Sam Peone | August 31, 2022
Beekeeping In Chewelah.
Call me Winnie the Pooh because I can’t get enough of the stuff.
In a cup of tea, in a savory meal, or in a sweet, sweet cake, this delicious ingredient elevates most any dish. It comes in different colors, flavors, and consistencies.
If you’re like me, you’ve thought about beekeeping before. What does it take to keep bees in the Stevens County area?
Is it as easy as catching a swarm and sticking it in a hole in a tree? Do I need to grab Christopher Robin to distract the bees for me while I steal their honey?
Well, it turns out the answer to all of those questions is the same: proper beekeeping takes a lot of knowledge and research.
To learn more about the craft, I spoke with Christal Gillo, owner and operator of Colville-based Hunting Bee Apiary LLC. Gillo’s apiary currently has 25 beehives, and she has never lost a colony. That made her the perfect person to talk to about keeping those fuzzy, buzzing purveyors of liquid gold alive, healthy, and happy.
Before acquiring bees, Gillo says it’s important for prospective keepers to research and learn as much as possible.
“It is very challenging, and they need as many classes as possible in order to keep (the bees) alive,” she says.
People can access beekeeping courses, information, and resources online, through local entities such as the Washington State Beekeepers Association, and through other avenues, she says. She also has a blog where she discusses beekeeping throughout the different seasons, overwintering bees, threats to honey bees, and other related material.
Many beekeepers lose their hives in their first year, she says. Culprits are typically varroa mites or moisture problems within the hive.
Varroa mites arrived in the U.S. in the 1980s. They latch onto bees, suck on their fat, and transmit more than 20 different diseases, she says. It’s important for beekeepers to treat their hives for varroa mites.
“You have to treat your bees, and you have to care for them as you would any other agricultural animal,” says Gillo.
There are many different types of treatments for varroa mites. “It just depends on what’s best for your family,” she says.
Aside from varroa mites, other animals are attracted to bees as well. “We are being terrorized by a bear right now,” says Gillo. Indeed, bears do love bees. Unlike Winnie the Pooh, however, Gillo says real bears will lick the hives to try and eat bee larvae, a source of protein.
Gillo recommends fencing around hives, which is what her apiary has. If that doesn’t work, electric fencing is also an option, she says.
Additionally, she suggests getting animals to help deter predators. “I have dogs, and they protect our property,” she says. She also keeps mouse guards on her hives to protect from rodents. If potential predators don’t scare you away from beekeeping, then there’s some equipment for raising bees that you should check out as well.
According to The Beekeeper’s Bible by Richard A. Jones and Sharon Sweeney-Lynch, some basic equipment includes: a smoker, a hive tool, a bee box, and—of course—the beehives.
Aptly named, a smoker emits smoke, calming bees during hive inspections or similar tasks. A hive tool is important for several different jobs. It can separate different boxes within man made beehives, move “frames” within the bee hives, and scrape off wax and other bee products. A bee box, akin to a fisherman’s tackle box, is an easy-to-move container for beekeepers to keep their equipment in, according to Jones and Sweeney-Lynch.
As for the hives themselves, there are several different types. The most common in the U.S. is the Langstroth hive, invented by Rev. L.L. Langstroth. A quick online search shows many Langstroth hives you can purchase are made of wood, but they come in other materials as well. Essentially, the hives look like standalone filing cabinets. They consist of multiple compartments that are intended to have different uses. For example, one compartment in the hive highlighted in the The Beekeeper’s Bible is the “brood box,” which is where the queen resides and lays eggs. Gillo uses 10-frame Langstroth hives in her apiary, she says. She doesn’t recommend any particular brand or hive type—it all comes down to personal preference, she says.
Overall, getting started in beekeeping costs about $1,000, she says. That figure includes purchasing honey bees. She recommends buying bees in January and February because they’re typically cheaper at that time of year. The bees are picked up in May. There are a handful of places you can purchase bees, including her apiary, she says. Gillo makes and sells nucleus colonies, also known as “nucs,” which are already established bees a beekeeper can transfer to his or her hive.
Beekeepers can also purchase packages, which are bees that aren’t established yet. Choosing between a nuc or a package comes down to personal preference, she says. As livestock, honey bees can provide beeswax, honey, royal jelly, propolis, and pollen, says Grillo.
Although many know what beeswax, honey, and pollen are, one might not be as familiar with royal jelly or propolis. Gillo says royal jelly is secreted by bees and fed to their very young and the queen. Propolis is formed from bee enzymes and tree sap. It has antimicrobial and antibacterial products and is a “superfood” for humans. As an added bonus, keeping honey bees can help pollinate your garden; however, honeybees aren’t your only backyard pollinators.
Gillo says mason bees pollinate much better than honeybees do. Planting vegetation that attracts those pollinators for them is more effective than trying to attract honeybees. According to the website of Centralia, Wash.-based Lewis County Beekeepers’ Association, mason bees are “super pollinators.” For example, six mason bees can pollinate an entire fruit tree, a feat that would take about 10,000 honeybees!
Whether you want to pollinate your garden, harvest honey or other products, or just care for a colony of bees, it’s imperative to learn more before buying a nuc or package. Additionally, laws around beekeeping vary depending on where you live, and you should always be mindful of your neighbors.
After deep diving into the world of bees, I’ve decided that beekeeping is still something I’m going to do at my Stevens County home. If the bears, mice, and mites have made you think twice about keeping bees, creating a space for mason bees could be an option for you. Regardless of your decision, you can find locally-sourced honey, beeswax, and other bee-made products at your nearest farmers market. After you try local honey, you might never go back!
Hunting Bee Apiary can be found at the Fairwood Farmers Market, Tuesdays from 3 to 7 p.m; and the Chewelah Farmers Market, Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., along with other shows and events throughout the region.
Established four years ago, Gillo’s apiary sells beeswax products, including lotions, lip balms, salves, and candles. For more information, visit huntingbeeapiary.com
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