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Forest Grove beekeeper won't have to give up hives

Council members allow Mike Standing to continue buzzing along with hobby


NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: TRAVIS LOOSE - Mike Standing uses smoldering grass clippings to smoke out bees from one hive so he can safely extract the honeycombs. Believing their hive to be on fire, the smoke causes the bees to vacate the box, taking their eggs and offspring with them into its lower recesses.Humans and animals aren’t always so different. Both work tremendously hard to protect themselves first — then often work together for the betterment of the whole.

On July 2 Mike Standing, who lives on Limpus Lane in Forest Grove, received a letter from the city informing him his back yard beehives would need to be removed by Aug. 3.

A neighbor citing concerns about Standing’s bees invading her back yard and drinking from her water fixture initiated the complaint to the city. Because Forest Grove has no hard and fast rules about non-commercial private beekeeping, the city’s community development director made the call for the hives to be removed based on the city’s commercial agriculture code.

According to state statutes, more than five hives are needed to constitute a commercial operation. Standing only has five.

So, much like a threatened honeybee, Standing called on his friends to help him protect his hives.

Standing called on the Oregon and Tualatin Valley beekeepers associations for support. He also got in touch with Raine Lee Ritalto, an outspoken bee advocate in Multnomah County.

Ritalto recently spearheaded the successful passage of an important piece of Oregon legislation that provides beekeepers and municipalities with a guidebook — created through the combined influence of representatives from Oregon State University, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and various beekeepers associations — for how to handle and monitor best-beekeeping practices.Honey bees are not aggressive and do not attack people like wasps and yellow jackets. Swatting at a honey bee makes them feel threatened and more likely to defend themselves with a sting.

“I was very surprised to hear [about] Mike’s issue with the city,” Ritalto said.

Because Standing’s hive setup is “optimal,” Ritalto said — meaning it could be held up as an example for other beekeepers — it gave her confidence that he knew what he was doing and bolstered her decision to speak up on his behalf.

“When Mike got notice,” Ritalto said, “he asked, ‘how can this house bill help me?’ “

Oregon House Bill 2653, authored by Rep. Chris Gorsek (D-Troutdale), currently awaits Gov. Kate Brown’s signature. While it doesn’t change or enforce any rules about beekeeping, it will educate city officials and beekeepers about how to fairly and respectfully deal with each other.

Different rules for beekeeping

Because there are different beekeeping codes and policies for every city in every county in Oregon, there isn’t any uniformity for how bees are kept or how conflicts are resolved when it comes to private beekeeping operations.Forest Grove resident Mike Standing holds an extracted honeycomb covered in worker bees. After removing the honeycomb trays, he places them in a machine and spins the honey free.

According to the ODA’s Rose Kachadoorian, a pesticide registration and certification leader, HB 2653 is designed to help fix many of those problems by setting a standard for coexistence.

“There’s a lot of beekeeping info out there,” Kachadoorian said. “Some of it’s good, some of it’s not so good. This bill creates a joint agreement to ensure consistency across the state.”

Citing that bill — and showing how important bees are to the environment by illustrating his beekeeping expertise — Standing and his friends made their case to the Forest Grove City Council last month.

A hobbyist beekeeper for 17 years, “I think I know what I’m doing with bees at this point,” Standing told the council July 13.

On July 30, just four days before the deadline to remove his bees, Standing reached out to James Reitz, Forest Grove’s senior planner.

Based on the opinions and testimony of Standing and his fellow beekeepers, Reitz said, “the council decided to drop the issue and take no further action.”

‘Honey goes a long way’

Since moving to Forest Grove from Massachusetts, where he also kept bees, Standing said he’s seen an increase in the number of people who do likewise.After a stinger-less drone (male) bee fell from the honeycomb beekeeper Mike Standing was extracting, he dutifully picked up the little guy and returned him to the hive.

He’s also happy to see how willing they are to stand up for each other — just like a hive. “Beekeeping is really big in Oregon,” Standing said. “Honey, pollination — all of it.”

And while he’s met many fellow beekeepers at association meetings, he knows there are plenty who aren’t registered with the state.

Standing said he’d like to see more beekeepers learn about how best to care for bees. At the very least, he encourages those who keep bees to speak with their neighbors about what they’re doing in an effort to foster mutually respectful relationships.

And, Standing said, it wouldn’t hurt to offer them a byproduct of their hobby. “Honey goes a long way.”

Concerns over bee stings

Standing enjoys his bees — which he calls his pets — and the fruits of their labor, gifting and trading the honey to friends and neighbors and only selling it occasionally for gas money.

He understands that much of the concern surrounding bees stems from potential stings. But he also knows that unlike wasps or yellow jackets, honeybees sting only as a last resort. Forest Grove beekeeper Mike Standing cuts the wax off a honeycomb before placing the plate into his electric extractor. After completing this process six times, he turns the machine on and watches the honey fly.

The worker honeybee — the only kind of honeybee capable of stinging — understands that if she stings, she’s going to die. Most folks only know that bees can sting, and when they do, it hurts.

Les Foltz, who lives behind Standing on Somera Drive, said his fear of getting stung would be cause for concern if he lived right next to the hives, but otherwise he thinks the pollination provided by honeybees is a good thing.

And Philippe Musquin and Anna Ronek, who live down the street from Foltz, said they probably would have a problem with a neighbor’s bees if they were being regularly harassed, but otherwise didn’t think it was an issue either.

“Bees are important to the ecosystem and the medical field,” Musquin said. “If we don’t have bees, we won’t be doing so well ... as long as they’re not swarming me, I don’t care.”

“We need bees,” Ronek added, pointing to the flowers and trees in her yard. “I’m more worried about speeders down my street than bees drinking out of my pool.”

Directly across the street from Standing, a neighbor who asked to remain anonymous said he noticed there were more bees around since Standing moved into the neighborhood a little over one year ago — and that it’s a good thing.

“We didn’t have many bees around here,” he said. “I had to do my own pollinating in the garden for awhile, but I don’t have to do that anymore.” As Standing spins honey from the honeycombs in his electric extractor, it oozes slowly into a bucket. After the process is complete and the bucket is fill, hell empty the filtered pure honey into jars to give to his friends or to sell for gas money.

He said his garden was doing much better this year than it had in the recent past, and mentioned his prized squash as being all the better for the work of Standing’s bees.

“You want to be a good steward to your bees,” Standing said. “You’ve gotta take care of ‘em. You get back what you put in.”