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King Bee By Laura Araujo J


ust a couple miles outside of Owasso, Okla., residential neighborhoods are popping up among established Oklahoma farms in one of the fastest-


growing areas of the state. Traveling east, the main road passes from an urban center into the countryside. Toward the end of a street of ranch- style homes with neatly kept lawns is RJS Bee Farm. Three people stand in the driveway, chat- ting. One of them is Dane Strickland, a Verdigris Valley Electric Cooperative member, also known as the “Owasso Bee Guy.” The others, a couple with motorcycle helmets on, are on a road trip from Kansas City, Mo., making the most of fall’s last warm days. “When we travel, we try to get together with other keepers and talk bees,” Peter Fish says. He and his wife, Laura, are hobbyists in their fourth year of beekeeping. “We like to buy local honey wherever we go,” he says. “Honey is like wine. It tastes different de- pending where it’s produced.” A honey bee buzzes around as the couple gets back on their yellow bike, stocked with a supply of Oklahoma honey, ready to continue on their journey.


A peculiar prescription


Around back of his home, Strickland keeps a few bee colo- nies. He initially be- came interested in bees when his chil- dren’s pediatrician prescribed dark honey for their allergies.


Dane Strickland, also known as the “Owasso Bee Guy,” displays his Oklahoma honey. Photo by Laura Araujo


“Both kids were having respiratory


issues triggered by al- lergies and were having to use steroid breathing treatments,” Strickland says. “I thought it was crazy, but the honey helped our son, Joshua. We didn’t notice a difference with our


daughter, Reagan.” 12 12 WWW.OK-LIVING.COOP WWW.OK-LIVING.COOP


Strickland began researching and learned that the pollen present in local honey can reduce a person’s sensitivity to seasonal allergens. In the process, he became fascinated with how bees com- municate and how the hive functions. “When I told my wife I wanted to keep bees she reminded me of the time I ran from a wasp’s nest, tripped and sprained my ankle,” he says. His interest in bees triumphed over any anxiety he might have had and Strickland began beekeep- ing. His fi rst hive didn’t survive the winter—but he persisted. Now in his seventh year, he has 55 to 60 hives. Some are in his yard; the rest are at an api- ary, located in a cow pasture, just up the road.


Busy Bees In the heat of the mid-day sun, Strickland’s


backyard hives are full of activity. Worker bees come and go. The honey-making process begins as bees use their tongues to suck sugar water, called nectar, from fl owers. An enzyme in the bees’ in- testines helps to break it down into simple sugars. They place the processed nectar into the beeswax comb that Strickland refers to as “bee Tupperware.” Once it dehydrates and becomes a syrup, the bees cover the cells in the comb with wax and store it for a winter food source. This process yields honey that is resistant to bacteria. “Honey won’t ferment. It won’t go bad. They


found honey in King Tut’s tomb and it was still edible,” Strickland says. “Sometimes honey crys- tallizes, but it can be liquefi ed by heating it at a low temperature, between 110 and 120 degrees. It should never be heated in the microwave because it will kill the enzymes.”


Before going into the hive to show off the work of his bees, Strickland dons protective gear includ- ing gloves and a veil to cover his face. Often, bee- keepers use smoke to help calm the bees. The smoke simulates a fi re; the bees’ instinct in the case of fi re is to fi ll their stomachs with honey and prepare to evacuate their homes. In doing this, they engorge themselves and become unable to curl their abdomens to use their


stingers


effectively. Strickland slowly lifts one frame out of the nu- cleus colony or “nuc.” Inside the hive is abuzz as some 50,000 bees are busy doing their jobs. The bees communicate via chemical messages called pheromones. They create the beeswax comb that forms the structure of the hive. The queen lays eggs within a portion of the comb to birth new workers. She begins laying in January and tapers


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