There hasn’t been any sunshine for weeks. We’ve been wandering the banks of the Columbia River trying to find any single bee to follow, but no luck. Ahead on the path, we saw a pair of Llamas staring through us as if to say “Youse comin’ or wha'”? Why are there Brooklyn llamas in Washington State? Best not to ask questions and just go with it. Bob and Louie bring us to a wood shed where a man appears to be making double-walled whiskey barrels? This place is bonkers! Barry opens up to us about his own bee passion project!
Queen Beeple: So, where did you come from?
Barry: I grew up on a small farm in eastern Iowa. Grew mostly corn and soybeans, always had a very big garden.
QB: What did you grow in the garden?
B: Tomatoes, muskmelons, lettuces, potatoes, beans. Cucumbers, beets… I remember the pickled beets.
QB: Wow! quite a big variety! What was life like on the farm? Did you have bees?
B: It was always interesting, and a lot of work. Was a small farm for the area, there were a lot of changes happening in the local ag business while I was growing up. Becoming much more industrialized, and less and less small farms.nWe didn’t have any bees, however my Uncle Harold had bees and was the Clinton County Bee Club President for years.
QB: Did you ever work with him and his bees?
B: No, but I remember seeing them
QB: How does life in Portland compare to farm life?
B: Like night and day. The city is so busy, people always in a hurry, not always noticing what is going on around them.
QB: So, you prefer farm life then?
B: I do. I can’t have llamas in the city.
QB: You have llamas!!?
B: Of course! I have two llamas: Bob and Louie.
QB: Incredible! When did you get interested in bees? Who was your inspiration?
B: Eight years ago I moved to rural Ridgefield, WA on a small farm. Wanting to develop a biodynamic farm, I was looking for all the helpers I could find. Luckily I found a local person, who was doing bees ‘a different way’. This was Jacqueline Freeman who wrote the wonderful book, “The Song of Increase”. I took classes from her, and was so inspired by her connection with the bees, that they are so much more than honey and pollination. She doesn’t believe in purchasing bees for a myriad of reasons. Collecting wild swarms is how she builds up her hives, and on my first bee collection, I was so excited I forgot my protective gear. However once I got to the site, I just went right to the bees with no protection, and I had no fear. Just started feeling the energy of the swarm. From then on I was addicted to bees.
QB: How did you learn about keeping bees and building hives?
B: I learned mostly by Jacqueline’s classes, then working with others in the classes. Lots and lots of observing, and imagining being in a hive.
The Preservation Beekeeping Council (PBC) group is the brain child of Jacqueline and Susan McCelroy. It is a club that is both experienced bee keepers, novices, and those who have no experience with bees. We have meetings to discuss how our bees are doing, trade ideas and experiences. Also starting to teach classes. Learn more here!
QB: What are your favorite things about bees?
B: There are so many things I like about bees, they are very spiritual to me. They have an energy you can see, feel, and smell. This is a very hard question to answer quickly.
QB: Do you have bees now?
B: I currently have one hive at my house. And 4 other hives that I installed this year at friends houses and the Camas Public Library
QB: Tell me about your Bee Haven project.
B: The Bee Haven project is a way for us to put up a unique type of hive in various locations. Luckily we have had some very supportive sponsors, and some very generous host sites. One goal is to show people that bees can be present anywhere and there is no ‘management’ needed for the bees to thrive.
QB: I Like the idea of very little management needed. What makes your hive design unique?
B: The hive is designed to never have to be managed, the bees do all the work themselves. As is mimics a natural location of a hollowed out log, which is where bees naturally live.
QB: What is unique about the Bee Haven hive construction?
B: There are two cylinders. The inner cylinder is where the bees live and the outer cylinder is the shell, for protection. In between those two is insulation.
QB: What do you use for insulation?
B: I use straw, and other dried grasses. I’ll try llama fur next time get the llamas shaved!
QB: Ha! Way to use what you have laying around! You are so ecological!
B: I try my best!
QB: Where are your hives installed?
B: The are mostly installed in a tree, and a few are mounted on stands at least four feet off the ground.
QB: So far, are they all in Camus, WA??
B: No, but mostly in southwest Washington. There is one in Portland, one in Battleground, I have one, and five or six in Camus. One is installed in a tree at the Camus library. They have been very supportive.
QB: How many bees are in most of our hives?
B: Good question, probably 30-50,000
QB: Wow, that’s a lot of bees! How often are they monitored? Tell me about that process and what kind of information you collect.
B: The goal is to check in on them in the spring, summer, and fall. Been using a endoscope camera to view the inside of the hive. This sometimes works; however it has a white light and the bees sometimes attack it, hence hiding the hive workings. One of my main goals over the winter is to research cameras that I can use alternative colors of light so it’s not so threatening to the bees.
QB: So scientific. I love that you go outside the box (or hive) to be non-threatening to the bees. What do you look for in your hives?
B: That there is a good brood area, good supply of honey and pollen.
QB: Have you ever noticed any major problems? Like mites or yellow jackets?
B: No, not in these hives that I’ve noticed yet.
QB: That’s good! What can all non-beekeeping Beeples do to help bees thrive?
B: Education, in letting people know that everyone can do something to help bees and all pollinators. By planting plants that flower, leaving vegetables go to seed, eliminating the use of pesticides. Maybe mostly important is allowing dandelions to grow as they are a vital source of food for pollinators.
Also, put out a rather bath for them to have a source of fresh water.
QB: When you’re working with bees, do you wear a beekeeper’s suit? Are you afraid they’ll sting you?
B: Normally I don’t, as I don’t ‘work’ with the bees much, just observe them. However when I do work with bees in a conventional hive I will wear a suit. Yes, I am afraid of being stung sometimes, normally not though.
QB: It’s good to know that bees are not normally aggressive. They are just out doing their bee business!
In general, what is the “bee” community like in southern Washington?
B: There are many bee keepers who use bees for honey in a more conventional system. However PBC and other groups are having an influence in a more natural beekeeping system.
QB: Do you take honey from your hives?
B: I don’t unless the hive perishes
QB: What would cause a hive to perish?
B: They decide to live somewhere else, the queen dies, or a weather-related issue happens to them.
QB: Anything else you’d like to share? Secret bee stuff?
B: Just to thank all those who I’ve had the opportunity to get to know and work with, learn from, and allowing me to be part of the bee community. I have meet some truly amazing people through bees.
QB: I’ve met a few and yes, bee people are great.
Do you have any tattoos? We are seriously considering adding a bee tattoo photo gallery to the Beeple site.
B: I have two tattoos, one of which is the beeple logo
QB: That’s awesome! I’ll let you know when the Beeple photo gallery is up.
Do you think there should be a “bee” very in “Old MacDonald Had a Farm?”
B: Absolutely or more bee songs in general.
QB: We’ll have to write some!
Thanks for your insight, Barry! You are a busy Beeple! You’ve been a very inspirational and informative Beeple!
B: Thank you very much, and again thank you for all the work you at Beeple are doing for bees and people.