Roy Nettlebeck, owner of Tahuya River Apiaries, has been raising honeybees in the middle of the Tahuya Peninsula in Mason County, Washington, for 40 years. But his love for bees began many years earlier.
“In 1945, I sat on my grandfather’s lap reading a story about honeybees in National Geographic,” said Nettlebeck. “The article really captivated me. I told my grandfather, ‘Someday I’m going to have honeybees.’ When I got my own house years later, I decided to get bees.”
Tahuya River Apiaries’ honey is wildflower honey. Nettlebeck’s bees work the eastern slopes of the Olympic Mountains, from Hoodsport to Quilcene, making honey from blackberry, fireweed, pearly everlasting, big leaf maple, salmon berry and snow berry flowers. His bees do not work in agriculture as pollinators. He has been selling his honey off and on for the past 20-25 years. “I began selling at farmers markets 18 years ago, when I retired from the Naval Shipyards in Bremerton,” he said. “I have sold honey at maybe 15 different farmers markets over the years.” He only sells his honey direct.
Nettlebeck started selling at the Fremont Sunday Market in 1996. “When we had to move east of the Fremont Bridge for construction, we got lost in the middle of the market and lost business,” he said. “So I moved with other vendors to the U.S. Bank parking lot in Ballard in August 2000.” Ultimately, Tahuya River Apiaries was one of four vendors still at the Ballard Farmers Market today that braved the market’s first cold, wet and blustery winter on Ballard Avenue NW the following year.
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a story inescapable in the news lately, with millions of honeybees and whole colonies disappearing worldwide. “I have not been affected by CCD,” said Nettlebeck. “None of the organic people I know have been either.”
Nettlebeck’s bees winter over near Hood Canal, as temperatures there are always about five degrees warmer than the surrounding area. Then they slowly work up in elevation as the various plants begin to bloom in spring, from maple and salmon and snow berry, then blackberry at 2,000 feet, to fireweed, then pearly everlasting at 4,000 feet as summer approaches, then down steep slopes into Lilliwaup to get Japanese knotweed at 2,000 feet again late in the season. Nettlebeck cannot move the bees down those slopes himself, but that doesn’t matter. The bees will fly as far as three miles from their hives, and they fly down to the latest flowering plants on their own. The result is four wonderful seasonal varieties of wildflower honey Nettlebeck brings to market every week:
- Blackberry (which he can harvest consistently from year-to-year)
- Fireweed (more cyclical, some years big, others not – it is very seasonal)
- Pearly Everlasting (another consistent harvest, it is a darker honey)
- Japanese Knotweed (a very dark, rich honey, it can get blended with Fireweed)
He also brings to other varieties:
- Big Leaf Maple (which is only available occasionally); and
- Wildflower (a blend of honey from multiple plant species, blended, of course, by the bees).
Nettlebeck can control his honey varieties by placing his bees where they only have access to particular species in bloom. Of course, during seasonal transition periods, that is when the blends take place. The fireweed and knotweed will blend because the bees are flying down to the knotweed from the fireweed area.
Nettlebeck is concerned for his fellow vendors at the market over the loss of land for farming. “I love all these guys who come here to sell,” he said. “As land values go up, someone with lots of money can buyout the farmland. It is important to support the farmers at the market in order to allow them to continue to afford to farm the land.”
For more information on Tahuya River Apiaries, go to www.hiveharvest.com, or just visit them any Sunday at the Ballard Farmers Market, or on Saturdays at the University District Farmers Market.