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Bzzz! Go the Bees

Beekeeping in Central Oregon

Kim Rivera left her job at St. Charles Medical Center to pursue a dream of full-time beekeeping. The owner of Backyard Bees of Bend started beekeeping seven years ago when a friend introduced her to a hive. She instantly fell in love with the smell of beeswax and honey. “The bees were so calm and beautiful to observe,” Rivera says. “After witnessing the intricate design of how they live and function, I knew I wanted to spend summers with my hands in the beehive.”

Rivera founded Backyard Bees of Bend in 2011 to follow her dream and to support other fledgling beekeepers. She specializes in hive inspection, maintenance and consultation, helping beekeepers to enable their hives to survive and resist disease.

Bees worldwide have been in peril in the last few years, a situation that may in part be fueling the interest in backyard beekeeping. Colony collapse disorder, as it is called, has become widespread, and is blamed for killing nearly half of the world’s bee population. CCD is poorly understood, but bee death can be traced to mites and parasites, unsustainable commercial practices and the use of pesticides.

Explains Rivera, “The Varroa and trachea mites are two parasites on bees that will affect the health of the hive, among other factors.” She recommends doing a lot of research about mites as well as the care and handling of bees before investing in a bee colony. “If you’re on top of things, your hive will probably survive. One trick to get them through the winter is good nutrition and knowing how to keep moisture out of the hive, in addition to proper hive location, in all sun if possible.”

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An Old Practice

Beekeeping on the high desert is a thriving industry backed by many committed individuals who are passionate about bees and their preservation. But the practice has thousands-year-old origins in hunter/gatherer cultures in the African forest, savanna and high mountain cliffs.

In September of 2007, thirty intact beehives were discovered by archaeologists in the ruins of Rebov, Israel. These ancient structures, dating back to the mid-10th century and made of straw and unbaked clay, were found in orderly rows of 100 hives, evidence of an advanced honey-producing beekeeping industry over 3000 years old.

Master Bee Keeper Steve Harris is another local carrying on that historic beekeeping legacy. He has been raising bees in Central Oregon for the past 47 years. A lifelong bee lover since the age of 12, Harris says, “Initially, becoming involved with bees centered around the interest and excitement of watching them work. Now it’s part of my life and something I love to do.”

Armed with the goal to increase the local bee population, Harris sees a changing trend in beekeeper motivation. He says, “The interest in beekeeping in Central Oregon has grown over the years, due in part to the fact that people are becoming more aware that without honey bees our food supply is threatened.” Bees play a clear role in pollination; many food crops will not make fruit unless they are cross-pollinated by two different varieties of bees.

Harris aims to educate beekeepers and interested individuals about the importance of bees, their preservation, and their keeping through classes he teaches through the Tumalo Bee Academy. “I encourage those who want to have bees to get some education on how to manage them properly,” he says.

The Academy hosts an open class every second Tuesday of the month, in which bee enthusiasts can join at any time with a punch card of $25. Other options include a full package of beekeeping supplies, including bees, a hive, class book, one class per month and free in-field classes throughout the year. All bees are raised locally and are acclimated to Central Oregon.

Backyard Bees of Bend also provides hives, bees, tools, medication and assistance for novice and professional beekeepers alike, including hive setup and management support.

And the Central Oregon Beekeeping Association (COBKA) promotes collaboration and education for local beekeepers, too.

Rivera loves her work, and has no regrets about leaving her former job to pursue a world of bees. “To me, bees allow the natural world to come to me because I live right in the city,” she says. “They’re a little piece of nature that are both wild and domestic at the same time.”

For more information
Backyard Bees of Bend
541-410-2666  •  backyardbeesofbend@yahoo.com

Tumalo Bee Academy  541-728-0088

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