Learn how to be a beekeeper

For Dalton Gardens couple, it's love at first sting

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Evert Wilson shows off a reserve frame of honey Wednesday produced by his bees at his home in Dalton Gardens. Wilson began beekeeping after a prompting from his wife and now sells honey through the Farmers Market of Kootenai County.

DALTON GARDENS - Evert Wilson says there are two kinds of beekeepers.

"Those that have been stung and those that are going to get stung," he says, smiling. "If you're around bees long enough, you're going to get stung. That's just part of the deal."

When he does get stung, he takes all the blame.

"I'm doing something that I shouldn't have been doing, and I know it," he says. "Usually, I'm not wearing my beesuit. I've never been stung with my beesuit on. If you're careful and you do the things you're supposed to do, it won't happen often."

Risk of the stinger aside, Wilson said being a beekeeper is sweet.

"In the fall, you get your own delicious, specialty honey," he says. "I like the honey."

With about 60 hives throughout the area, that's a lot of golden nectar for Wilson and his wife, Annie. He's the beekeeper, she's the bookkeeper. Together, they sell their honey at the Kootenai County Farmer's Market.

Each hive produces around 50-75 pounds of distinctive honey. It takes about 12 pounds of honey to make a gallon ... well, before the math gets too confusing, let's just say this. Last summer, the Wilsons sold "a lot" of honey at the retail price of $2.50 to $3 a pound. They even took second place in the West Plains Beekeepers Association with their Dalton Gardens Gold.

The bee business is buzzing.

"They don't call this Dalton Gardens for nothing," Wilson said, laughing. "This place really goes bananas in the summer time."

The Wilsons began beekeeping two years ago. Annie returned from a vacation in western Washington when she met a beekeeper and said to her husband, "I want to start beekeeping."

Evert recalls his reaction. "I laughed at her," he said.

But his wife wasn't laughing.

She said she was serious.

"I told her, 'You're out of you mind. They sting. They could hurt you,'" Evert said.

Annie insisted, and Evert thought it best to listen.

He researched beekeeping and the more he learned, the more he thought, "This might be fun."

And it is.

They started with one hive, then added a second, a third, and the collection grew.

He worried his bees would have the neighborhood abuzz. But most, he said, are OK with his tiny winged friends.

"Everybody I talked to in the neighborhood said, 'We're glad you got bees. I got more fruit and more vegetables out of my garden this year than I did before you had bees.'"

"Most fruit and veggies we consume are pollinated either partially or exclusively by honeybees, so the more bees we have, the better we get to eat," Evert said.

Today, the Wilsons have hives in Athol, Bayview, Newman Lake, Medical Lake and Fairchild Air Force Base. Some belong to folks who don't have time or energy to look after them. So Wilson struck a deal.

"I care for them. We share the honey," he said.

They have four hives on their one-acre plot where "Wilson's Farmhouse" sits. As they become established, he moves those to new locations and starts more where he can easily maintain them.

"When they're brand new, they require a real high level of care," he said. "So this is like going to be my intensive care unit. I'll always have new hives here."

He estimates he spends about 15-20 hours a week with his bees in the summer, and readily admits it's a lot of work.

"They're amazing creatures. The more I learn about them, the more fascinated I am."

Come winter, hive bees, 50,000 to 60,000 strong, survive by forming a cluster around the queen.

To get started in beekeeping, it takes about $600 - a beesuit, equipment, boxes.

"If you're lucky, you'll get a swarm for free," he said, recounting a story of a swarm that came out of a tree next to the water tower that was in Post Falls.

"A guy called me and said 'I'm afraid to mow the grass because I'm afraid the bees are going to come attack me.' We went and cut the limb out of the tree, put it in a box and brought it home, and they took off."

Once a year, usually in April, Wilson purchases bees from dealers in California. The package includes a queen and three pounds of worker bees.

"It's time to start getting your equipment ready for the bees to arrive in April," he said.

Might as well prepare for one more thing, too.

Their sting.

One mature hive can produce three gallons or more of honey each year.

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