Ormond Aebi (1916 – July 2004) was an American beekeeper who was reported to have set the world's record for honey obtained from a single hive in one year, 1974, when 404 pounds of honey were harvested, breaking an unofficial 80-year-old record of 303 pounds held by A. I. Root. Together with his father Harry, the Aebi's wrote two books on beekeeping: The Art and Adventure of Beekeeping (1975) and Mastering the Art of Beekeeping (1979) (both currently out-of-print).
World record in honey production
Aebi held a Guinness World Record in quantity of honey produced from a hive of bees, but many others have surpassed that record. Single colonies of bees occasionally produce some spectacular crops. This is sometimes a combination a multiple queens in a hive (see two-queen beekeeping management), excellent weather conditions, or extraordinary good luck.
In 1979, Earl Emde of Big River, Saskatchewan, had several colonies produce over six hundred pounds each, though Guinness was never employed to substantiate the production. Many other beekeepers in Canada, Australia, North Dakota, Florida, and the mid-west have seen similar results on rare occasions. However, a Mr. Rob Smith of Australia surely holds the world’s most astounding result for an apiary. According to Bill Winner, Beekeeper Services Manager, Capilano Honey Company, “We can confirm the average production of 346 kilograms (762 lbs) per hive from 460 hives. (This is almost twice the Aebi claim to fame, and it is an average from hundreds of colonies, not just one hive's unique production.) The beekeeper’s name was Bob Smith from Manjimup, Western Australia. The honey was Karri. The year was 1954.” Mr. Winner adds: “This figure is confirmed by R. Manning with a reference to a journal highlighting a box titled World Record in Honey in 1954."
Ormond wrote a book on his own That Sheep Big Minnie (2003) reminiscing about his time watching his family flock in the '60s. Ormond Aebi, whose last name meant 'bee' in some language, was a third generation beekeeper. An Oregon native, Ormond was a devout Christian and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. In 1950 the Aebis moved to Santa Cruz, California and lived in the Live Oak neighborhood, where they raised bees, sold honey from their front yard and built wooden beehives from the local redwood.
He was known to have enjoyed beekeeping all his life. In 1981, Mr. Aebi told the Santa Cruz Sentinel he knew his bees so well that, when out driving, his father would say, " "Ormond, isn’t that one of our bees?," and I’ll say, "No, I don’t think so," or "Yep, sure is."
Ormond told me a curious story that day though, which I'll retell just as he told it to me. Ormond was a character with very strong beliefs, beliefs that I don't happen to share, but he was earnest and sincere and his beliefs do make for a good story. So here it is.
He said that Jesus came to him in a dream one night and told him that if he wanted to increase the productivity of his hives that he should attach a wire to the queen excluders of his hives. Jesus was very specific about the length of the wire and Ormond carefully complied with Jesus' instructions.
For those who don't know, the queen excluder is a series of parallel wires placed closely together in a bee hive. It sits between the lower brood boxes and the upper supers, the boxes where the honey is stored. It functions to keep the queen from laying eggs in the boxes that contain the honey in them. She's too big to fit between the wires, but the worker bees can still come and go unimpeded.
So Ormond attaches the precisely measured wires to the queen excluders and waits. Sure enough, just as Jesus promised in the dream, the productivity of the hives increases significantly.
Ormond is a religious man, and so he doesn't think it is too surprising that Jesus' advice worked. He mentions his experience to his beekeeping friends, and word eventually reaches the biology department of Stanford University.
Stanford University finds it surprising, very surprising. They come to his home in Santa Cruz to investigate.
What the scientists eventually conclude is that somehow the wires that Ormond attached to his hives were acting as antennae, turning the hives into natural radios and piping in the local classical music radio station to the hives. The bees loved it. (KSCO AM 1080, if you're curious, it is now a right-wing talk radio station. I wonder what effect Rush Limbaugh would have on honey production.)
In his later years he was diagnosed with Diabetes, which did not seem to affect his health, but did contribute to his decision not to continue beekeeping when his swarms were destroyed by varroa mites. He worked as a part-time handyman at a daycare next door to his home for the last several years of his life, and continued to write to friends he made worldwide due to his books.
Addendum by someone who met Harry and Ormond Aebi in 1978 in Santa Cruz CA (Thomas Nathan Tully)
I moved to Santa Cruz CA from Maine in 1978. I rented the Aebi's earlier residence located at 1475 Eldorado Avenue in Santa Cruz CA. The house was in an area that allowed livestock and under a grandfather clause anyone who moved into that area could also have some farm animals as long as the previous home owners or renters had farm animals. If the property was ever without farm animals then the grandfathered clause would be terminated for that specific property. So I got 6 goats, a dozen hens, 4 rabbits and 3 ducks to add to the 3 bee hives that were onsight when I signed the rental agreement. These 3 hives were previously owned by the Aebis.
One day Ormond and dad Harry showed up and introduced themselves as previous owners and wanted to look in the barn for some specific beekeeping equipment they may have left behind when they moved. Ormond told me that he had moved to another location in the Live Oak community within a mile and did so by many treks with a wheel barrow. He also told me that the Lord Jesus had prompted him to move because he had his heart set on breaking the Guinness World Record for the most honey produced from one hive in one season. That feat was accomplished with 404 pounds of honey the following year after relocating. Ormond also told me that his ancestors were from Australia and his surname Aebi meant "Honey Bee".
I remembered seeing Ormond on TV as a child when broadcasts were only in black and white mode. He was demonstrating how to tend a bee hive. It was fascinating to me that I was actually talking to the same man who had a high pitched voice and still spoke caringly about his bees. It was about 15 years later and 3,000 miles from home for me.
Ormond told me that he would count the bees in each hive by placing about 5 narrow sticks on the landing board and counting the bees as they returned to the hive. He told me that their wings were smaller than what they should be because of the weight of pollen and nectar they would carry in flight. He said they would work until their wings got torn from the burden of weight they carried. He was saddened to see some bees on the ground below the landing board being consumed by ants.
Ormond had told me about his 1st book published in 1975, "The art and adventure of beekeeping". He also told me that he was writing a 2nd book in early 1979 which he would title "Honey is Money". However I see that the actual title became "Mastering the art of beekeeping" published later in 1979. Ormond was a good Christian man devoted to God first and devoted to his bees also. I am grateful to God for allowing me the opportunity to meet Harry and Ormond Aebi the extraordinary beekeepers!
- Aebi, Ormond; Aebi, Harry (1982). Mastering the Art of Beekeeping - Volume 1. Dorset, England: Prism Press. ISBN 0-907061-24-9.
- Aebi, Ormond; Aebi, Harry (1982). Mastering the Art of Beekeeping - Volume 2. Dorset, England: Prism Press. ISBN 0-907061-25-7.
- Bad Beekeeping, Ron Miksha, 2004, pp 59 and 251, Trafford Publishing
- Honey production from the Karri with Redgum & Jarrah, by R. Manning, Land Management Journal Vol 1 (5) P24-26, Fig 1, a table stating Smith’s crop in a box titled “World Record in Honey”.
- American Bee Journal, February 1960, published by Dadant & Sons
- Santa Cruz Sentinel, July 24, 2004, Obituaries