Wondering where all the bees have gone? Looking for fresh local honey? Thinking you'd like to start your own backyard hives, or just want information of beekeeping? You can get that and more from real, live beekeepers at the monthly meetings of The Tillamook County Beekeepers Association. Our local “apiarists” (beekeepers) meet in Bay City, the second Tuesday of each month, 7:00 p.m. at ArtSpace, (corner of US 101 and Forth Street).
At a recent Tuesday evening meeting, nineteen people gathered including ArtSpace owners, Craig and Trisha Kaufman, also avid beekeepers.
Giving a brief history, Bob Allen, the Association's President said “the group began in 1977, after a beekeeping class at the college. When it ended several students decided to start a club and The Tillamook County Beekeepers Association was born. Later they became affiliated with the state organization, The Oregon State Beekeepers Association.”
Meetings are informal. A new couple interested in beekeeping introduced themselves, while another long-time couple who had developed an allergic reaction to stings (anaphylaxis) announced they were leaving. The husband described his wife’s recent, potentially fatal bee sting, a quick injection from an EpiPen (which contains epinephrine), and a high-speed trip to Tillamook County General Hospital Emergency Room that saved her life. EpiPen's are standard equipment, cautioned the couple, as visitors and newbie’s examined one being passed around.
Next the discussion turned to parasitic mites that are threatening bee colonies in Oregon and around the world. Domestic honeybees pollinate 80 percent of Oregon’s crops - fruit and nut trees, cucumbers, broccoli, onions, pumpkins, carrots - about 40 crops in all. The bee mite invasion has created what's called Colony Collapse Disorder, threatening the state’s yearly $400 million agriculture industry. Nationwide the figure jumps to $15 billion. Bee loss would be a global financial catastrophe, but more importantly could trigger worldwide starvation. Mites (several varieties), emerging viruses, inadequate food supplies, pesticides, plant engineering (GMO), pollution and resistance to traditional mitocides now imperil bees.
This evening’s mite focus was on external Varroa jacobsoni, a critter some members felt could be discouraged by sprinkling powered sugar over the bees in the hive. Using the sugar method, mites loose their grip, fall to the floor of the hive, and are removed. The Kaufmans favor this natural approach. Other members said they used commercial strips (mitocides) in their hives, choosing a more chemical approach. The natural versus commercial routes, along with some homemade creations are discussed at nearly every meeting. What ever works seems to be the philosophy here. A lot of the meeting operates on the “talk amongst your selves” format. There's catching up to do amongst these friends and fellow beekeepers.
Near the meeting's end, Allen answered the big question, ‘why do people get into beekeeping?’ You'd think most people get into beekeeping for the honey, but Allen says no. “People look around their place and they don't see any honeybees. If you get into it because you want a bunch of honey it's probably not going to happen. You get in it because you like working with the bees.”
Later, at his Garibaldi home, standing by two backyard hives, Allen explained a big part of the commercial bee business is not just honey production, but moving hives around (hives numbering in the hundreds) from field to field to pollinate crops. “They start out with almonds down in Northern California - January, February and March, then they pick up the fruit trees, Hood River, Southern Oregon, and Washington. When that's over they begin pollinating different vegetable crops that come on after that. Commercial operations that spray insecticides and weed killers need to use chemicals that won't hurt bees. When they spray they're supposed to notify the beekeepers, so they can remove the hives, but often they don't. “Lot of times they just spray, they don't care,” says Bob.
This year and last year were not good for local honey production, noted Allen, who recently had 300 hives in the nearby countryside torn up by seven bears. “I was left with 150 hives.” In spite the challenges, Alan has no intention of giving up bees. In addition to beekeeping Allen is also a Master Gardener.
Terry Fullan, another local beekeeper, shared thoughts on beekeeping from his Nehalem area home.
Fullan's beekeeping adventure began fifteen years ago, with a non-producing apple tree in his yard. “It's loaded with fruit, but when I got here it wasn't. Very few bees, no pollination.” He got some bees and started researching and buying books on beekeeping.
Moving to a bookcase with over a hundred volumes, Fullan began pulling out some favorites. “Following the Bloom, gives people an idea what commercial beekeeping is like; “The Hive and the Honeybee, is by Eva Krane, she was given a beehive as wedding present. She was a physicist and she went on a lifelong quest for the origin of beekeeping. Honeybees aren't native to America. They arrived on the Mayflower. The Indians called them the white man’s fly.”
Holding up Nectar and Pollen Plants of Oregon, begged the question what's for dinner - if you’re a bee. “Well, by summer’s end they're on the tail end of dandelions, thistles and knotweed,” said Fullan. “By late August the season is winding down for them. The queen is laying fewer eggs. By the first week of October the queen starts throwing out a lot of the males.” Maybe fifty percent of the male population is ejected from the hive as winter approaches. “The female worker bees gather the pollen and nectar, the queen lays the eggs. This is a matriarchal world.”
On the property there are enough hives to supply his home operation. Fullan's honey extraction and candle making are done in a small processing plant around the corner from the house. The place is well ordered and amazingly clean, considering the sticky, resinous nature of honey. Several batches of honey, each with its own flavor, await processing in a barrel-shaped centrifuge that spins honey out of frames at up to 100 rpm’s. Later the remaining wax is poured into candle molds. Fullan, a carpenter, with his partner, graphic designer Lorraine Ortiz, sell honey and candles at local farmer's markets.
In addition to selling honey and candles, Fullan takes his hives around to pollinate area crops. Costs for this service have risen everywhere as bee die-off continues, both he and Allen agree. Fullan spoke passionately about education. “We're the ninth state in the U.S. to have a master beekeeping program. It's at Oregon State University and it's available to anyone in Tillamook County right now. I'm a mentor, Bob Allen's a mentor. It's a great program with all kinds of educational opportunities. OSU and the Oregon State Beekeepers Association run it. The Tillamook group is a charter member. Right now there's a huge grant available, there's money for training, it’s a great time for people to enter beekeeping. Bob Allen is a Master Gardner. We really need to encourage pollinators like him to get into that program and start spreading information.”
Late September, and bee activity is winding down. In the backyard of their historic Bay City home Craig Kaufman dons a protective beekeepers outfit, and lifts a honeycomb frame from one of ten hives. The honey-filled frames are covered with a protective substance called propolis. “Honey and wax is amazing enough,” says Trisha Kaufman, the other half the couple’s bee operation, “but they also make this amazing stuff, propolis.”
Propolis is an antibiotic substance that covers the hexagonal wax honeycomb cells and prevents bacteria from getting inside the hive. A folk remedy for centuries, Trisha says that used on the skin, propolis is good for “burns, inflammations and scalds,” and taken internally it “strengthens your immune system.”
Bob Allen gave the Kaufman's their first bees a few years ago. Back across the street at “ArtSpace” Craig prepares to spin a frame. Last year they bottled up eighty pounds of honey. The Kaufman's don't use chemical pesticides in their operation. Trisha summarized their approach to beekeeping, “We just let bees be bees.”