Honey money: Local keeps around 150,000 bees in his backyard

Bees are a pastime for Jim Beevers, who began keeping bees more than three decades ago. (Staff photo: Tony Bullocks)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Sixteen tiny, black and yellow bodies form a ring around a fountain of water in Jim Beevers’ back yard.

These bees seem serene. Almost motionless, they gather, side by side, and sip from the shallow pool of water. Reminiscent of clockwork, one raises her translucent wings, and is aloft, while another settles in her place.

For Jim Beevers, the insects are a pastime.

He supports around 150,000 bees — of the Italian strain — in five acres of land behind his home on the edge of Clovis. Two colonies thrive there, among wild flowers and sage, weaving with purpose from their hives, hidden inside wooden boxes, to fountains of water, to flora and fauna.

“God created a species that is very complex. Each bee in a colony knows exactly what to do. One feeds the babies, one makes honeycombs, one gets water,” said Beevers from inside his home, where books on nature are lined in neat piles on tabletops, under tabletops, beside furniture.

His bees produce 200 pints of honey per year, which Beevers peddles at farmer’s markets for $16 a pint.

Less than a handful of beekeepers sell honey at the Curry County farmers market, according to officials from the Curry County Extension Service office. Those who have sampled honey sold at the market said it is worth its price: It is fresher and varies wildly in taste, depending upon the plant from which the colony has drawn nectar, said an agricultural agent with the extension office, Stan Jones.

Beevers’ colonies buzz around the same vicinity, yet the honey each hive produces is distinguishable, he said. One is a deep, caramel color, rich and heavy, and another is the color of wheat, sweet and light, Beevers said.

Since Beevers began keeping bees more than three decades ago, he has seen the number of beekeepers in the region dwindle, he said. When he was a newcomer to the trade — his knowledge of beekeeping gleaned from a Clovis Community College course— there were roughly 10 beekeepers in Curry County. Beevers said, in addition to himself, there are only one or two other beekeepers in Curry County.

Those familiar with the industry heap blame on Africanized bees.

The notoriously aggressive strain gained a foothold in North America as a result of a mishap. A Brazilian geneticist brought the insects to South America to pump up honey production, and some queen bees escaped to mingle with other, more docile colonies, according to Curry County Extension Service officials.

“With the arrival of the Africanized honey bee, (beekeeping) is a whole different ballgame. People consider it threatening and very unpredictable,” said Carol Sutherland, an entomologist who works for the New Mexico State University and the New Mexico Department of Agriculture.

Sutherland said Africanized colonies have been known to drive out other more docile colonies from their hives in New Mexico, or can breed with other bees in a queenless colony.

Sutherland said pesky mites that prey on hives also contributed to the decline in the number of beekeepers in New Mexico, which began to slide about 20 years ago, she said.

Beevers, however, doesn’t dwell on the threat of Africanization in his back yard, as he stands just feet away from his two wooden hives, relaxed in short sleeves and denim jeans, while bees move in and out through a thin opening at the bottom of the box.

His trust in the bees is so strong he lets his grandchildren play in the back yard. The children are so used to the bees they go about their play unaffected, he said, and have never been stung. Two separate fences surround his hives, but they are only a precaution, Beevers said, for and against neighborhood children who might mess with the bee homes.

“Bees sting only to protect themselves,” said Beeves, slightly perturbed by the way, he says, the media portrays Africanized bees as “killers.”

Beevers cannot help but admire Africanized bees for their work ethic. They produce much more honey than other strains, he said.

He collects honey — he refers to it as “robbing” — three times a year and always expects to get stung in the process, even in a protective outfit of long sleeves and face mesh.

A world without bees, Beevers said, would be a little colorless, literally. Vegetables, fruits, and flowers would go unpollinated, he said.

“Bees really make you stop and think how awesome nature is,” he said, as his unconventional pets fluttered and crawled all about.