Inside the Hive

Posted in Bees on Thursday, July 07, 2022

Inside the Hive

It’s not easy to find anything that works as hard as a farmer, but honeybees manage to do it! Recently, we traveled north of Reardan to a canola field to meet Bud Wilhelm, a beekeeper who travels with his team and his bees to different fields to pollinate crops for farmers. B’s Apiary and their sister business, Three Sisters Honey Company, have been tending bees for more than 12 years. They manage more than 5,300 pollination honeybee colonies and 2,000 replacement colonies. Each colony contains 50,000-60,000 honeybees. On a recent visit, the Washington Grown TV team got up close and personal with Wilhelm’s team of bees.

“Can they smell fear?” joked host Kristi Gorenson as Wilhelm opened up a box of bees.

“You know, they communicate by smell,” said Wilhelm with a smile. “So, does fear smell?”

“I don’t know,” laughed Gorenson.

“Bees get two products from a flower. They get pollen, which is their protein source, and they’ll get nectar, which is their carbohydrate source,” explained Wilhelm. “And when that nectar comes in, it has a really high moisture content. And they need to spread that out, and fan it and dehydrate it down to make the honey.”

As with many beekeepers, Wilhelm’s bees move with the flowers on the West Coast to keep the colonies well fed and healthy. He ships his bees to California in January for almond pollination, then they come back to Washington in March to pollinate apples and cherries. From there, they go to the Davenport area to service the canola crop. After that cycle, half of the colonies go to northeast Washington and Idaho to produce honey. The other half stays in the Columbia Basin to pollinate canola, squash and carrot seed. Finally, when the seasons are done, the bees are taken to nearby forested land to rest and get a different diet. 

“We have found that it’s very good for the bees,” explained Wilhelm. “As we pull them out of that agricultural setting and we get them in a more diverse habitat, their diet drastically changes. They’re pulling pollen from a variety of sources.”

“It’s their vacation,” joked Gorenson.

“This is their Hawaii,” laughed Wilhelm.

Like wine, honey flavor can change depending on the land the bees are in. The nectar from the different flowers can drastically change the flavor profile and color of the honey. 

“As you can see, these bees are really happy,” said Wilhelm. And happy bees make a lot of honey. “There will be roughly two gallons of honey in this single box. We try to make a honey crop that is as pure and as clean as we can possibly make it.”

Wilhelm and his team harvest the honey and prepare for winter when the colonies are stored indoors. Wilhelm works with the Washington State University entomology department for studies and research. You can find Wilhelm’s honey under the Artie’s Harvest brand.