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Raleigh Hills man takes the sting out of beekeeping

(Jennifer Priest Mitchell is a writer who lives in Beaverton. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

Romans used honey, rather than gold, to pay their taxes. Steve Potter of Beaverton may wish our current government allowed for such payment, since his backyard beekeeping hobby yielded 5 gallons of honey this past autumn. One of many small-time beekeepers in the U. S. today, Potter is a busy father of two, a husband and a graphic designer, but about five years ago he took up beekeeping and has found great joy in the experience.

'A friend of mine from church had me over. He kept bees and showed me his hives and told me about his hobby. Michael Stanley is his name and he is the one who really helped me get started. I wasn't looking to become a beekeeper and still don't really even think of myself as a beekeeper, though I guess I am. It wasn't some childhood dream or fascination of mine. I was no more into bugs than any other boy, I guess. But now, as an adult, I just have been really amazed by and interested in the bees.'

He went on to explain, 'It is not a really difficult hobby. The bees pretty much take care of themselves. I have two hives and usually I just lose one of them over the winter and have to buy new bees in the spring, but this year I actually lost both hives.'

Potter's experience with the loss of his bees this winter is consistent with what is happening across he country and, actually, throughout the world. Honeybees are dying off in great numbers, and while scientists are pouring a great deal of effort into discovering why so they can perhaps alleviate the problem, no one has yet pinpointed a reason. But, as sure as tax day, the rain and the spring flowers that came this month, so did Potter's new bees. He buys all of his supplies from a local, family-owned shop that has been doing this 'forever,' as Potter says, and he enjoys giving them his business.

He enjoys sharing his bees, his hobby and his honey with neighbors, friends, and school children who are peers of his own kids in Beaverton.

'Everyone seems pretty interested in it, and the bees are really intriguing to watch,' he replied when I asked whether he gets many questions or visitors to his hives. He laughed a little and shared that his children have been stung a few times, but that is all in the past. 'The kids love it. The bees are really amazing.'

Potter takes great joy in sharing with other bee-lovers that each hive has its own queen, and a total of 25,000 bees. He said that when he gets his new hives, the queen for each box must actually stay in a separate container until she is ready to enter the hive - for her own safety. The queen can live for up to 5 years, but most bees only live for about 6 weeks.

'My gardening neighbors appreciate the bees because everything in this area is really well-pollinated,' he said of his Raleigh Hills home. 'The plum trees, the apples, the berries - everything grows really well and we have to believe that is due, at least in some part, to the fact that several of us in the area keep bees. In fact, in the fall we gather together to harvest the honey. It is a messy job, and it can be a big job, but it is fun to rotate whose garage we will go to and harvest our bees' honey in the fall.'

Potter's daughters Lily, age 6, and Grace, age 8, help at various points along the way with the beekeeping, harvesting, and of course with jarring honey and presenting it to friends and family as holiday gifts. He said that August or September is the harvest time and he enjoys swapping stories and sharing this chore with his fellow beekeepers. 'There is a real magic to watching the bees work together, and how they communicate and how they actually do their dance to tell the other bees where to feed. It is just really neat to know that I am a part of all that.'

A native of Iowa, Potter enjoys taking his daughters back to the area where he and his wife are from, but he did reveal, 'We just love Oregon. After my wife got her degree, we could have gone just about anywhere and we chose Oregon. There is little humidity and few bugs here, the winters are really mild, and the area is so lush. We also really love the diversity of the nature here - the ocean, mountains, high desert and the forests are all so close. We like visiting other places, but we love coming home to Portland.'