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Ron Stark's enthusiasm for honey, bees is contagious

Beekeeper is a popular fixture at farmers markets

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Beekeeper Ron Stark who runs T Bee S, a bee pollination company in Sherwood, holds a frame from his beehive located at Rowell Brothers Berry Farm in Scholls. Photo by Jaime Valdez When Ron Stark talks enthusiastically about bees, it’s not just because the Sherwood-area beekeeper and honey producer knows a thing or two about the insects — it’s because he’s truly passionate about spreading the word about the creatures.

And while not quite a melittologist (a person whose profession is the study of bees), he knows enough to keep customers at area farmers’ markets interested and entertained.

Stark runs T Bee S, a bee pollination company located on Stark Road in Sherwood, a road named for his grandfather, Harold Stark. His efforts — including several different flavors of honey — will be prominently displayed and on sale at Saturday’s Beaverton Farmers Market under his father’s business endeavor, The Honey Pit.

T Bee S features 60 hives of swarming honey bees at Rowell Brothers Berry Farm at the intersection of Scholls-Sherwood and Scholls Ferry roads. There, the insects are currently helping pollenate blueberries, boysenberries and raspberries. Multiply 60,000 of the yellow and black occupants in each hive and you have 3.6 million busy insects working to ensure farmers’ crops are more abundant.TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Beekeeper Ron Stark who runs T Bee S, a bee pollination company in Sherwood, stands with his crew at his beehive located at Rowell Brothers Berry Farm in Scholls.

“Without us, they probably would get half (as much) fruit,” Stark said of farmers who don’t use bees to pollenate their berries or crops. “Then the fruit’s smaller. It’s not nearly as subtle.”

For the last 10 years, Stark, who graduated from Sherwood High School in 1989, has run T Bee S, along with fellow Sherwood High graduate and business partner Woody Taylor, who attends to his part of the business from his Wyoming home.

“We make a living pollenating crops,” said Stark. “The wild bees basically all died off.”

Stark uses Caucasian honey bees, which hail from the high valleys of the Central Caucasus region of Russia.

On an average year, Stark will send about 500 hives to Wyoming in the summer where Taylor places them with farmers hoping to aid in a variety of crops in that state. He keeps another 200 or so hives in the area in order to aid such agricultural uses as late-blooming flowers or pumpkins.

When not hauling bees to California and Wyoming, Stark also helps run the family’s honey bee/honey operation, The Honey Pit, located on Stark Road and run by his father Steve.

Stark has about 10 independent contract employees who help him maintain the hives, as well as bottling and selling the honey.

That includes Stark’s son Ross who helps out with the family business, including construction of the familiar white wooden hives that can often be seen dotting local farmers’ fields. Over the years, Ross Stark has become highly proficient at cranking out the structures.

“I’ve probably made about 50 of those things in three hours,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ron Stark said the passion he feels for honey and beekeeping differentiates him from others who are only interested in selling honey.

That comes, he said, because: “We’re the ones actually with the bees, producing honey.”

To extract the honey from each hive, the honey frames are spun down in a centrifuge. An average frame produces about 10 pounds of honey with a box often yielding 90 pounds of the liquid gold, making for a lucrative business where demand for bee pollination has also grown rapidly over the years, said Stark.

“We can’t keep up,” he said. “It’s become extremely popular.”

Still, he said there are threats to the bees, most frequently in the form of mites, which Stark said multiply at a rate of eight times per week and attach themselves to the bee larvae.

“It’s just like a vampire ... sucking the bee dry,” he pointed out.

Stark combats the problem by applying natural oils, such as peppermint, spearmint or mineral to control infestations, though sometimes he has to resort to commercial products if the infestation is too great.

Stark said the taste of his bees’ honey is dependent on what types of flowers they’ve been pollenating.

“People think honey is just one taste ... and it’s just not,” said Stark.

That means tastes can range from a marshmallow flavor (meadowfoam honey) to a blueberry flavor (blueberry honey). Another popular flavor The Honey Pit produces is “mystery honey,” created by moving hives from field to field throughout the season with the honey frame only extracted at the end of the season.

Throughout the honey-producing season, Stark and his employees will hit more than 20 area farmers’ markets including Saturday’s Beaverton Farmers Market. Although Stark will be MIA this week — he’ll be on his honeymoon — he’ll have representatives present selling The Honey Pit products.

Back at Rowell Bros. Berry Farm, Stark doesn’t forget about his hardworking insects, pulling out a honey frame and examining it closely. He’s happy with their output

“Good job, ladies,” he said.