A beekeeper’s trip to Corvallis

During the abyss of grade school, through mind-numbing months of long division, spelling, and the names of planets, I scrooched at my desk and stared at a yellowing wall map of the United States. Far to the left, one place captured my imagination and beckoned me to it.

While the scent of brown-bagged peanut butter teased by stomach, the shape of that far-away state fueled my dreams. Perhaps it was the name, or the tales of pioneers, or the stories of a valley so fertile it could grow any crop. It was a mystical, magical, Jack-and-the-beanstalk kind of place.

Oregon. The word was music and I said it aloud. Oregon. So while my friends were off California dreamin’, my imagination was north in that great fertile valley caressed by the Willamette.

From those early fantasies, the dream of Oregon persisted. I ended up living there for a time and graduated from OSU, but my fascination never waned. Work, family, and opportunity eventually led me elsewhere, but my heart still lives in the Willamette Valley.

So last fall when I got an invitation to visit a beekeeper in Eugene, I jumped at the chance. It had been years since I’d been to Oregon and the thought of traveling back through the valley was irresistible. I added the trip to the front end of a busy summer.

Fate has a way of rearranging our plans and, as it turned out, my Eugene contact cancelled. But by then I was determined to visit my favorite place. I hadn’t yet decided how to proceed when I happened to answer a beekeeping question from an “oregonstate.edu” e-mail address. I remembered the name from previous exchanges so, on a whim, I asked if I could stop by for a visit.

The beekeeper, Mark Luterra, not only sent back a welcome but accompanied it with a list of everyone he thought I should visit while in Corvallis. It was a mother lode of names, contact information, websites, and phone numbers. I could not believe my good fortune.

I contacted everyone on the list, and within a few hours I had a five-day schedule of people, places, and events. During my brief stay, I met Karessa Torgerson of Nectar Bee Supply and attended her “Understanding Swarms” class where I met more beekeepers. I was invited to the home of Linda Zielinski, president of the Lynn-Benton Beekeeper’s Association, where we gathered around a cozy outdoor fireplace and “talked bee” over red wine, tasty food, and the fragrant tang of burning wood. During the evening, Karessa and another beekeeper, Greg Long, became interested in hearing about prison beekeeping and are now pursuing plans of their own. And I was honored to meet Amanda, an enchanting teenage beekeeper, who became enthralled with my butterfly net.

I attended a presentation of the pollinator film, Wings of Life, along with the Oregon Master Beekeepers. In succeeding days, I visited more beekeepers and photographed many hives and bees. During a visit to the OSU Honey Bee Lab, I met Ramesh Sagili, Assistant Professor of Horticulture, and Carolyn Breece, Research Assistant. Carolyn walked me through the process of testing for Nosema ceranae and Ramesh showed me samples of Apocephalus borealis adults and larvae. Matt Stratton, a student technician, showed me a hypopharyngeal gland recently removed from a honey bee and explained how it would be examined for its protein content.

Later Carolyn escorted me through the Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture where Michael Burgett, Emeritus Professor of Entomology, showed me each of the honey bee hives in his eclectic collection, as well as the many types of native bee housing he has created. From there Carolyn took me to the OSU Experimental Farm where I got to see the 150 pounds of newly installed bees and the honey bee flight cages—enclosures for studying honey bees where they can fly but be restricted to certain diets.

When I wasn’t with beekeepers, I had time to visit the campus, walk by the places I used to live, and drive out to the cropped fields to photograph both honey bees and native bees in action. On one afternoon I drove around to all the places where native bee housing is being established in the community, and on another day I checked out the bees at the Starker Arts Garden for Education.

During my many visits with beekeepers, I learned some creative techniques, saw innovative pieces of equipment, heard fresh takes on beekeeping philosophy, and learned new things about both honey bees and native bees. Everyone I met was cordial, generous, and bubbling with bee enthusiasm. It was a dream trip in a dream place—the valley did not disappoint!

I have already written about a few of the things I learned while in Corvallis and I have dozens of discoveries left to share. But today, I wanted to say a public thank you to the beekeepers and bee researchers I met in Corvallis. Their kindness, knowledge, and willingness to teach were truly extraordinary.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

A bee watering device at the Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture.
A bee watering device at the Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture.

Comments

Alia
Reply

Corvallis is beautiful, I’d love a chance to visit there again. Can you tell us more about the bee waterer in the picture? Does the water just drip down from the top, with all the bamboo and rocks giving the bees something to hang onto when drinking? I’m thinking a smaller version of this might work under a leaky faucet I have…

Rusty
Reply

Alis,

Yes, the waterer is very cool! I will describe it in an upcoming post.

Carole, Louisiana
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I am attaching this to a post, as you recommended. I have a hive with a screened bottom board, that sits on top of an open-railed bench. I noticed last week that there is a grapefruit-sized cluster of bees and drawn comb attached to the bottom of the screen, under the bench. They do not go up into the hive at night. This colony has only drawn out the three middle frames of the upper hive body, so they have plenty of room.

I assume this colony swarmed earlier, as they had a virgin queen, a number of swarm cells, and no larvae/eggs when we checked them about a month ago. Do you think there is another queen in the outside cluster? I’m not sure what to do-if I remove the comb, I’m concerned that they’ll just go back later and start over again. Thanks for your advice!

Rusty
Reply

Carole,

I don’t know if I can answer this. Sometimes after a swarm leaves I see clusters on the outside of hives, although they usually are not building comb. Sometimes I get secondary and even tertiary swarms from colonies that do this, so perhaps they are small clusters headed by virgins . . . but I don’t know for sure. Maybe they are just too hot inside and want to be cooler.

If it were me, I would cut off the cluster, comb and all, and see if there is a virgin queen inside. If you find no virgin, I would put the bees back in the hive and see what happens. If you find a virgin, you should determine whether or not you have a laying queen in the hive before you add her back in. They may or may not re-build the comb under the hive; you will just have to experiment.

There is no point in leaving the cluster under the hive because they won’t be able to survive that way for long periods. You may as well break them up now and see what happens. I’m interested to know what you find.

Carole
Reply

Hi Rusty! That small cluster of bees with comb underneath the hive did contain a laying queen. Unfortunately, I tripped as I was moving the bottom board that the cluster was attached to, and the queen, along with the rest of the bees, was dislodged into the grass. I was unable to find the queen. It was a very small cluster, but it would’ve been nice to see if I could have ‘nursed’ them long. The original hive also contained a laying queen. It will be interesting to see if the bees that were dislodged return to the same spot underneath the hive…

Rusty
Reply

Give them some time. There’s a good chance they will gather themselves up again.

Mark Luterra
Reply

Remember that recent swarm with the dying, crawling bees? It crashed completely in two weeks, leaving a big pile of dead bees both inside the hive and outside of the entrance. OSU tests showed no tracheal mites and a nosema count of 1.6 million spores per bee. That is a bit above the treatment threshold but nowhere near what I would expect (10-20 million spores or more) if the bees were dying from nosema.

I’m seeing above-average forager mortality in nearly all of my hives, though it seems to be getting a bit better recently. The three recent swarms, composed entirely of foragers, have been hit the hardest, while the established hives with a good laying queen are holding their own. Dr. Sagili thought it might be a paralysis virus, though I’m wondering if it could be a pesticide kill as there is a heavily-sprayed golf course less than half a mile from our apiary.

Rusty
Reply

Mark,

A pesticide kill wouldn’t surprise me, especially with the bees dying nearly all at once, and considering the foragers showed the most damage. They could have been attracted to something that was sprayed, or they could have been simply flying over and area (like the golf course) where a lot of the poison had become airborne. Interesting that the sample was negative for tracheal mites; that was my first guess.

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