bee stories

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 “” 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.


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

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


  • 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…

  • 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!

    • 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.

      • 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…

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • Good Morning!
    I am a new beekeeper and reading a lot. In the above post mention is made of a small swarm with a “virgin queen”, I can identify a queen but what does a virgin queen look like, how are they different? Thank you!!

    • Stephanie,

      It is hard without some practice, but virgins are usually smaller (especially the abdomen) because they are not yet sexually mature. They often run around the frames unattended by workers. Because of these two things, they are really hard to find in a hive full of bees.

  • I live forty minutes east of Seattle in a beautiful valley that gets fog almost every night. This was my first winter being a new beekeeper. I haven’t seen any bee activity for a month and fear my two hives have died. I left them with food, wrapped the hives and ventilated as well. I’m wondering if I could move them to to an open shed to protect them more from the low land fog and wind? I’m really thinking the moisture may have gotten the best of them. Thank you in advance.

    • Kelley,

      I don’t see any problem with moving them into an open shed, although I don’t know how much it will help. You mention wind, and I think the shed will help with the wind. Have you tried using a moisture quilt? They completely changed the survival rate of my colonies, and I wouldn’t winter in a wet area without them.
      How to make a moisture quilt for a Langstroth hive.”

  • Any information on the bee watering device would be appreciated. My son is researching on how to build this at a nature preserve as part of his project in Scouts, BSA.


    • Christina,

      I don’t know the details, but I remember a hose led up the side and through a conduit (bamboo pole) near the top. The conduit had drip irrigation heads that allowed the water to drip down the sunny side of the structure. The water first hit the trough of moss, and then spilled over, wetting the rocks below it. The bees collected on the vertical wall to drink the seeping water and some drank from the ground which also was damp from the over-spill.

  • Question: I have been told Corvallis is a difficult place to keep bees because of the amount of moisture it receives and the damage the moisture and mold does to the hives. Is that true? Thank you!

    Dian Kiser

    • Dian,

      Many successful and happy beekeepers live in and around Corvallis, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting lots of them. Beekeepers who know their craft are adept at taming the moisture. Remember that all beekeeping is strongly influenced by local conditions. Depending on the place, you can have severe cold, oppressive heat, moisture, tornadoes, long nectar dearths, excessive dryness, floods, predation, vandalism, lots of pesticide use, too much sun, too much shade…it goes on and on. That is one of the things that makes beekeeping so fascinating: you learn to do it under local conditions, regardless of what those conditions are.

      Beekeeping is difficult no matter where you are, but that shouldn’t stop someone who’s interested. Don’t listen to the naysayers; it sounds like they don’t want you to succeed.

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