Keeping honeybees can be a rewarding hobby, but it takes preparation

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Elizabeth Mathiesen of Forest Grove has been beekeeping since 2005. She expanded the bees hive after her first inspection this spring.Good things come in small packages.

If this old adage ever proved true, it’s in the case of honeybees.

These little critters are essential for crop pollination, and the health benefits of their honey and other byproducts are creating a buzz in western Washington County.

Jerry Maasdam of Hillsboro has been keeping bees since 2006, and has seen interest in the hobby increase dramatically. Maasdam, a retired teacher and treasurer of the Tualatin Valley Beekeepers Association, shares his love for backyard beekeeping with beginners and veterans alike.

Maasdam enjoys bees because of their role in the local agricultural system (many crops and flowers rely on bees for fertilization during pollination) and because they’re fascinating to watch. He sees the result of all their hard work — including wax and sweet honey — as added benefits.

“The most important thing about beekeeping is the pollination they provide,” Maasdam insists, adding he has seen improved pollination in his fruit trees since he’s started keeping bees.

Before buying bees, however, it’s important to do your homework. Even with all his experience and careful keeping, Maasdam’s honeybees died in seven out of his nine hives since last summer.

Colony deaths and struggles go hand-in-hand with beekeeping, but that’s part of the reason it’s so important. Honeybees have been fighting several hardships in recent years, including Sudden Colony Collapse Disorder and mite infestations, making careful keepers saviors for the struggling honeybee NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Mathiesen finds bee behavior and their roles in the hive fascinating. She also enjoys just watching them work.

“There are not that many people raising queens, and bees need queens to survive,” says Maasdam, who believes backyard beekeepers can play a large role in increasing a healthy bee population.

Maasdam has met several keepers who try beekeeping for one season and give up. Read, talk to beekeepers and take classes to find out if beekeeping is right for you, he says. Not only is it a personal and financial investment, but a keeper is largely responsible for the health and lives of the creatures in their hives.

Before taking the plunge, consider:

n Money matters: Maasdam says the hundreds of dollars it can take to start beekeeping scares many a newcomer off, but many of those purchases are one-time investments. Pricing out materials from different sources can save money, and only once you start beekeeping will you learn exactly what you need. Some equipment — such as a hive with frames and top and bottom boards, a hat with a veil, gloves, a standard hive tool and a smoker — are essential to beekeeping. Other items are for convenience or aesthetics, but not vital. Maasdam harvests enough honey to sell at Hillsboro and Forest Grove farmers markets and to friends, but estimates he’s about broken even.

n Time commitment: Although hives can be left alone for weeks at a time, it’s important to consider planning, maintenance and harvest time.

n Convenience: Set your hives up in a place where you can get to them easily. Maasdam placed his hives centrally in large fields during his first years.

“It took me all day to check five hives,” he said.

n Group effort: Maasdam recommends joining a beekeeping group or club and getting to know other beekeepers so you can learn from others and discuss and compare what’s happening in your hives.

n Your neighbors: Currently, the City of Forest Grove has no rules about keeping bees inside the city limits, but if you live in an urban area, some of your neighbors may be concerned when you mention you’re keeping bees. Honeybees, however, are not the aggressive stingers many people confuse with yellowjackets, which are actually wasps.

“Honeybees rarely sting,” Maasdam says. “Honeybees die if they sting you, and they know that.”

Maasdam suggests handing some honey over the fence to supportive neighbors.

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