Local Builder Constructs Homes for Bees
Butch Sprenger’s company, Destiny Homes, has been around for over 40 years, specializing in remodeling houses in Eden Prairie and the west metro. He builds ideal living spaces. For people. Sprenger is currently drawing up plans for his fifth year dedicated to creating habitats for another species. He’s a beekeeper.
Sprenger, an environmentalist at heart, was inspired by his son to help reverse the declining honey bee population. He took his first beekeeping class at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and bought a few hives. He scouted locations with plentiful plants and nearby water sources, then connected with rural landowners open to the advantages of apiaries on their property. He’s been researching, adjusting and expanding his honey farming practices ever since.
Sprenger is an adaptable apiarist, experimenting with different kinds of bees, connecting with bee suppliers and exploring new strategies for helping them thrive. “Every time I go out to visit the bees, I learn something new.” Last year, Sprenger experimented with Eastern European Carniolan honey bees, admiring their work ethic and output, but they were also more aggressive, so he went back to his original, more docile Italian bees.
For now, keeping bees is a year-round endeavor for Sprenger. He sets up hives in the spring, harvests honey in the fall and tends them regularly every month of the year. As the bees’ general contractor, he continually checks on the queen and remodels her hive throughout their busy season. The 10,000 bees he starts with in the spring can multiply to 60,000 with one successful queen. Sprenger has found success in keeping his hives alive through Minnesota’s chilly falls and winters. Beekeeping chores include covering hives with tar paper for insulation, smoking them to prevent mites and feeding them regularly until June. Meanwhile, the hive population spins around the queen to keep her warm.
Sprenger compares apian societies to his construction business, likening bees’ behavior to the industriousness, organization, and talent in the remodeling industry. He compares worker bees’ life cycle to the apprentice, journeyman and retirement phases of a carpenter’s career. He likens drone bees to what Sprenger calls his “can’t-run-my-business-without-them” bookkeepers, insurance agents and webmasters.
Honey is a bonus – almost an afterthought – for Sprenger, but last year’s 17 hives produced a record 400 pounds of honey. He sells his Blessed Bee Honey to friends and at local festivals. Sprenger describes its terroir like a sommelier chatting up a wine connoisseur. His hives in Victoria produced lighter, clearer honey than those in Orono. The darkest layers in the comb are produced by bees who brought buckwheat nectar back to the hive. He’s saved honey from all four years of farming and can attribute their color and flavor profiles to plants surrounding his hives as he experiments with different locations. Sprenger keeps an open mind about ‘flowers,’ “I’d never kill a dandelion because my bees make the best honey from them.”
Sprenger recruits business associates, family and friends to take part in beekeeping. His sons visit the hives regularly. Their mom makes beeswax candles. His electrician is the primary “research scientist” and takes classes through the University of Minnesota to learn more about bees. His trim supplier builds the hive boxes at his shop and his designer’s children help spin the frames to extract honey in the fall.
We need bees to pollinate about one-third of Minnesota’s crops. One worker bee collects nectar for five to six weeks in order to produce its life’s work – 1/12 teaspoon of honey. A hive of bees flies 55,000 miles, visiting two million flowers, to produce one pound of honey. One local remodeling contractor devotes hundreds of hours, year after year, to these busy bees so they can pollinate local crops and wildflowers. They pay him back in liquid gold.