July 1, 1996 in Nation/World

Money For His Honey With 400 Hives In Service, Apiarist Keeps As Busy As A …

By The Spokesman-Review

James Weyen’s job is so sweet he doesn’t mind getting stung 30 times a year.

“I hardly notice it unless they get me in a tender spot,” he said.

With 400 hives scattered about, Weyen is one of Spokane’s busiest honey farmers, harvesting about 260 pounds a year.

It started as a hobby, about 20 years ago. Weyen was a Boy Scout leader in Oklahoma looking for an interesting troop project.

When he went into the Army, the bees went to his father in Spokane.

“I asked dad to take care of them, and he turned it into a business,” Weyen said.

In 1979, Weyen Apiaries was born.

In the winter, he would help his father, Ellsworth Weyen, pack the hives into a trailer bound for California - and warmer weather.

Some trips went smoother than others.

One time, the Weyens and another beekeeper, Irv Reed, did a double-take when their trailer filled with 64 hives suddenly pulled alongside their vehicle on the highway.

“I told Ellsworth, don’t look now but the trailer is passing us at 60 miles per hour,” Reed recalled.

They were side by side for about a quarter of a mile before the runaway trailer drifted off the road.

“It ran off the road, flipped over, but we never lost a bee,” Reed said.

Ellsworth Weyen died a few years later. Now James Weyen runs the north Spokane honey business, joined by his 14-year-old son, John.

They keep their bees at about 10 different farms. Most farmers are happy to have them. The insects pollinate their crops, and James Weyen gives them a thank-you gallon of honey every three months.

The Weyens visit dozens of boxes of bees in a day.

John clouds them with a smoker while dad checks for honey.

Smoke has a strange effect on the insects, making them think there’s a fire. The bees eat as much as they can and prepare to move.

That’s when James Weyen is able to open the the boxes to see how much honey has been built up.

He sells his gooey harvest to grocers and carnivals.

Even though they can still get stung though their protective gear - coveralls, hoods and veils, most of the bees are so engorged with honey they can barely bend their bodies. If they can’t bend, they can’t sting.

Another rule: avoid walking in front of the hives, which annoys the bees.

Weyen hopes his son will take over the family business one day. John is undecided.

After all, beekeeping is more than smoke and honey.

Stray swarms call for some rather agile herding skills.

Always busy, bees are known to venture 10 miles from their hive in search of plants to pollinate. Wild bees swarm when they’re looking for a new home.

When that happens, farmers call Weyen and he rounds up the bees for free. He was summoned to 15 loitering swarms last year; 25 in 1994.

It’s been a lot slower this year. Mites have killed many of Eastern Washington’s wild bees, Weyen said, driving a lot of beekeepers out of business.

Weyen isn’t waiting until it’s too late. Twice a year, he gives his bees a special medicine to ward off the pests.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos

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