If you’ve seen or heard a lot of activity along the northern part of Highway 62, near its intersection with Hwy 234, It’s more than likely the bees, but you have to throw in a healthy portion of human activity too. That’s where two separate but related businesses are being run by the Curtis Family. And, yes, they are both centered in the honey bee industry.
Mike runs the Oregon Bee Store, selling just about anything anyone could think of concerning keeping bees or using the products that come from hives. They sell beeswax candles in so many forms, that once inside, your eyes will dart from one candle to the next, trying to take it all in. The candles are molded in such detail; you’ll scarcely believe they could do that with wax. There are corn cobs, pine cones, owls and a bear drinking honey from a traditional-shaped hive. There is even a candle replica of a honey dispenser like the ones found on many kitchen tables.
The other part of the operation is brother David’s bee keeping school. Following a serious bout with a life threatening illness, he started a bee school, taking several serious hobbyists each Saturday morning and teaching the finer points of keeping bees and maintaining hives.
The thought that keeping bees is an easy thing do to is quickly dispelled by David Curtis. Curtis reminds everyone that there are two different facets of the activity. The first of those being the bees themselves. It is a matter of more than turning them loose near some flowering plants, then making them place the honey in a jar. Curtis says his bees need certain conditions within the hive if they are to reproduce and do their jobs. “The hive must maintain a constant 94 degrees for them to do well.” He likens it to the insides of a human body, which must be maintained at 98.6 degrees. “Too cold and they die. Too hot and they die.” It’s as simple as that.
The second part of the formula is the environment itself. They need to be in an environment that allows them to do the work they do. He says they will search long distances, but the longer they travel, the more food they burn just to find homey. Again, it is like any animal, the more stress, the less is the product of their work.
David Curtis knows of which he speaks. He is a third generation bee-keeper who began working with the hives during his early days in 4H clubs. Matter of fact, they started a club specifically for the bees and went viral from there. They developed markets where they kept bees in the almond orchards in California, only to find that another contractor had some hives contaminated with something serious enough that the government confiscated all his hives. Then he watched as the government torched all his hives along with the contaminated hives. Even though his hives were clean, they were destroyed.
That setback took the wind out of his sails for a while and he decided to pursue a different path. But, life has a way of pushing you back in front of the same bus, so he is getting back into the field. And one way of doing that is to share his knowledge of the critters that are responsible for pollination of about one-third of all crops in the world. Curtis himself believes that both his beloved bees and the world supply of food are at crisis levels right now.
Eight-month winters like we’ve been having in the northwest, make changes necessary for bee-keepers. Curtis says it used to be that you expect bees to be working out in the fields for eight months during the year, and then you had to feed them for the other four. “Now that trend is reversing and you need to feed the bees for eight months during the year.” Curtis says that this situation has caused a huge shortage of honey in all markets and led him to the conclusion that food is at a crisis.
David Curtis says he is doing his best to help the situation of shortage of bees and the honey they produce. That’s why he teaches his school, to help others get started and to help, in his own way, with the supply of food throughout the world. Advanced students can even come away with a start of their own colony. His class is scheduled for every Saturday morning (during spring and summer months) and the cost is $20 per person for about a two-and-a-half to three-hour session. Those seeking information can contact Dave at (541) 531-5197.