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Beekeepers make lotions, shower gels, creams and lip balms

"Beekeeping is like any other business, there is always more to it then you think," says Kristy Llerenas, beekeeper near Linton, N.D., and creator of A Touch of Honey. "You have to walk around in that hat and veil for awhile to learn all there is...

"Beekeeping is like any other business, there is always more to it then you think," says Kristy Llerenas, beekeeper near Linton, N.D., and creator of A Touch of Honey. "You have to walk around in that hat and veil for awhile to learn all there is to it."

And after 28 years of raising bees, Kristy and, her husband, Joaquin Llerenas, still are learning about new ways to produce honey-based products and get them to consumers. The Llerenases currently raise Caucasian/Yellow Italian honeybees near Linton.

The couple's honey shop outside of Linton called Llerenas Apiaries -- also the name of their beekeeping business -- deals primarily with bulk honey.

Llerenas Apiaries raises bees and extracts honey in Linton. The company also leases its bees for crop pollination.

The bees

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Bee varieties are referred to as stocks. The term "stock," according to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, is defined as a loose combination of traits characterizing a particular group of bees. Stocks can be divided a variety of ways to include bee species, regions, populations or breeding lines.

The Caucasian/Yellow Italian bee is a combination of the Caucasian and Italian bee. This stock of bee, according to Kristy, is known for its mild temperament and good honey production.

Caucasian bees are native to the foothills of the Ural Mountains near the Caspian Sea in Eastern Europe. Caucasian bees have a longer tongue that aids in extracting nectar that most other stocks wouldn't be able to retrieve. Caucasians are very docile bees.

Italian bees were brought to the United States in 1859 and quickly became the favored stock for beekeepers because of the excellent honey production rates. Italian bees are less prone to diseases than most other bee stocks and less defensive toward their hives.

"Bees can get sick, and they need to be medicated," Kristy says. "You have to know what you're treating and how to treat it and, more importantly, when to treat it. They need to be placed in locations where honey production will be good, but where the bees and the public are safe."

New business

In December 2006, Kristy opened A Touch of Honey, a small business dealing with a honey-based product line on Main Street in Linton.

"My kids used to say, 'Why didn't you get a job in an office where you could wear a suit to work?' Like most kids, they didn't like the work that comes with beekeeping," says Joaquin Llerenas. "It's like farming. We have good years and bad ones, too. Overall, I'm happy with the honey business we've built, and I am very happy that people are enjoying my wife's products."

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A Touch of Honey distributes homemade, honey-based lotions, shower gels, lip balms, bath salts, lotion bars and gift baskets that Kristy makes from Llerenas Apiaries honey.

Credit for the store's name goes to Leticia, Kristy and Joaquin Llerenas' daughter, who blurted out the phrase during a road trip. Kristy had been looking for a name for the new company and when Leticia said "A Touch of Honey," Kristy knew that it was the perfect name for the business.

A Touch of Honey products emulate popular fragrances from Victoria Secret, Bath & Body Works, Estee Lauder and other famous brands. Kristy has several of her own scents and creations as well.

"My customers are always giving me new fragrances to check out, and I copy or duplicate them if I can," Kristy says. "I started with six fragrances when I first opened, and I now have around 30 women's fragrances and about eight for men."

Kristy adds natural and artificial ingredients to her products. A few of the more common ingredients include aloe vera, cocoa butter, shea butter, vitamin E, coconut oil, jojoba oil and a variety of fragrance oils and occasionally cosmetic coloring.

"I don't call my products organic, and I don't claim them to be 'all natural,' " Kristy says. "To have a real, quality product that lasts, you need to have some artificial ingredients and some preservatives.

"I never test on animals," Kristy says. "Just my loving family members, and they are all doing fine last I checked."

The honey is harvested by Joaquin and a hired crew of six to 12 people. Only a small portion of the honey is used to make A Touch of Honey products.

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The honey must be pulled from hive boxes, which when full of honey weigh 30 to 60 pounds. The honey then is trucked to Llerenas Apiaries' large, steel building located south of Linton, where it is spun out of hive frames or combs and put into 55-gallon barrels. Kristy uses large mixers, hot pots, measuring containers and scales to make her products.

"The lotions are rich in honey," Kristy says. "It's what makes them work so well on dry, cracked skin."

Beekeeping

The Llerenases started their beekeeping operation about 28 years ago when they bought out a retiring beekeeper in North Dakota. Since then, their operation has added to with several purchases from California and Texas.

The Llerenases usually split their own hives and create two or three hives from one large hive. This enables them to expand with little purchasing, other than queens. Queen bees are purchased from various queen breeders across the United States.

Llerenas Apiaries regularly keeps 2,000 bee hives. The hives circulate throughout several states, including North Dakota, California, Texas, Arizona and Wisconsin.

"During the summer months, we will run anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 hives," Kristy says. Some of these "are leased from other beekeepers looking to produce some top-rated North Dakota honey."

Honey production varies each year depending on the location, rainfall and floral source available to the hives. Kristy says in a typical "good year" a hive will produce 150 to 200 pounds of honey. The honey is bought from Llerenas Apiaries by large packaging companies.

In late fall, Llerenas Apiaries ship the hives and bees to California, where they are prepared for pollination services in orchards.

During the time the bees are in California, Joaquin makes several trips back and forth to manage the bees and hives.

"To be a good beekeeper, you have to mange your bees just as a good rancher would manage his cattle or horses," Kristy says. "In very dry years, you may need to provide artificial water supplies and or move them to a greener part of the state. Beekeepers have that advantage over farmers in that we can pick up and move our hives unlike their fields of wheat or corn."

The product

Several North Dakota and South Dakota stores carry A Touch of Honey products.

"The first time I brought samples into work, the gals I work with used them all up," says Larisa Wilkens, the Llerenases' daughter. "I had so many orders that it cleared Mom's shelves even before she opened her doors."

Larisa also makes the labels, business cards and wall art for A Touch of Honey and tends to the business' Web site.

Kristy sells her products online and through mail order.

Stores that carry Touch of Honey products are The Cutting Edge Salon in Ellendale, N.D.; Mirror Images in Hazen, N.D.; The Little German House in Strasburg, N.D.; Maple River Winery in Casselton, N.D.; X-Treme Hair in Bismarck, N.D.; Relax & Renew Salon in Pollock, S.D.; and Prairie Rose Trading Co. in Watertown, S.D.

Information: www.tofhoney.com .

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