone.
“I met Brad Price through the Bee Club, and one day I was working with Brad, doing some queen rearing, and he came out in just about no gear at all. I was in my veil and jacket and gloves, and he was just in his blue jeans and a T-shirt and veil,” Wrobel recounted.
“Everyone has their own way of doing things,” Price, Wrobel’s friend and fellow enthusiast noted. “There are a lot of very different right ways of doing things, and a lot more wrong ways. If someone has figured out a way of doing things that really works for them and is safe for the bees…then that’s another right way!”
Both men agree that the key to peacefully working with bees is to breed a calm queen.
“There are days I’m amazed at how easily they’ll let me work with them,” Price added. “Not having a lot of gear on makes it easier to be gentle with the bees. They’re a lot like people. You can end up with a genetic line of angry, aggressive bees, but you can also make really peaceful bees aggressive by being aggressive with them. They change a lot based on how they’re treated.”
“I still know when I need to get fully geared up,” Wrobel insisted, “and I keep an EpiPen with me just in case. I don’t have allergies, but they can develop, and you’re out there in the middle of nowhere, so it would be a while before help arrived if something bad happened.”
But Wrobel isn’t holding his breath for something bad. Instead, he’s waiting patiently for his new generation of queens to arrive and to begin collecting up to 6,000 pounds of honey he has capacity to process this year.
Wrobel has historically sold out of honey every year via word of mouth, but as he shifts from bee production to raw, local honey sales this coming season, customers will be able to make purchases directly from his website.
For more information or to browse products, visit beehiveguys.com.
This article originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.