Lake Elmo beekeeper wins big


Keith Tumulty showed off buckets of his bees’ honey on a summer day. (photos courtesy of Keith Tumulty)

Tumulty’s grand prize award was displayed at a booth at the Minnesota State Fair this year, along with some of his winning products.

Lake Elmo beekeeper Keith Tumulty entered 12 items into this year’s Minnesota State Fair, from honey to lip balm to candles. Ten of his creations won ribbons, including a grand champion prize for quality honey and bees.

Tumulty, 36, has been entering bee products in the fair for the past four years, but this season brought the most success. He said he won a modest amount of cash, ribbons and a honey pot trophy for his efforts. Last year, Tumulty took a sweepstakes award for quality beeswax products.

“We walked in and there was my name in big print on a piece of paper,” he said, recalling the moment he realized he won the sweepstakes award this year.

 

Bee-ginnings

His father picked up beekeeping as a hobby when he retired. The intrigue was passed along to Tumulty, who began keeping in 2012, learning about the work through his father and friends.

“I like being out in nature and the challenge [of] keeping them alive,” he said.

He said while beekeeping is enjoyable, it can also be messy and expensive. Tumulty earns some money back through farmers’ markets and awards — but the hobby can still be costly. 

“If I quit losing hives over the winter I’d quit losing so much money,” he joked, explaining the difficulty of keeping bees alive during the cold months.

It also takes a lot of equipment, preparation and time — which, all together, leaves quite the footprint.

“My garage is a mess from everything I’ve been doing right now,” Tumulty said.

A farmers’ market featuring his products came less than a week after the state fair ended, leaving him with little time to get things in order. Luckily, he said his mother helps out with the less-glamorous behind-the-scenes tasks like candle pouring and other grunt work.

Tumulty credits his good fortune to his high standards. He said he puts a lot of time into the quality and appearance of his honey products.

“It’s a lot of work to get this stuff ready,” he said. “And I’m kind of a perfectionist, so I’m my worst critic of my stuff.”

 

A learning process

Tumulty said his neighbors love having a seemingly endless supply of honey right next door, and enjoy seeing his products at the fair. But he noted honeybees don’t produce as much as people assume. 

“It can vary on the season [and] how strong or weak the hive is, so it really depends,” he said. “But a bee in its lifetime makes a single teaspoon of honey, and they don’t have a very long lifespan.”

He said honeybees will fatally overwork themselves in the summer, sometimes living for only a few weeks. He figured this out relatively quickly after taking up beekeeping, but said each new lesson comes with a learning curve of about a year.

“I’m always learning something new,” Tumulty said. “Once you think you got it, a new problem faces you and you’ve gotta figure it out again. I accept I’ll never have this mastered and I’ll always be learning.”

 

Stepping back

On a bigger scale, he’s learned the importance of a thriving — or dwindling — bee population and what it means for the world’s ecosystem.

“If it weren’t for the bees, we wouldn’t have food,” Tumulty said. “Pretty much if they go, we’re probably next.”

He points to pesticides and mites for colony collapses.

“Really, if you’re putting stuff out there, it’s just not natural. It’s meant to kill bugs and insects, and it can’t be good for what we’re eating either,” he said.

 

Onward

Tumulty currently runs 12 hives, but he said the number varies year to year — 10 is the average.

Next year, Tumulty said he hopes to enter spring with 80% of his hives alive, which would help with next year’s fair competition, which he’s approaching with confidence.

“I’m being told I should probably stop entering and let other people have a chance,” he said with a laugh. 

For now, Tumulty has no plans to be a buzzkill by dropping out of the competition.

“But it’s just for the fun of it,” he said.

 

–Amy Felegy can be reached at 651-748-7815 or afelegy@lillienews.com.

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