He doesn’t wear a special suit, no gloves or mask. Just jeans, a t-shirt and his baseball hat. He moves slowly but deliberately, he knows what he’s doing. After all, he’s being doing this for 36 years.
‘Buzz’ Vance is a beekeeper.
No, his real name isn’t ‘Buzz,’ but his fitting nickname did come into play before he became a beekeeper.
What started out as a hobby in graduate school has now turned into a part time business that keeps Buzz pretty busy in addition to his regular job.
On Wednesday afternoons during the summer, Buzz is with his bees. He’ll check on the majority of his 50 hives, containing somewhere between 40-50,000 bees each, looking in on the queen bees, honey levels and the overall look of the hives.
He gets almost giddy around the bees, proudly talking about their fierce loyalty to the queen and pointing to the areas of liquid gold they’ve already created in the combs.
Simply put, Buzz loves bees. That’s probably not surprising at this point, but his love of bees actually came from a long-held fascination with bugs.
As a kid, Buzz was that toddler picking up and prodding every bug he could get his hands on. His mother encouraged his interest in bugs by taking him to the local library to check out any book he could about every bug variation.
Remember his nickname? Well before it was ‘Buzz,’ his uncle gave him the nickname ‘Bugs’ because of his unending interest in any and every bug he saw.
In college it seemed only natural that Buzz chose to study entomology at UNL. He went on to earn a Master’s degree, and while in school his friends changed his nickname of ‘Bugs’ to ‘Buzz’ and it just stuck.
During graduate school Buzz started tinkering with his first two bee hives. He was fascinated by how the bees understood their intricate roles and how they created such a delicious byproduct.
But being a beekeeper has never been Buzz’s full-time gig. He was a pastor and has also worked multiple jobs within the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.
Over the past few years, Buzz has really kicked up his beekeeping. He wanted to see if he was up for the challenge. He said it was kind of like a competition he had with himself to see how much honey he could produce with the bees he had.
At one point he had so much extra honey that he needed to start selling it, and that’s when he got a booth at the farmer’s market. Now, he has a long list of regulars who ask for honey throughout the year – even though he only harvests honey twice during the summer.
It’s a lot to keep up with, but Buzz likes the challenge.
He says he produces somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 gallons of honey each year. It’s a lot of honey, but also a lot of bees… the actual count of bees is probably somewhere in the millions he said.
When asked if he’d been stung a lot, he laughed.
“Oh yeah,” he said, but it doesn’t really bother him. The bees don’t mean anything by it, and they really only get aggressive when they feel threatened.
But Buzz doesn’t just have bees for the honey, he does it to learn. He raises queen bees, maintains his 50 hives and extracts and bottles all of his own honey. It’s not an easy or simple process, but for Buzz, it’s about learning.
“You can never learn everything there is about bees,” he said. “They are complicated and fascinating, and I still learn new things about bees after 36 years.”
If Buzz could go back to school just to study bees, he’d do it. But for now, he’s content tending to his hives and mentoring new beekeepers about the delicate process.
Being outside with his bees is where Buzz comes to life. It’s the place he smiles the most and gets excited about the intricate details of the bees and their work. He’s proud of what he does and the way he’s cultivated a hobby into a business, and it’s what makes his story that much sweeter.