Portland beekeepers use urban hives to fight colony collapse - KPTV - FOX 12

Portland beekeepers use urban hives to fight colony collapse

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Hundreds of thousands of honey bees die off every year in the state of Oregon. The epidemic known as Colony Collapse Disorder is now prompting a spike in urban beekeepers across the Portland metro area.

When someone is raising bees by the thousands in their yard, it's easy to worry neighbors. That's why Glen Andresen says he sweetens the deal with honey, sold straight from his front porch in Northeast Portland.

"My neighbors, one in particular that lives two houses down, said he was a little afraid of the bees when he first started to know me," Andresen said. "I enjoy it, I've made friends from my honey customers."

Andresen doesn't need permission from his neighbors to do any of this. He just needs a permit and to let them know as a courtesy.

It's all part of a new City of Portland policy that went into effect last year. According to Multnomah County, nearly 200 Portlanders currently have permits to keep bees on their property.

Andresen and colleague Tim Wessels were two who fought for that policy change. They said the old policy was discriminatory toward urban beekeepers, but that this new policy makes it easier for people like them to keep bees in their yard.

"People say why would we want more stinging insects in the backyard, but I have probably 30 to 40,000 bees in each hive behind us and they're 15 to 20 feet away and they're not bothering us at all,” Wessels said. “They're primarily interested in foraging."

City officials tell FOX 12 less than 10 percent of all 252 complaints to Multnomah County Vector Control in the last year mentioned bees, proof to both Wessels and Andresen that backyard beekeeping isn't hurting anyone.

"My wife has said honey bees are the golden labs and retrievers of the stinging insect world," Andresen said.

That's important because they believe urban beekeeping is a way to reduce the decline of honeybees in our region. It’s a problem they think is largely connected to pesticides and a predatory mite which destroys hives.

"This is an important thing. There are some people who say without the bees we'd lose about a third of our food, so every three bites were pollinated by bees, especially in big agriculture areas," Wessels explained.

The business partners are searching for a local solution to a national problem. They're now breeding and raising queen bees as part of their Bridgetown Bee Project.  

"We were buying queens, but the queens we were buying were not overwintering, so we think that a breeding a queen that comes from survivor stock and is raised here locally, will survive winter and continue on and their offspring will be stronger," Wessels said.

So far, it seems to be working. The pair’s queens are sold to other Oregon beekeepers for a little over $40 each, and they say they will even go so far as setting up hives for aspiring beekeepers.

Since the launch of their business, the two say they've noticed be keeping on the rise.

"It's just fun, everyone starts out with one, or two hives and then you end up with 60, 70, or 80 - well not everyone ends up with that many," Andresen joked.

Managing 80 hives may indeed be a bit ambitious for most, but the two say even housing a handful may make a difference to Oregon's pollinators.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture tells FOX 12 some 41, 567 hives were registered with them in 2016. ODA notes that beekeepers are only required to register if they keep more than five hives on their property, and the money from that registration supports local honey bee research.

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