CENTRAL POINT, Ore.– They’re a vital part of our food system and often go unappreciated.
However, local beekeepers are doing their part to raise awareness and ensure that bees will be here to continue bringing us our favorite fruits and vegetables. At one farm out in Central Point, the owner is hoping to spread the word about a service the Southern Oregon Beekeepers Association offers to the community in dealing with bee swarms.
Risa Halpin, a ‘bee farmer’ as she calls it, has been surrounded by bees ever since her grandfather started tending to his own colonies.
“I can remember as a child sitting in the garage watching him spin honey and finger went in the honey pot,” she said, chuckling. “We don’t do that anymore.”
That enjoyment fueled a passion which she now runs as a business. With her setup in the Rogue Valley, Halpin has joined with other local beekeepers to help ensure bee colonies can thrive.
“Not an obsession but a fascination in how they work and I understand now how critical they are to our food source,” she said.
According to Halpin, spring is the time when bees will begin to ‘swarm,’ a term for when a queen will take a portion of the colony to search for new hive locations, allowing the old hive to grow a new queen and form it’s own colony.
While it may look scary to some, Halpin says it’s the complete opposite.
“They’re really about making babies and making honey, it’s what they do really well.”
Rarely do bees attack unless they feel absolutely threatened, she says. With swarms, they’re barely a threat because they gorge on honey before leaving in order to prepare for the long journey ahead. It’s all a big misunderstanding.
“A lot of people are nervous because they are big and they are loud and they’re intimidating when they swarm,” she said. “It looks like a bee tornado but they will not hurt you and we respectfully ask, do not spray them!”
Statistically, when bee colonies begin to swarm, their chance of survival is around 25 percent. Add on top of that, people who don’t know that the bees are harmless and end up killing them instead, that survival rate becomes slimmer.
As well, national headlines warning of massive bee die-offs have pushed people like Halpin to say it’s more important than ever they assist any swarms they can.
“You know for anybody that doesn’t want to eat corn, wheat and soybean, we need the bees,” she said. “Cause that applies to a lot of our other fruits and vegetables.”
Halpin says that anyone in Jackson or Josephine County that may have a swarm in their area can call the Southern Oregon Beekeepers Association. With over 50 members, she says they aim to be at the location within an hour to take the bees away.
“The numbers, overall, worldwide it was greater than 50 percent loss last year and in the U.S., again those same numbers apply,” she said. “About a 50 percent loss, is that sustainable beekeeping? I don’t think so.”