Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

Business

September 3, 2013

Interest in beekeeping declining

ENID, Okla. — Set along a small creek inside a stand of trees, Richard Folger’s beehives are buzzing in the evening heat.

The eight-or-so hives — there are another few nearby that belong to a friend just getting into beekeeping — all feature Folger’s name and address, as well as his cellphone number.

“You do that so if someone sprays, they can call and tell you to move your bees,” he said. “If someone sprays, you have to move five miles away.”

For decades, Folger has been involved in beekeeping, or apiculture. He calls himself a “hobbyist” as far as beekeeping is concerned, keeping fewer than 10 hives.

“I really enjoy working with the bees,” Folger said. “There’s not a whole of money in it. You have to enjoy it.”

That might be one of the reasons there are fewer beekeepers these days, and, in turn, less honey.

Fewer hobbyists

Northwest Oklahoma Beekeepers Association President Jimmy Schobert said there aren’t a lot of beekeepers left in northwest Oklahoma.

“The deal is, a lot of the older beekeepers are getting out of the business,” he said. “The younger people aren’t wanting to get into it.”

He also said some people just don’t want to deal with the business end of a bee.

“Most people are afraid of bees,” he said, noting you can use smoke to calm bees. “If you see a bee in your yard, he’s not going to bother you, because he’s looking for some nectar or pollen.”

Schobert said about 20 beekeepers regularly attend NWOBA meetings and he figures there are others out there with just a few hives in their yards.

Thanks to a law passed year, smaller producers are able to sell their honey at farmers markets or craft shows.

Folger, who produces his own honey, said the USDA came up with “a pretty good rule.”

“We still can’t sell it to grocery stores, but we can sell it individually,” Folger said.

Oklahoma honeys are sold in local grocery stores, but only larger operations are able to sell to stores across the state.

Keeping bees

Schobert, who keeps about 55 hives of bees, said more and more people are aware of the problem of bees disappearing.

“A lot of people are becoming more aware of it,” he said. “If we lose these bees, we’re going to be in trouble.”

Bees face environmental challenges, pesticides and parasites. Some speculated genetically modified foods are to blame for bees dying off. Others blame a condition commonly referred to as “colony collapse disorder” for large die-offs of bees.

Schobert said he believes the last few years of drought have caused a lot of the disappearance of bees.

“A couple of years ago, I lost 40 hives of bees in one summer,” he said. “A lot of that was due to the drought. I’m hoping the drought will let up one of these days so we can produce more honey.

Schobert said in the first few years of 2000, he was getting an average of 200 pounds of honey per hive a year. But because of the drought, he’s averaging 60 to 75 pounds per hive. He said the amount of honey is dependent upon weather.

“It just depends on the moisture we get, because that’s what makes the nectar,” he said. “The drought really hurt.” We lost a lot of trees and the trees don’t put out the good pollen like they used to.”

Varroa mites, also known as vampire mites, also plague beekeepers.

Folger said he believes mites are responsible for what many call colony collapse disorder.

“I think there might be a little confusion with the mites milling them off,” he said. “Those little mites are smaller than a pinhead and gets on the bees. It just weakens them so much. It just wipes you out if you don’t try to control them.

“That’s just my opinion.”

Folger said beekeepers need to ensure their hives have enough room to grow, or the bees will leave the hive for better conditions.

“You just got to give them enough room,” he said. “If you don’t, they split themselves and swarm and leave and probably go to someone’s house, or attic or something.”

Show me the honey

Schobert, who is retired from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, said he got into beekeeping in 1988 for a good reason: “I enjoy the honey. Honey is good for you.”

Schobert said the all-natural sweet syrup is good for those with allergies and can last indefinitely if stored properly.

“All real honey, if it hasn’t been overheated, will turn to sugar,” He said. “Honey is the only food that will never spoil.”

He said the sugary stuff can granulate, and if it does, don’t put it in the microwave.

“I recommend putting it in a pan of hot water or in a pint or quart jar, put the lid on it and put it in the dishwasher and it will liquid up on you,” he said.

The honey Schobert produces is considered raw honey, because he only heats it to 120 degrees so he can strain it. If honey is heated to 160 degrees or above, it kills the enzymes in the honey.

He said the color and flavor profile also can be changed, depending on where the bees get their pollen.

“You’ve got to put them where the flowers are,” he said. “What’s been really tough on the bees is finding enough flowers for the bees so they can survive.”

He said most beekeepers have moved their hives to irrigated crops and fields.

“I move my bees to canola fields if I can,” he said. “Bees make good honey on it.”

Although canola is self-pollinating crop, Schobert said the bees do help with pollination by flying from flower to flower. He said 12,000 to 15,000 hives come to Oklahoma from the almond plantations out west for the canola. Then the hives are taken to North and South Dakota to feed on clover fields.

“They are getting a few more fields of sesame around,” Schobert said. “Out west, I’ve got some bees on sunflower.”

However mutually beneficial, Schobert said beekeepers need to communicate with farmers.

“You’ve got to be really careful and talk to landowners,” he said.

Enid Farmers Market Director Corey Groendyke said there  always is a strong demand for honey.

“There are people with allergies and it just being a natural sweetener, there is always more demand then supply,” she said. “For responsible beekeepers who actually provide local honey, there’s always a waiting list.”

Fall meeting

NWOBA will have its next meeting Sept. 21 in at the Fairview Police Department/City Hall conference room in Fairview. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. and the meeting begins between 9 and 9:30 a.m. The meeting goes until 1 or 2 p.m.

The meting is open to the public and anyone interested in beekeeping is invited to attend.

“We talk about bees and everyone will present about how their bees are doing and how many hives they have,” Schobert said.

He said they asked people to bring door prizes and items for the their honey bake sale.

A single person can join the club for $5 a year, or $10 a year for an entire family. If over the age of 75, you don’t have to pay for anything and are a member for life.

Schobert said they try to have speakers at each meeting. For example, one year, a man spoke about using honey to make mead.

“Anybody that wants to, they can some and listen to it,” Schobert said.

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