April 14, 2013 in Region

Oregon city gets busy beekeeping

Eugene eases rules on hive ownership
Josephine Woolington Eugene Register-Guard
Associated Press photo

Honeybees wait for new homes in Eugene on Thursday. New city rules allow three hives on most residential lots.
(Full-size photo)

EUGENE – Ken Ograin tends to seven honeybee hives on his 3-acre Elmira property in Lane County. Since 1996, the 71-year-old has been a beekeeper, partly to pollinate his apple and cherry trees, but mostly because he loves bees.

“They’re amazing creatures,” said Ograin, a member of the Lane County Beekeepers Association who teaches classes at the Oregon Master Beekeeper Program. “Once you keep bees long enough, you start falling in love with them.”

During the last few years, however, Ograin has lost 50 percent of his bees during the winter. One year, he lost all seven hives.

Ograin is one of hundreds of Oregon beekeepers who have experienced the unexplained loss called colony collapse disorder.

Since bee loss started making headlines nationally, interest in local beekeeping has increased, said Alan Turanski, vice president of GloryBee Foods Inc., a Eugene natural food producer and distributor. Nearly 4 million bees will be distributed to local beekeepers at GloryBee’s 38th annual Bee Weekend Friday and Saturday.

The 600 packages, each containing 5,000 to 7,000 bees, sold for $79.95 for a 2-pound box or $95.95 for a 3-pound box. They arrived Thursday at GloryBee from Northern California, but the bee packages sold out two weeks ago, Turanksi said, and there are already 34 people on the 2014 waiting list.

“We’ve never had that before,” Turanski said. “It’s a peak for us.”

Kristin Kokkeler, promotions coordinator for GloryBee, said the Eugene City Council’s decision earlier this year to allow up to three hives on most residential lots has helped fuel the surge in beekeeping. People who were concerned about the loss of bees now had something they could do about it.

GloryBee sees this not just on Bee Weekend but daily on its website, she said. “We cannot keep our beginner beekeeping kits in stock. As soon as more become available, we sell out and have to place more work orders to increase stock.”

The large-scale honeybee loss in the United States, which started in 2006, continues to puzzle scientists. Colony collapse disorder has caused beekeepers losses of 30 to 90 percent of their hives, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

From 2006 to 2011, average annual losses were about 33 percent nationwide. Normal losses tend to be between 10 to 15 percent.

Although Oregon hasn’t been hit as hard as some regions, Turanski said, local farmers have still experienced an average of 20 to 25 percent loss.

Hives need about 10,000 bees to survive. When colony collapse strikes, the number of bees starts dwindling, which decreases the hive’s chance of survival.

Researchers have yet to find a single cause for colony collapse disorder, although several recent studies point to pesticides as a likely culprit. Other potential factors include land development that decreases the bees’ available food supply as well as mites, viruses and other pathogens.

In Oregon, Turanski said, mites tend to be the biggest problem for beekeepers who don’t use lots of pesticides.

“It’s a huge deal,” Turanski said. “It’s huge for your garden, your orchard or commercial beekeeping business.”

Thanks to bee pollination, national crop values increase by $15 billion annually, according to USDA figures. Almonds, peaches, plums, apples and various vegetables are all dependent on bee pollination. Oregon blueberries and cranberries, Ograin said, are nearly 100 percent dependent on bee pollination.

Lane County Beekeepers Association President Katharine Hunt said increased interest in organic, local foods has also inspired more people to take to beekeeping.

When Hunt first started attending Beekeeper Association meetings in 1996, about 20 people would show up. Now, the group has more than 200 members.

The Eugene council made beekeeping an option to most city residents when it approved in February a new urban farm animal ordinance. The ordinance allows residents to keep up to three honey beehives on lots smaller than 20,000 square feet. Beehives must be within 15 feet of a water source and must also be five feet from property lines. Beekeepers are not required to register with the state if they have fewer than four hives.

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