A Buzzing Enthusiasm

A Half-Million Bees Keep Jerry Frazier on His Toes

Story and photos by Rodger Nichols

Backyard beekeeper Jerry Frazier with the gear needed to protect himself from stings.

Bees might as well be Jerry Frazier’s mascot. He is just as busy as a member of the hive.

Jerry sold his successful Oregon Trail Insurance business eight years ago, but he has not slowed down one bit. He serves as treasurer of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in The Dalles and on the board of the Eastern Oregon Episcopal Foundation. He is an enthusiastic gardener and helps raise food for the local food bank. During the pandemic, he is delivering meals to parishioners with health concerns.

On his acres outside The Dalles, Jerry raises Barbados Blackbelly sheep, Belgian Tervuren dogs and somewhere around a half-million bees.

The bees are Jerry’s most recent enthusiasm. He serves as president of the Columbia Gorge Beekeepers Association.

Jerry and a partner also run a nonprofit that delivers supplies to local beekeepers and removes bees that have formed hives inside buildings. The two recently removed a massive hive that had settled in the walls of a wind surfboard drying shed in Hood River, forming a comb 8 feet tall.

“It was a messy business,” Jerry says.

He removes bees using a special vacuum, with the goal of transporting them to an offsite hive box so the hive can survive.

Although Jerry was wearing a protective bee suit and hood, one bee managed to get inside and sting him just below his left eye.

“Stings are a part of dealing with bees,” he says.

Stings are best treated with a Benadryl salve, and an antihistamine tablet if there are multiple stings. That supersedes the old practice of putting a baking soda paste on the sting, although baking soda helps neutralize the acid in the bee venom.

Jerry describes himself as a backyard beekeeper, rather than a commercial operation.

“Commercial beekeepers are in it for two reasons: pollination and honey,” he says. “Backyard beekeepers are in it because it’s a hobby, and honey happens to be a spinoff for those who want to put up with it.”

Hives are designed with vertical frames the right size for bees to create the hexagonal cells that store honey and serve as brood cells for the larvae. And there are a lot of larvae.

“We figure there’s probably 1,600 to 1,800 hatch emergencies a day,” Jerry says. “The queen lays that many eggs in the heat of the summer every day. They progress through the larva stage, the pupa stage and then emerge as workers. There’s a class structure there, and just like people, the youngsters have to do heavy-duty work.”

A closeup of a frame displaying honey cells shows bees actively working. A bee’s lifetime is only six to eight weeks.

That means scouting for blooms and hauling nectar back to the hive to process into honey. They gather and spread pollen, which propagates the plants, including the blossoms in orchards around the region. As the bees mature, they settle back into the hive and take care of the hatchlings.

The life cycle of the bee is a short one— only six to eight weeks—so the hive needs to constantly generate new workers.

When it’s time to harvest honey, the frames of the hives are removed, and the caps of the cells are scraped off. The frame is placed in a machine that spins and extracts the honey by centrifugal force. Jerry says it’s a messy process, but worth it.

The flavor of honey depends on which blooms the bees have fed on.

Last fall, there was a honey tasting at the Columbia Gorge Beekeepers Association’s meeting in Hood River. Local growers brought their own honey. Some who had traveled brought samples from South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe.

“The differences in taste were absolutely amazing,” Jerry says.

He describes store-bought honey as mild.

“There’s a sweetness to it, of course, but the real thing is so much better,” he says.

One of the best honeys, he says, is sourced from blackberries in the Willamette Valley.

Jerry’s favorite is his own knapweed honey from Wasco County.

“Knapweed honey is really good,” he says. “In fact, in the blind tasting of the local honey, I think I was second or third.”

Looming Threats

There is real concern among orchardists and other farmers who depend on pollination for their crops. A looming threat in recent years has been a mite called Veroa destructor. The mite attaches to bee larvae and feeds on the bee’s fat as they grow. Beekeeper Jerry Frazier says losses recently have run about 50 percent.

Another potential threat is a large Asian hornet that preys on bees. The hornet is 2 inches long and native to Southeast Asia. One was found recently in Northwest Washington. The discovery is such a concern that the agriculture department at Washington State University has placed 600 traps within the state to see if more are found.