Tony Bachelder holds a jar of his honey Thursday afternoon in Buckfield. The longtime beekeeper and producer of honey says the honey is extra light and sweet this year. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

BUCKFIELD — Tony Bachelder knows bees.

He began small in 1975 at age 18, newly married and working for his father-in-law, who kept bees.

“I thought, ‘If I’m doing all this work for $5 an hour, I’ll do it for myself,’” he said in a recent interview at his apiary on Paris Hill Road. Hungry bees swarmed boxes full of honeycombs, trying to “rob” a meal.

Before Bachelder built his sweet business, this was an empty lot. His father-in-law gave the newlyweds 5 acres, and Tony moved from his hometown of Leeds with his bride. They built a small house, which has been “added on and added on and added on,” he said.

When he decided to make bees his vocation, Tony Bachelder took out a Farmers Home Administration loan and bought 65 hives. He continued to work for others, including Oxford Homes, but his heart was with the bees.

“The part I liked was that you were always doing something different,” he said.

Pollinating in the spring, when he would rent out his bees to apple orchards. Bringing them back to the yards and “souping ‘em up” — stacking the boxes so the bees could produce honey. Extracting the honey in the fall, a process in which the wax is peeled away by a machine.

Over the years, the apiary grew to 700 hives and became a full-time job. The hives produced between 30,000 and 40,000 pounds of honey per year to sell, plus enough to keep the bees fed through the winter.

Tony’s Honey is a well-known commodity, sold throughout Oxford, Androscoggin and Franklin counties.

In recent years, because of health issues — Tony Bachelder has inoperable cancer — and bee die-offs, he has reduced his operation to about 300 hives.

He blames the die-offs on genetically modified crops, such as corn, pumpkins and squash. He said he has seen bad pollen for 20 years and has figured out what causes it.

The genetically modified organism, or GMO, pollen poisons the bees, he said.

“It’s a big, big, big problem,” he said. “It wipes out the whole hive.”

Another recent issue is a lack of jars. With many more people gardening and canning during the COVID-19 pandemic, jars are difficult to come by. He used to buy them by the pallet from the manufacturer, but now must pay retail — a 40% markup, he said.

Bachelder said he would like to retire in November, when he turns 65, but he is unsure he would be able to afford it. His son, Tom, and daughter-in-law, Andrea, are ready to take over.

They keep a few bees just up the road from Bachelder’s place. That makes Tom a fourth-generation beekeeper, Bachelder said, noting his grandfather and father-in-law kept bees before him.

“I told (Tom) we could go into business together as ‘T’N’T, Dynamite,’” Tony said, with a wry smile.

Bachelder said he regrets he can no longer work as hard as he once did. The cancer has weakened him, but he said immunotherapy is helping.

He also eats honey every day. His favorite is raspberry blossom. He offers a sample fresh from a warming vat. It has a floral scent and a light berry flavor, the ultimate comfort food.

Honey is the pleasant outcome, but working with bees has its hazards. Bachelder said he is stung regularly, but no big deal.

“I’ve been stung worse by people than by bees,” he said.

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