An apiary: a place for keeping bees, as in a yard.
At Starry Lane Apiary near Rainier, Mary Tereszkiewicz and Judy Andrew’s approach to beekeeping expands that definition to the surrounding landscape. Raising healthy bees is their focus, which includes planting a variety of nutrient-rich flowers for the bees to feed on in addition to other environmental factors. As long as the hives are kept dry, even in the winter, the PNW climate can be ideal for a colony.
In 2006 beekeepers throughout the country were losing worker bees to what was later termed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). In response, Mary and Judy have applied some intuition and common sense to develop a supplement for their bees. They hoped to boost the bees’ natural defenses against whatever was causing the collapse by providing additional nutrients. “Much to our delight the bees just really responded, and they were healthy. They were big, abundant, everything that you could want,” Mary shares.
The pair have since worked and studied to figure out exactly why their supplement works so well. “The more you learn; the more you don’t know,” Judy admits. For the next ten years they studied and have continued their “backyard research” with careful observation, intense inspection of their hives and continual introduction of new plants to their property.
“Plants and bees have a symbiotic relationship,” Judy explains. “They can’t exist without each other. It’s known the honey bee doesn’t have a strong immune system. The bee’s immune system comes from plants.” Judy and Mary have learned many plants we consider weeds can be very beneficial to bees. Having a variety of plants that flower in different seasons also ensures that honey bees, and pollinators of all sorts, can search out the food they need from season to season.
Even on warm days in the winter, bees will come out to feed and relieve themselves. In the winter, bees have been known to stay in the hive for as long as six weeks at a time in this climate, all the while holding their waste. So, Mary posits, “The later blooming plants like ivy and witch hazel not only provide food but also contain antimicrobial qualities, which could be beneficial during this dormant phase.”
Mary and Judy were surprised in their years of reading and observation to learn how the honey bee can change and adapt and even rejuvenate itself. It is an industry norm to “requeen” a colony after two years. They have a queen that is going strong after six years. Early on, that queen started laying drone eggs which was a bad sign. Experts told them to get rid of the queen. “We looked at the queen, and she was so beautiful. We couldn’t do it,” says Mary.
“That’s because we named all of our colonies. Once you do that, you’re connected,” Judy laughs. Beekeepers have been known to name their queens they get so attached to them.
Bee colonies, even in the same yard, can take on different characteristics and produce different honey. “I see them like an entity,” says Judy of each hive, “with their own personalities.”
“When we get a bee package from California they are, I hate to say it, but compared to ours, they are dullards,” says Mary. “Our bees are vibrant.’
Mary and Judy also believe the bees’ best food is their own honey, so they leave 60 pounds in the hive to keep it healthy. A lot of people will take all the honey and give them sugar water. “We can supplement, but nothing is as good as theirs,” says Judy.
Mary is compiling their research with the goal of publishing a book and they are thinking of how to make their supplement commercially available. In the meantime, the women recommend the Olympia Beekeepers’ Association to anyone interested in raising their own bees. But they caution regarding the need to remember to care for the bees. “It’s not just about putting the bees in a box,” says Mary. “Plant as much as you can close to home.” And if possible, have access to wild areas. “The bees will find what they need.”
To help fund their research, Mary developed a skin cream recipe that features their honey. She formulated the cream to carry the honey into the skin. “A little bit goes a long way, so it’s very affordable,” she says.
Judy makes soaps out of honey and many of the plants they grow for the bees on their property. “I just use my inspiration,” says Judy. “It’s really a creative outlet.”
The Yelm Food Co-op carries their Starry Lane Apiary creams year-round. Judy and Mary have a stand at the Tumwater Farmers Market, and Delphi Farmer’s Market when in season where they sell their soaps and creams. Or you can contact them through their website, Starry Lane Apiary.