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Washington Voices

Bees Keeping Keeper Busy

Outfitted in white coveralls, safari hat, yellow mesh mask and elbow-length gloves, Herman Schultz is ready to show off his bees.

All 315,000 of them.

“If they’re going to sting, go ahead,” Schultz said. “I’ll just keep going about my business.”

As Schultz removes the cover from a four-foot tall, wooden colony filled with bees and honeycombs, he explains that all of the gear is not really necessary. It is just for effect for his guests.

It’s late morning and the sun is shining - the best time to handle bees because most are out working, Schultz says. Only if it was rainy, early in the morning or late at night would the protective gear be necessary.

“That’s when they’re all at home and they’re all angry,” Schultz said.

He should know, the 87-year-old Greenacres resident was first introduced to it as a youngster by his grandfather. Schultz, who has a doctorate in genetics, picked up the hobby several years later while trying to cross-pollinate broccoli for a food canning company.

That was 40 years ago.

At his peak, Schultz kept 200 colonies - or about 9 million bees - and was selling honey to local grocery stores, while managing to avoid deadly mites that have forced 25 percent of the state’s bee keepers to quit because the insects killed their bees.

But Schultz, who settled in the Valley during the early 1960s after a stint with the Army, scaled back his colonies about eight years ago because they were becoming hard to keep up.

“It became a hobby and the hobby outgrew itself,” Schultz said. “It’s somebody else’s turn.”

He has not completely given up selling the sweet, sticky syrup. The sign in front of his house at 18211 E. Fourth still advertises fresh honey for sale.

Schultz pulled apart the two main levels of the colonies that collect the honey and displayed them proudly.

“They’re working on that,” Schultz said. “They’re very busy in there.”

The bees don’t have very far to go for nectar. Twenty-one green houses filled with colorful blooming flowers are their neighbors immediately to the east.

But Schultz says only a few take advantage of it. Many will travel up to two miles in search of nectar during the summer.

As the sections fill up with honey, Schultz will replace them with empty ones he built himself. This goes on until the source of nectar runs out, usually some time in August.

“Then the bees go out and rob,” Schultz explains. “If they can find another hive that’s weak, they take it over.”

Rain in June and July could push the start of the bee’s looting season back a few weeks and increase yield, as was the case last year. Colonies that usually gave about 35 pounds of honey each, produced more than 100 pounds.

Honey fetches about 85 cent a pound, Schultz says. But even that is not enough to keep Schultz mass producing it.

“I just got a few to keep my hand in the game,” Schultz said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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