UNIONVILLE, Mich. (AP) — About 10 years ago, Josh and Jodie Kieliszewski noticed a wild swarm of bees had made a home in one of the trees on their property in rural Unionville in Michigan.
Josh Kieliszewski, an agriculture science teacher at Unionville-Sebewaing Area High School at the time, and Jodie Kieliszewski, a stay-at-home mom, watched the bees with interest. Then they started reading about them.
"We've always been into homesteading," Jodie Kieliszewski told The Saginaw News, noting that she and her husband grow vegetables and raised chickens for a while.
They purchased what's called a package of bees to get started and beekeeping became a backyard hobby for them. But when the local school cut its agriculture program and Josh Kieliszewski was laid off, they began to think about ways to turn their bees into a source of income.
Josh Kieliszewski, who found a different job in the meantime, learned how to build hives and became an expert beekeeper. Jodie Kieliszewski, who always had a creative streak, taught herself about marketing, photography, graphic design and how to run a website. They learned how to make soap, lip balm, lotion and other personal care products with beeswax, honey, royal jelly and essential oils.
"(We) slowly learned all these things ourselves and pieced it together to grow our business," Jodie Kieliszewski said.
Josh and Jodie Kieliszewski's hobby eventually turned into a full-time job for both of them. Now, they have about 30 hives containing approximately 60,000 bees each. Their company, Bee Lovely Botanicals, supports their family of five.
The Bee Lovely Botanicals product line, which includes such products as Bee Rugged Beeswax Beard Balm, Happy Camper Bar Soap, Shampoochie Dog Shampoo Bar, Angry Bees Peppermint Lip Balm, and Happy Baby Butt Butter, is sold online via the company's website and Etsy page. Bee Lovely Botanicals products also can be found at boutiques and Younkers and Carson's stores across the state, including Younkers in Bay City and Midland.
The products are handmade in small batches with natural ingredients, such as beeswax, raw honey, cocoa butter, coconut oil, certified pure essential oils and pollen extract. Prices range from about $6 to $36.
Jodie Kieliszewski said the natural ingredients they use really appeal to customers.
"People are definitely much more educated now than they were a few years ago. You can tell just by the questions they ask. And there is a growing demand for natural products," she said.
Bee Lovely Botanicals also sells bar soap, honey and other products in bulk for use as favors for weddings, showers and parties.
With the holiday shopping season fast approaching, Bee Lovely Botanicals is heading into its busiest time of year. The Kieliszewskis employ two part-time employees and have one on-call employee who helps out as needed.
"Before Christmas, we're always really busy," Jodie Kieliszewski said.
Josh Kieliszewski said there's "a great sense of satisfaction" that comes from creating and growing a small business.
"It is exciting to think what started out, for the most part, as a hobby — that we could do something like this," he said. "We can provide for our family. We can provide products that we feel are beneficial to peoples' health."
Jodie Kieliszewski said she likes the flexibility being a small business owner affords her family.
"This was something I could do when they (the kids) went to bed, or I could get up early, or when they were taking a nap. So it was really flexible but offered us the extra income," she said.
The boys, 13-year-old Jaden, 9-year-old Jacob, and 8-year-old Justus, have gotten involved, too, helping out at home and going with their parents to farmers' markets and craft shows where they sell their products.
"We homeschool and the boys get to do a lot of traveling and they get to meet a lot of different people," Jodie Kieliszewski said.
The Kieliszewskis harvest the honey by hand. Although they wear protective veils when working with their bees, they still get stung from time to time.
"You do get stung a lot," Jodie Kieliszewski said. "That's just part of being a beekeeper."
Some years, the bees are more docile. Other years, they're more aggressive. Different hives have different temperaments depending on the queen's temperament, the weather and other variables, she explained.
"Bees that are more aggressive are usually harder working and have a lot more honey stored up, so it's kind of a give and take."
Some hives won't survive the winter, when severe cold and starvation threaten the bees. Because of the ups and downs of beekeeping, the Kieliszewskis might have 12 to 50 hives at a time, depending on the time of year.
Jodie Kieliszewski remembered a recent winter that was particularly harsh.
"It was like the coldest winter on record," she said. "We came through that winter with like three hives. It was just devastating."
Honey yield can vary by hive and by season. Josh Kieliszewski said one hive in Michigan will generally produce about 80 pounds, or five gallons, of honey per year.
"Last year was a huge year for us with honey," Jodie Kieliszewski said.
The Kieliszewskis say although rewarding, running a small business from their home is a lot of work. Between that and raising three kids, they're busy people. They don't often take the time to reflect on how far they have come.
"When you do take that moment and you step back and you look, it's kind of amazing, you know, from where we started," Jodie Kieliszewski said. "We don't take pause to do that very often."