Beekeeper ispleased with resultas honey harvest season arrives

Two months after the Triplicate first visited Kees Oostra's beekeeping operation ("Sweet profits," July 3) this week he was reaping the fruits of his labor, a stream of thick, viscous honey.

"That's liquid gold," he said, holding a jar underneath a brand new honey extractor Tuesday.

Wearing a white jumpsuit and a veiled hat, Oostra visited his four hives at the north end of Elk Valley Road, shaking the bees loose and removing frames thick with waxy comb and oozing sweetness.

Oostra, who operates the Dutch Gardener with his wife Teri, said he harvested roughly 7 gallons of honey about two weeks ago from the hives he keeps in his barn at the nursery. He expected to get another 7 gallons from his Elk Valley Road hives and even more from the hives he keeps in Smith River.

"For me that is a good yield," Oostra said, referring to the honey he has harvested so far. "I didn't do all the hives yet. I might even get up to 20 gallons this year; I don't know."

Oostra looks after 20 hives, including the five in his barn, the four on Elk Valley Road and 11 in Smith River. At the nursery, he keeps his hives in the barn to avoid bears. The Elk Valley Road hives are surrounded by an electrified fence to keep out any marauders, including cows that may view the white wooden boxes as a good place to scratch an itch.

But the fence doesn't keep out other bees, which, Oostra says, will steal the honey back if given a chance. Once he had taken out nine frames, Oostra returned to the nursery to extract the honey from the comb. Even in a steamy greenhouse, shut off from the rest of the nursery, a handful of bees homed in on Oostra's harvest.

Oostra said the life of a honeybee hive can be pretty cutthroat, especially during the end of summer when they're preparing for winter. Many times a strong hive will invade another, kill the bees and take the honey, he said.

"It's a war," he said. "In the spring it's no problem, but later in the year when there's not much nectar they'll start robbing if they have a chance. They know winter is coming, and they want to get as many stores as they can get."

Inside the greenhouse, Oostra used an electric hot-knife to scrape the comb off the frames and into a box to allow them to drain. Many folks use the comb for lip balm and candles, he said. It's also edible.

Once Oostra had scraped off all the comb he could get, he placed six frames into the extractor, a metal drum that holds a frame basket, which spins, flinging the honey out. He uncapped a spigot at the bottom, filtering the stream of honey with cheesecloth to remove any leftover bits of wax.

"Some outfits, theyreally, really filter the honey. Super-filter it," Oostra said. "The little chunks in thehoney make it granulate faster, but I don't really care too much about that. It's all good for you."

Because of the dryer-than-normal conditions, Oostra said it has been a really good year. He has even added to one of his hives, providing a home for a small swarm that was found in the roof of US Bank last week.

The bees at US Bank likely had been there for three months, but because the bank had called an exterminator, Oostra said he thinks the queen was likely killed. So, using a low-powered vacuum, he collected the remaining worker bees and combined them with one of his own hives.

"I (did) the newspaper trick," he said. "I put a sheet of newspaper between the hives and they eat through it."

It usually takes about two days for the bees to eat through the newspaper barrier, Oostra said. By that time they're used to the smell of the newcomers.

Even though he's not a professional beekeeper, and the hobby can be pricey, Oostra said it can be a lot of fun.

"It's a challenge to keep the bees alive and make them do good," he said. "It's a challenge and I'm happy if I can pay for the hobby. If I play even or make a little on it, then it's fun."