MOSES LAKE, Wash. – With winter now upon us and temperatures dipping into the low 20s, the honey bees at Grigg Apiaries Inc. have been tucked away for the season. About 8,000 hives keep alive and warm while residing in Travis and Brandy Grigg’s shop, awaiting the day when they will be released once more.
“We are always checking health and feed supply,” said Travis.
This month, the bees will be put back to work, pollinating orchards and fields throughout California, Washington and Montana. Come summer their honey will be extracted and carefully packaged for sale.
Grigg Apiaries incorporated in April of 1971 in Harper, Oregon. From there, the business expanded to Washington, then to California and finally to Montana.
Travis is a fourth-generation beekeeper. After graduating from high school in 2001, he attended lineman school and began building power lines shortly thereafter.
In the summer of 2004, Travis returned home to Moses Lake to help his dad, Allen, who owned Grigg Apiaries at that time. That September, Travis and Brandy first met while at a bowling alley with some friends, and were later married in September of 2007. They now have three children: sons Corbin and Sheldon and daughter Ivy.
In 2008, Travis bought into the company for a 10 percent share. Then in January of 2015 he and Brandy purchased Grigg Apiaries, taking 100 percent ownership of the company.
Beekeeping is not an easy business to break into, Travis explained. To achieve a thriving workforce requires the right weather, pollen, nectar and of course bees.
“It takes a lot of feed and healthy bees to do that,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to start off with nothing (bees). You’d have to buy someone else out.”
To start a hive, the bees are placed into wooden boxes with window screens on two of the sides. The bees then go to work building up the hive, which takes quite a while to do, Travis said. The Griggs have all of their boxes painted white, and each one is labeled and branded.
The average lifespan for a hive is 4-8 months, and if the hive gets too hot or crowded, the bees will fly away.
Queen bees are replaced frequently, Brandy said. Unlike the average worker bee, queens are bigger and longer. When a new queen bee is introduced into a hive, it is placed inside the box within its own personal cage. The cage is enclosed with a sugary, candy substance through which the worker bees will chew to release their new queen into the hive. This gives the queen time to acclimate to her new home without the rest of the hive attacking her first, Travis explained.
The bees can be fed with sugar water or corn syrup. They are fed regularly while they are working to keep them healthy, during which time their feed supply and health are checked on every 10 days. They are not fed during production times, however, so as not to add any excess sugar to the raw honey the Griggs specialize in.
This same process is repeated to keep their hives going.
“We’ll take a really good hive and make another hive out of it,” Travis said.
The honey bees begin their work in California. All of the bees are shipped down in January to pollinate the almond trees, where they will remain until March. From there, they are brought back to Moses Lake to pollinate fruit, including peaches, apricots, pears and apples.
Then from May through August, the swarm is divided up, sending some worker bees to Bellingham to pollinate the blueberries and raspberries, while others are sent off to Montana for the honey crop and to pollinate canola. The rest of the swarm remains in Washington during that time. Come September, all of the bees are then pulled back to Washington to pollinate the buckwheat.
Around October the bees are brought back into the shop where they will remain throughout the winter. Carbon dioxide levels, temperature and humidity are all controlled within the shop, and the Griggs are able to keep a close eye on everything using the internet and systems set up to alert them and send text and email notifications if anything is off.
The bees do their flying during the day and return to the hive at night. Because of this, the Griggs only move their bees at night to avoid losing as many worker bees as possible.
When the bees are shipped back to Moses Lake, they are kept within their lots so that the different types of honey will not be mixed during extraction.
To extract the honey, the frames are first removed from the boxes by machine. The frames are then sent down the line where the caps of bees wax are removed. The honey and caps are then moved down to a spinner that separates the honey from the wax. Empty frames are then removed as well.
The frames then proceed to the extractor where they are spun again to remove the honey. The honey is fed into the clarifier where any excess wax will separate and rise to the surface to be removed. It is then packaged and ready for market.
The Griggs sell most of their honey at wholesale, said Brandy. They also offer one-gallon buckets, quarts and 16-ounce glass jars of honey. Other products include honey sticks, candles, lip balm and raw beeswax.
Their products are available for sale in Moses Lake at Country Fabrics and Settlers Country Market, and at Mi Cocinita and Groceries and Settlers Country Market in Ephrata.
Because raw honey has no expiration date, Brandy explained, their honey is perfect to be stored and used as needed.