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For the bees: ATC system protection engineer takes up hobby beekeeping with family

Tim Schmidt, ATC senior system protection engineer, and his son check on a honey bee hive.

Tim Schmidt spends his days at American Transmission Co. helping keep the lights on for millions of people by ensuring electric reliability of the transmission grid as a senior system protection engineer.

He spends many of his weekends monitoring and ensuring the success of a completely different type of system – honey bee hives.

Schmidt began toying with the idea of becoming a hobby beekeeper five years ago. He and his family have always been environmentally conscious. They built their home in Brown County, Wis. with solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling. They planted wildflowers across much of their two acres.

“It just made sense that our wildflowers would do better if they had local pollination,” said Schmidt. “I’m always interested in being involved with my kids and having it as a learning experience. It combined our mindset of being green with our connection to nature.”

“People Thought I was Nuts”

After a considerable amount of research, Schmidt decided to start his first hive. Now, five years later, he has five hives and is well on his way to his goal of maintaining 12 hives.

Schmidt says it’s a hobby many people don’t understand at first.

“People thought I was nuts. They said, ‘You want to have an insect that can sting you?’ … When you first talk to somebody about bees, they think of the physical aspects and getting stung. But it’s not the honey bees that typically go after a person; it’s hornets and wasps. In general, honey bees will leave you alone unless you disturb their nest.”

Schmidt describes his role of beekeeper as a type of partnership with the queen bee, which ensures the health and viability of the hive.

“In the springtime, you’re making sure that the queen is doing her job and that she’s healthy,” said Schmidt. “You’re looking at several things within a hive as indicators of that queen, and you’re trying to check on it to see how she’s doing.”

Looking Forward to Spring

At this time of the year, Schmidt’s hives are quiet. The honey bees are living off the supply of honey they stocked away to make it through the winter. Three of his five hives have headcounts of roughly 8,000 bees. But soon, that will change.

As spring approaches and summer arrives, Schmidt says the hives will become much more active. The queen will begin laying more eggs, and the female worker bees will travel from flower to flower, collecting pollen. That pollen serves as the honey bees’ main protein source as they turn nectar and other enzymes into honey. At their peak over the summer, Schmidt hopes each hive will have around 60,000 – 80,000 bees.

After a healthy and productive year for the hive, Schmidt can begin collecting honey in the fall. He makes sure to leave enough behind for his bees to survive each winter.

He said beekeeping is something his entire family enjoys together, especially with his daughter, 9, and son, 7.

“They’re out there in their own beekeeping equipment, sticking their nose in the hive saying ‘Hey, what’s that? Hey, what’s that? Hey, Dad, look there’s the queen!’ They’ve picked up on those small things,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt says he’s looking forward to many more years of connecting to nature through beekeeping with his family as his children grow.

“I’m just at the beginning,” he said.

Planting for Pollinators

ATC works with our environmental contractors to plant seed mixes in the rights-of-way that generate vegetation beneficial to many species of bees, butterflies and birds. Low-growing perennials and grasses, such as those planted to attract pollinators, can grow and thrive within transmission line rights-of-way.

ATC is also helping people learn how to help pollinators in their own yards. Sustainable rights-of-way with compatible plant communities can help limit ATC’s long-term vegetation management program, which is needed to keep transmission lines safe and reliable.

In partnership with horticulturist and gardening expert Melinda Myers, American Transmission Co. has put together two guides to identify vegetation that will help attract pollinators like Schmidt’s bees. You can view or print the GrowSmart® Planting Guide and the GrowSmart® Pollinator Guide to learn more.