Keeper of the bees — Silverdale family business grows out of hobby

George Purkett lifts a frame of a bee hive to search for the colony’s queen bee Tuesday - Kristin Okinaka/staff photo
George Purkett lifts a frame of a bee hive to search for the colony’s queen bee Tuesday
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka/staff photo

They didn’t expect a father and son making bee boxes would stop traffic. But people saw them and the boxes, stopped by and asked for one.

That’s how Stedman Bee Supplies started more than 40 years ago.

“Al just liked bees,” said Barbara Stedman, owner of the supply shop.

The bee supply shop, located on Anderson Hill Road in Silverdale, sells everything a new beekeeper needs and is the hub for the West Sound Beekeepers Association.

The association has about 12 hives in the backyard of the shop to use for educational purposes and holds meetings once a month. Last Saturday the association hosted a beginners bee keeping class that about 40 people attended.

“It’s kind of an arcane skill,” said T.J. Jorgenson, the association’s president. “But anyone can do it.”

Jorgsenson is going into his third year as a beekeeper and said his 7-year-old son kept his own hive for a 4-H project. Jorgenson started as a way to control where what he and his family eats, comes from. They already had a large garden and chickens in the yard of their Hansville home in North Kitsap County.

“It’s another way to produce our own food. We like to know where our food comes from,” Jorgenson said.

This year however, because of the cold weather conditions during the summer, Jorgenson didn’t see much honey.

Harvesting occurs in August or September and he said he harvested about two weeks ago. He said he got about 30 pounds per hive. He’ll be going into the winter with 15 hives. In a typical year, bee keepers can get upwards 250 pounds of honey per hive. The average is about 100 pounds, Jorgenson said.

“Bees are like people. They don’t like getting out when it’s rainy and cold,” he said.

When he first was looking into bee keeping, Jorgenson thought he could begin keeping bees at any time of the year.

Bee keepers need to prepare in the winter for the start of caring for bees in spring when around early to mid-April, batches of bees arrive to the Stedman shop from California, he said.

Stedman said she receives about 450 orders that includes a package of three pounds of bees including one queen bee.

George Purkett, an association member, is all about the queens.

“I really like raising queens,” said the 20-year bee keeper. “You get to encourage the bees to work for you a little more.”

In each honey bee colony there is one queen bee, who is responsible for all the eggs. She releases pheromones that lets the other bees know that their queen is present. Worker bees make up 90 to 95 percent of the colony. They are all female bees and guard and clean the colony as well as forage nectar and pollen. The third component to a colony are the drones, which are the male bees that serve no function except to mate with the queen when the weather is right, said Jorgenson.

Purkett added that drones cannot sting because they do not have stingers.

Purkett, of Port Orchard, said the main reason people in the area keep bees is to be able to pollenate their gardens.

“That’s probably the biggest reason,” he said, although added that he got into the trade because his brother-in-law kept bees and it looked fun.

Complaints from neighbors of his bees have never been a problem, said Purkett, adding that one time his neighbor said the bees were stealing chicken feed from her chickens. There was a high protein mix in the feed, and once he realized that he needed to go get pollen, it wasn’t a problem after that.

When colonies reproduce, they swarm and their new hives may end up in trees or people’s homes. The association has a “swarm list” where residents can find a member who lives in their area who will remove the hive for free, said Jorgenson.

What Purkett and Jorgenson said about bee keeping is that there is never one solution to the problem. There is a lot of trial and error, they said.

“You’re not in charge, you’re part of it,” Jorgenson said.

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