“It’s a hobby that pays off,” Babette Rose said about the beekeeping activities she and her husband, Russ, began five years ago. “We started in 2004 with six hives at our home on Ocean View Drive in Smith River, and today we have eight hives at the house, 10 hives at the blueberry farm and seven a little farther up the north bank.”
Beekeepers dressed in protective gear remove honeycombs from hive to extract honey. The Pilot/Marge Woodfin
The blueberry farm she referred to is the Winter Flowers Farm owned by their friends, Cheryl and Duane McKinney, approximately seven miles up the North Bank of the Chetco River, and the other property is a mile or so farther up.
When Babette added, “There are 20,000 to 40,000 bees to a hive,” the multiplication table began to ring up some serious numbers that indicate a lot of honey gathering activity this time of the year.
“We gathered more honey this year than ever,” Babette noted. “It just keeps growing. The demand is here and I run out of honey every year.”
Recently, the beekeepers and their friends were all suited up, collecting honey from that 10 hives on the McKinney’s farm, including removing frames of honeycomb and extracting the honey with an extractor. The frames of empty honeycomb will be returned to the bees to use again. “It saves the bees time,” Babette said, adding, “And they can make more honey.”
Beekeeping apparently provides more satisfaction than just the monetary rewards, however.
Babette explained how important the bees are to growing crops. She said about her friends who own the blueberry farm, “We feel good when they say they have much heavier crops with the bees around, but the biggest thing is talking to the kids.”
Babette and Russ, as part of KASPER (Kids After School Program of Education and Recreation), present programs at Kalmiopsis Elementary School to tell the children about bees and their importance to food production.
They hand out “Honey Bee Activity” coloring books that tell the story of honey production and the importance of the pollination the bees perform while gathering nectar to make the honey.
Amazing information in the coloring books includes, “The worker bee travels about 55,000 miles to gather enough nectar to produce one pound of honey,” and, “The distance the bees travel is equal to about 11 round trips from New York to San Francisco.”
Babette said, “We also talk to the fourth- and fifth-grade 4H Club at OSU (Oregon State University) extension office in Gold Beach.” She added, “That’s a wonderful program.”
Recent beekeeping news about CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder), is causing widespread concern about what the book, “Fruitless Fall,” calls the “coming agricultural crisis,” that may result from the disappearance of honey bee hives across the country.
Fortunately, CCD has not yet affected beekeeping in Northern California or Southern Oregon. Babette said, “We don’t have so much. We’re antibiotics and commercial miticide free.”
She paused, and added, “When we had the lily fields on the 84 acres across the street, we had some problems, but with the lily fields gone we have healthier bees that breed stronger.”
Both Babette and Russ were retired from the California prison system, when they took a course in beekeeping at Humboldt State University in 2004.that introduced them to the exciting world of apiculture, which they are happy to share with others.
Many of their hives were collected from homes where owners were not happy about an infestation of bees. “We extract bees from homes,” Babette said, adding a plea to homeowners who want to rid a home of bees, “Please don’t kill them. Call us. We don’t use a blower. We catch them all by hand, and we’ve collected 14 swarms just this season. We gave away half of them, and we have three apprentices working to learn beekeeping.”
The business continues to grow as hives split and new ones are collected.
Babette explained, “In winter, the queen is slowing down and they kick the males out. They swarm when they run out of places and they scout out a new.location. The scout finds the new location and half the hive follows her. The remaining half develops a new queen. They can lay a new queen, and becoming queen is determined by the way she is fed with protein and enzymes in royal jelly bee spit.
As the beekeeping grows, it’s a time consuming activity. “We check the hives at least once a week,” Babette said. “We spend an entire day extracting the honey from a hive, and then there’s the packaging and distribution.”
She said, “I do the packaging and labeling. I am a certified food handler. And there’s a great deal of risk,” she added, indicating the danger of being stung, which can be serious.
Obviously, for Babette and Russ it’s worth the time, effort, and danger to be able to help multiply the bee population that’s so necessary to keep the crops growing, help the environment, and make the world a little sweeter.
Their honey, sold commercially as My Honey’s Produce, can be purchased at the Brookings Natural Foods Store on Chetco Avenue, the Winchuck Nursery on Highway 101, and the Dicksons’ Community Supported Agriculture farm just north of the California border.