Worker B: Beekeping and Beyond

I met Michael Sedlacek at Expo West last spring and fell in love with his all natural, handcrafted skincare product line, Worker B. Along with his partner Leisa Helfen, they work with local beekeepers in the Minneapolis area who supply the highest quality raw honey, beeswax, and propolis for their products. I wanted to pick their brains a bit and find out more about the craft of beekeeping and what makes bee products so special.

 What sparked your interest in beekeeping?

Liesa: Growing up both Michael and I had parents with large gardens and we were taught the importance of pollinators. My father would pick up the bumblebees on his fingers and give them a ride.  You can learn a lot about bees and plants just by watching their behavior. Different flowers have different pollen colors, how the nectar flows can be affected by rain and when the bees are most abundant. Many years later, once we opened a hive for the first time, we were hooked. It is not just about the bees, but the whole environment. They are affected by the weather and wildflowers, so you really become enthralled with all of nature.

How can folks get started in nurturing their own hives?

Michael: My best suggestion for getting started would be to take a beekeeping class in your area – from a University for example.  A good class will take you through starting a hive, pest and disease awareness and address the changes in a beehive throughout the year. Each climate is different, so a local class will be the most beneficial.

The other item to check out is the process or permits required to keep a beehive in your neighborhood/county. Always best to adhere to local ordinances!

Do you need much space to keep a hive? What kind of materials do you need?

Michael: You do not need a whole lot of space to keep a beehive. You do however need adequate fly-away space and a consistent water supply.

What principles should be followed to maintain an ethical, chemical free hive that makes happy bees and great bee byproducts?

Liesa: First off, and particularly for the backyard beekeeper, do not focus on the byproducts (honey, beeswax etc). If they have abundance, yes, but your focus should be on the hive. You will get added pollination out of it and the joy of learning. Every beekeeper has a different plan and idea of what is best and it all comes down to choice. We don’t use any acids or Thymol in our hives which are typically viewed as organic practices. We try to use only conventional food based products to treat for disease like apple cider vinegar, powdered sugar and we experiment with additional propolis (the bee’s natural antibacterial agent) washes. It is a constant struggle, we try to observe and help strong colonies. Strong colonies are the best principle. You can combine a weak hive into a strong hive or re-queen a lack-luster hive. Really, the best thing is to find strong bees from a trusted source when you start out and find a local hobby group or established beekeeper to call on when you have questions. Communication and shared knowledge help immensely.

What is the biggest challenge with bees?

Liesa: Weather, nectar flow and disease. The disease now spreads so much faster due to the way bees are used for mass pollination. Most of the bees in America will be shipped to certain local areas for the almond, citrus and blueberry crops. Having all of these bees in close proximity spreads disease like wildfire and when they return back to their home base they can infect the stationary beekeepers too.

Drought and extreme heat can dry up the nectar flow too. In addition, a cold and wet spring can keep the flowers from blooming and the bees from foraging.

What are your thoughts on Colony Collapse Disorder? Do you think we can turn this around? Could keeping bees be one way to protect our local agriculture?

Liesa:  I always think of the Canary in a Coal Mine song by the Police when people ask me this. Our general thoughts are not popular and it is just an opinion, but it has to do with the greater mono crop agricultural system. When you restrict the diversity of any ecosystem, you have to expect issues. The bees are letting us know that the system is broken. It isn’t just the bees, check out all pollinators, butterflies, birds, etc… the reason that so many bees need to be shipped to the mono crops is because the area is so huge that local beekeepers can’t handle the amount and that, by definition, there is only one crop and thus nothing for the bees to feed on when the crop has done blooming. The rapid spread of disease and no end in sight for this type of agriculture is cause for great concern. It is also a loss of forage, simply not enough food for the bees. The best thing people can do is plant native pollinator loving plants. We have a half lot in the city, which in peak season, is abundant with insect wildlife. It can be done anywhere. 

What inspired you to start the Worker B product line?

Michael: Liesa worked for a local beekeeper and had developed eczema when she was working as a pastry chef and noticed that while making beeswax candles, her condition improved. We started researching the beneficial properties of bee products; honey, beeswax, propolis, venom, etc…  As time went on we started concocting different creams, balms and eventually face care as Liesa’s eczema spread.  We realized there was a market for the products and thus a Company was born.  We aim to make incredible effective products, concentrated with no water for an incredible value. All the products are really versatile too, so you can use them all over.

What are the benefits of using bee products on the skin?

While none of these statements are approved by the FDA, raw honey is antibacterial and a humectant. When it mixes with blood it makes a hydrogen peroxide reaction, too, so it is great to clean wounds. That is why we made the rescue putty, it is great for burns and open wounds. 

Beeswax increases blood circulation, is an anti-inflammatory and is a mild analgesic. Try it on bug bites (it takes the itch out) and it also helps create a barrier to the elements and it smells amazing.

Propolis is a resin the bees make from tree sap. More is being learned about this product but it acts as the immune system of the hive.  It is used in the brood comb to create an antibacterial cocoon for gestation.  It is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and recent studies have shown it to be successful in preventing cell mutations and increasing cell division.  Traditionally it has been used in oral mouth care, used on some of the best violins and used in the mummification process for the Pharaohs. 

What is bee propolis and how is it used?

(See above) In the hive, propolis is used to limit the hive opening, to control air flow by sealing cracks and to boost the anti-bacterial and anti-fungal rates in the hive. The bees can also use it to mummify killed intruders that are too large for them to carry out of the hive (like a mouse for example).  They cocoon it in propolis and as it decomposes, none of the bacteria gets into the hive. 

Propolis is high in antioxidants, omegas 3, 6 and 9, and rich in bioflavonoids.

We use it as a topical treatment incorporated into nearly all of the skin care products.  We have an internal tincture as well primarily used to boost the immune system.  Additionally, we are tinkering with propolis in a toothpaste with good results, but this is still in the very early testing phase.

Honey Face Wash

I was attracted to your facial skincare products right away. The serums have been amazing for me, especially since I live in an arid climate. My skin has been so soft and smooth since I started using them. How did you come up with these great concoctions and what have other people’s experiences been?

We wanted a supplement to our face washes and lotions. Using fruit extracts, seed extracts, oils and propolis, we created vitamin rich serums targeted for day and night to boost the skin.  The dusk serum uses thicker more penetrating oils and is high in Vitamin E for long overnight repair. I layer that with the scented lotion for my evening routine.  The dawnserum has lighter oils and extracts, very high in Vitamin C, to boost the skin’s resilience against the damaging effects of the sun.  It also evens out the skin tone and makes a great base before makeup application.

The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. It takes people a bit to get used too, especially in conjunction with the face washes which are honey and oil based (totally different feel, people are used to suds=clean).  We work many trade shows and events and one of the biggest compliments is actually seeing other vendors try the face washes and serums and come back the next day with much improved glowing skin!

Will you be coming out with any new facial products?

We are working on a new complexion face wash and day cream.  We have a solid viewpoint on the day cream – now comes the tricky part of formulation!

Our next focus will be on hair care. In the works are plans for a hair cleanser and conditioner.  Having just rolled out our raw honey and candle lines, it will be a while!

Check out their products at the City & Sea shop!


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Recipes, articles and musings of Judita Wignall. All info is for educational purposes and is not meant to diagnose or treat any medical conditions.