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Firefighter Troy Bany keeps the honey flowing as a master beekeeper

by: REVIEW PHOTOS: CLIFF NEWELL - Troy Bany checks out how his bees are doing on a Friday morning at his farm in West Linn.To bee or not to bee?

That’s the question Troy Bany faced when his wife Gina gave him an unusual Christmas gift six years ago — two bee hives. Now the Lake Oswego firefighter has five thriving colonies on his West Linn farm, producing a couple hundred pounds of honey a year.

On Tuesday, he’ll share his beekeeping journey — stings and all — in a class at the Lake Oswego Public Library. “Introduction to Urban Beekeeping,” which starts at 7 p.m., will include a look at beekeeping tools and equipment, honey bee biology and the local regulations aspiring beekeepers need to know. A frame filled with 3,000 bees is an object of fascination for Bany. This is cool, he says.

“There’s a huge learning curve,” said Bany, who runs a small hobby farm on the banks of the Tualatin River. “When I started, I had no experience whatsoever.”

But Bany did have lots of room on his farm to hide the hives his wife gave him — and he was intrigued.

“I thought they might be good for pollination,” he said. “But I had no idea of how to find them, feed them or take care of them. I went on the Oregon State University website to take classes and I signed up for the Oregon Master Beekeeper Program. It was extremely interesting. No one knows everything about honeybees.”

With a couple of beekeeping diplomas under his arm, Bany thought he was ready to give it a go as a beekeeper. He was not.

“I ordered two huge bee colonies in January,” Bany said. “By December they were all gone. Varro mites got them. I feel guilty that I did two bee colonies a total disservice.”

In his second year of beekeeping, Bany only obtained one colony, but his bees couldn’t make it through the winter. Once again he was left with no bees, no honey, no nothing.

But good beekeeping fortune was finally ready to smile upon him.

“In the third year, bingo,” Bany said. I got a honey crop and the bees made it through the winter. I got rid of the mites and I kept the bees fat and happy. I found beekeeping was not a matter of just putting a couple of boxes in a yard. When the nectar starts flowing, you let them do their own thing. I found that bees can teach you a lot.”A closeup of a honeycomb gives a view of the honey and wax produced by honeybees. Banys bees produce 200 pounds of fresh honey every year.

One of Bany’s lessons came when he moved all of the honey from his beehives into his garage, with the idea of putting it in small containers. He should have consulted the bees.

“The bees came and put back every last bit of honey into their hives,” Bany said.

With the bees as his best teacher, Bany started winterizing his bee hives, making sure the colonies were smaller and observing with much interest as the colony kicked out the drones.

“It was a mass divorce,” Bany said.

Now, Bany is surprised to find himself in the role of being the expert instead of the struggler, and his presentation at the library will be the first he has ever done. But Bany really does have a lot of wisdom about how to take care of bees.

“I can’t stress how important it is to get rid of the Varro mites,” said Bany. “In a close examination, you can see a mite sitting on a bee like a dog sitting on the shoulders of a human being. I’ll tell people how I failed.”

Any new beekeeper must be ready for failure at the beginning, Bany said. “A lot of times you have to see and experience a bee colony,” he said, “because until that happens, your knowledge doesn’t make sense.”

Bany’s colonies now produce a couple hundred pounds of delicious, nutritious honey a year. Bany does not filter and heat his honey; it looks cloudy, not like the clear, golden honey people buy in stores. But heating removes the nutritional value of honey, Bany said, while his product has the full, healthy impact of real honey.

Bany does not sell any of his honey. He gives it away, and the lucky recipients give it rave reviews.Troy Bany now wants to help Lake Oswego and West Linn residents discover their inner beekeeper.

“Now it’s just for friends and family,” Bany said. “It’s just a hobby. I don’t take it to any farmers markets.”

But that may change.

“There is a huge honey shortage in the U.S. right now,” he said.

Because of that, he encourages people to follow through on their bee ambitions, because this area is very bee friendly.

“The City of Lake Oswego and the City of Portland have embraced beekeeping,” Bany said, “where other cities have frowned on beekeeping. You can be a good steward to the bee and a good steward to the neighborhood. There’s a way to do it.”

The Lake Oswego Public Library is located at 706 Fourth Street. For more information, call reference librarian Alicia Yokoyama at 503 534-4228.

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