Oh, honey: Utahns helping bees survive by being backyard beekeepers

Published: Tuesday, June 26 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

By "other stuff," Nathan was referring to rich, chewy honey caramels, honey-roasted almonds and beeswax lotion bars, lip balm and candles. He said his mother, Kami Huntzinger, makes the products, "because we are not allowed to because we don't have food-handler permits. You have to be 14 to get one."

They call their business Bees Brothers. Nathan said they have 12 hives — two in their own back yard, three at their aunt's place, "and a bunch more in some of our friends' back yards."

They sell their products at the Cache Valley Gardener's Market in Logan, the Richmond Farmers Market and to Caputo's Market in Salt Lake City.

The boys said their earnings have helped pay for family outings and Boy Scout camping trips.

Sam said eating the honey is his favorite part about beekeeping. And yes, getting stung is one of the downsides.

"I've already been stung once this year when our bees were swarming," Sam said.

The brothers recently received a $400 micro-grant from Slow Food Utah, which offers funds for local, small-scale food producers. The brothers will use the grant to produce comb honey, which still contains pieces of the hexagonal-shaped beeswax cells of the honeycomb.

"While at the Cache Valley Gardener's Market, we have had several people ask about comb honey," said Craig Huntzinger. "The boys now are pretty familiar and competent with the basics of beekeeping. Nathan suggested we try something new and make comb honey. It requires a different management with the bees and some equipment we didn't have. Nathan started looking into it and we figured we could start saving up and do it next year. Then someone told us about the Utah Slow Food grants, and we thought the comb honey project would be a nice fit, and help us do it this year rather than next year."

Ashe McFionn of West Valley City is another beekeeping hobbyist, with five hives. He is a member of the Wasatch Beekepers Association

"It's fun, you learn so much," he said. "Our whole yard is planted with bee-friendly flowers. And without the bees, people aren't going to have any food."

He sells his raw honey to local health food stores and coffee bars. (He points out that raw honey shouldn't be consumed by children less than one year of age because of the botulism bacteria. The more developed digestive systems of older children and adults generally destroys the spores.)

Chris Rodesch, a University of Utah professor, began keeping bees in 2007. He is now the Salt Lake County bee inspector and consults with people who want to get started.

"I keep hives to be in closer touch with the natural world around me, and to come in contact with the people who also enjoy being in touch with their environment," he said while speaking at the Honeybee Festival. "My hot tub is filled with bees all the time. I'm fine with it, but not too many people want to join me in the hot tub."

According to the Utah Beekeepers Association, all persons who keep bees in the state of Utah are required to obtain a license from the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. The current cost of the license is $25 per individual/business; the application for the license can be found at the UDAF website.

Whitby offered some tips for people interested in getting started:

Find out the ordinances for beekeeping in your city. He said Salt Lake residents can have up to five hives on a "normal-size" residential lot, but he recommends starting with just two hives so that you can compare how they're doing. Salt Lake City's ordinance is available at www.bees202.wordpress.com.

Don't put a hive in a conspicuous location that would make it an "attractive nuisance," with kids.

Most of the time, bees will come and go about their business and don't molest people. "They aren't aggressive like yellow jackets," he said.

Honeybees will thrive in practically any sort of man-made beehive. They can be made from plywood, cedar or pine.

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