Meet Treasure Valley

Jennifer Berry

By Jennifer Berry

Annual Interview Section

Part of my job at the UGA bee lab is extension, which means I get to travel, teach classes, talk to clubs/associations and present research at various meetings. Traveling has been a highlight of my career, but what has been even more rewarding is getting to meet such generous and interesting people. To date, all my experiences have been wonderful, but one in particular, stands out. That’s when I met the members of the Treasure Valley Beekeepers Club (TVBC).

The club is located in Boise, Idaho and let me tell you, these folks know how to run a bee club and have a blast while doing it. They also know how to treat their guest speaker. They were extremely organized on the details of the trip; what to expect, when and where my talks would take place, where I was staying, etc. After being picked up at the airport by five members of the group, the next thing I knew, I was swept off to meet the Lieutenant Governor of Idaho. Then, they took me out to a fabulous restaurant, where the rest of the crew was in attendance.

During dinner, we chatted about this and that, and somehow, I was reminded about the time I met Leslie Nelson. Here’s the story I told them that night and it’ll eventually make sense why I am writing about this in a beekeeping magazine.

Back in my college days (the first time) Leslie Nelson (the most incredible comedian and actor) was starring in a play in which I was working as a backstage hand. The last night of that play, myself, along with the other theatre nerds, gained the courage to ask him if he would like to join the crew for some food and drinks. Leslie quickly accepted and I had the privilege of bringing him to our apartment. Once there, the entire theatrical department was crammed into our small kitchen with Leslie front and center. We offered him homemade tamales and scotch which he gladly accepted. After several minutes of nervous questioning from the “panel,” I heard a noise emanating from his chair. It was the kind of sound that can throw you into fits of embarrassment, a sound you pray never escapes you and is heard in public, a sound that you never heard from your mother, a sound only meant for the privacy of the bathroom. You know the sound of which I speak!? Well, it happened in the company of Leslie Nelson.

After the sound dissipated, you could’ve heard a pin drop since we were all in shock that Mr. Nelson actually “tooted” in front of us. To not embarrass him further, we quickly started up the conversation, asking questions like “what was it like to be in Airplane, how did you get into acting, who’s your favorite director”? Not five minutes later, another louder, rumbling sound exploded into the air. Once again, the conversation ceased for a few short seconds and then quickly picked back up trying to recuperate the discussion and ignoring what had just happened. This went on for some 20 horrible minutes or so, with each toot becoming louder and longer in duration. Maybe he couldn’t hear what was happening, or maybe he didn’t care, I thought, but either way, I was dying inside, since it was I who offered him my roommate’s mom’s, homemade tamales. It was my fault his internal organs were rebelling.

Just when I was about to call 911, the loudest, longest toot that I’ve ever heard, radiated from him. Once the rumbling ceased we were dumbfounded and terribly embarrassed for this poor man we all practically worshipped. That’s when Leslie, sorry Mr. Nelson, lifted his right leg, revealing a pink whoopi cushion, and tossed it into the air. As it flopped on the table he said, “relax folks, it’s called a practical joke!” It took several seconds for the image to register in my brain and the brains of the others, but once we all realized what had just happened, the room burst into fits of laughter. Leslie then proceeded to tell us all the ways he had played tricks on people over the years with this very same bubble gum pink, whoopi cushion. The rest of the evening was perfect!

Fast forward 30+ years, I’m telling this story at dinner to the TVBC group. The next night, after an exciting day of sight-seeing, was the annual pub crawl where we travel from pub to pub adorned in bee attire and then end up at an awesome dinner spot. There’s 20+ people in the room. Dinner is over and we are just wrapping up dessert. That’s when I start hearing some strange noises emanating from around the room. They had purchased several dozen whoopi cushions and proceeded to pull the same gag on me. Believe it or not, it took several “passages of air” before I caught on what was happening. I love practical jokes and boy did they pull one on me.

Ok, enough discussion about the trials and tribulations of irritable bowels. Let’s get on with the show. The December issue is one of my favorite articles to write, not only because I get to feature someone special, but also because I get to know this person even better. Always a fun time. But this year, I had a REALLY hard time trying to decide who to highlight from the TVBC since they are all awesome. So, instead of trying to pick just one, I’ve decided to highlight several in the club that wanted to be a part of this article. This group has become one of my favorite ones to talk to, talk with, and play. Each member received the same three questions.

The entire crazy crew of the TVBC watching the total eclipse

1. What prompted you to get into beekeeping?

2. How does the TVBC benefit the Treasure Valley?

3. How has the TVBC benefited your beekeeping experience?

Here are their unabridged answers to these questions. Let me introduce to you, the one and only crew of the Treasure Valley Beekeepers Club (TVBC).

Kevin “Kebin” Duesman, founding member and his wife Liz.

Kevin “Kebin” Duesman – Past president 2015, Founding Member of the TVBC & Great Guy!

1. It was a Christmas gift from my wife Liz. Twenty-three years ago we were at my Dad’s funeral telling funny stories about his life and there were a few about him getting “stung up” while working with bees. Liz remembered these stories and a couple months later there were these large boxes under the Christmas tree. Two hives grew into over 20 hives today.

2. Our club is very alive; we have a core of 15 or so that make it work. We have a big focus on helping in the valley with swarms, schools, state fair, our Foothills facility and bug day. We also provide great information with our meetings, mentor program and teaching for the Oregon Master Beekeeping Program.

3. When I started beekeeping I had no local resources for help or advise. There was no Google or YouTube, just books. I learned the hard way. The club became a great conduit for information from many beekeepers. It also helped bring great speakers to Boise. Another benefit is the great friends I have made with this club.

Karla – Past President & Great Gal!

1. For me, beekeeping started as a bit of a selfish interest. Simply wanting to increase my raspberry yield, I spent some time during an Idaho Winter reading about honey bees and pollination. I ordered some equipment and set my husband and boys to work building boxes and frames. Finally, I bought two colonies in the Spring. My family thought I was crazy! Our berries increased from two gallons to eight that first year. Sadly, I learned the hard way that there was so much more to learn with my newfound hobby.   

2. Not willing to give up, I joined the Treasure Valley Beekeepers Club. Early on, I discovered a wealth of information from some seasoned beekeepers (meaning experience, not necessarily age). They were happy to share their knowledge, their successes and failures and even their beer and pizza!! It was easy to make the time to attend meetings because the core of this club centered on sharing beekeeping knowledge, resources and helping to educate the Treasure Valley on honey bees. But what kept me returning and wanting to get involved were the friendships and generosity of the members. The willingness to help was far beyond the casual introduction. It was – and still is – a genuine willingness to help and educate and share.    

3. I can’t say enough about this club! That deep friendships built through the common denominator of bugs may sound crazy. But the last seven or eight years have been full of an incredible amount of beekeeping, education mixed with fun, friendships and maybe a tiny bit of beer and perfectly grilled brats! Long live the TVBC?

Marc von Huene – President of the Hewlett Packard Boise Bee Club and Great Guy!

1. Curiosity was the start. After attending an in-store seminar and seeing how easy beekeeping was, we decided to give it a try. Buy your wooden ware, a few tools, a package of bees and life is good, right? It only took one season to lose both my queens. 

2. It has encouraged the spread of small scale hive ownership throughout the area. Whether anyone knows it or not, pollination throughout the valley has increased greatly through the hundreds of hives that might not have otherwise been cultivated. It has also provided encouragement for people to continue even after losing their hives, present company excepted.

3. It has given me access to enough mentors to become a beekeeper. I firmly believe no one can be successful in beekeeping today without a local mentor. I’ve been at it for six years and learn something new virtually every week. And it has provided a means to give back. I’ve been fortunate to have mentored dozens of people in the club and elsewhere.

Mark Davis and Uncle Frank.

Frank Grover: AKA Uncle Frank – Sturgeon Fisherman & Great Guy!

1. I am a farm kid from rural Idaho. I raised all the animals and fowl imaginable, but when a friend took time to show me a hive and a queen, I was hooked.

2. When I moved into Boise City a few years ago, there was a newly formed bee club. The number of people who helped the club run smoothly is much larger than any other club of any kind I had seen. They were excited to share information, and use the club resources to further our knowledge. They brought in speakers, purchased better bee stock to share via a queen cell program, and improved the genetics of bees kept by hobby beekeepers in the club. They also organized the ease of the public’s ability to reach a beekeeper when they had a swarm via a swarm button on the club website. They partnered with Oregon State University to offer a Master Beekeeping Program in Idaho.

3. For myself, the benefits have been huge. I have improved my skills more in the last 10 years then in the previous 20, just from hanging out with these bums. I have gained many friends, not just surface friends, but good friends, that are always including you, and looking out for you, like the time I got injured by a table saw and a large crew of beekeepers showed up and extracted my honey for me. I also gained friends that encouraged me to try things that I may not have done, like queen rearing, which turned out to be very rewarding.

Melinda Jean Stafford, current president.

Melinda Jean Stafford – Reigning President of TVBC, the Boise State University Bee Team Advisor, Alumna from UGA and Great Gal!

1. Beekeeping fell into my lap with a job I was hired for at Boise State. But, I found that I really enjoyed the hobby beyond what my job at the time was asking me to do. My boss connected me with Steve Sweet who really took me under his wing. He spent time mentoring me with the Boise State rooftop hives, invited me to TVBC meetings, and even asked me to help occasionally. His persistence and passion for bringing young people into the club really intrigued me so I kept coming to events. Eventually, I felt confident enough to purchase my own hives (aside from Boise State’s). I don’t think I would have personally gotten into the hobby if it had not been for strong mentors and the community I found in the TVBC.

2. So many ways! The TVBC benefits the greater Treasure Valley by offering free services to the community – swarm catching, educational presentations from our local experts, and open resources to answer questions about bees. The TVBC also advocates for beekeepers by working with city officials to create bee-friendly ordinances that allow for urban beekeeping. Our club has a strong presence in our area which has allowed good and accurate info about beekeeping to be accessible.  

3. Mentorship. This is a key factor to success for new beekeepers. Beekeeping is hard! Textbooks and YouTube videos can only get you so far, but the help from a local, experienced beekeeper is invaluable. Our club offers new beekeepers a sense of community and opportunities to build relationships with others who have been-there-done-that.  

Rena – Current Treasurer & Great Gal!

1. The reason I got started in beekeeping was that I saw my granddad doing this as a small child in Buhl, Idaho. He did it to supplement his income during World War II when there were sugar rations. Fast forward to 2012. I got bored and checked in to community education classes and there it was – beekeeping – and it sparked a memory. Jeff  Bergland and Kebin Duesman were teaching the class and they did it with their usual humor. They made it look like fun! 

2. I went to the monthly TVBC meetings to learn as much as possible before jumping right into it. Watching Steve Sweet literally stand up on a chair and preaching about “managing your mites” has been a mainstay of the club for years!!

3. I am proud to be a member and treasurer of this fine club and all of its awesome members. The club has grown exponentially over the years and we are spreading best beekeeping practices over the valley every chance we get. Not just to adults, but we are reaching out to future beeks as well. Many of our members have taken the Oregon State Master Beekeeping classes and gotten their apprentice Certificates. We have journeymen, and a couple of masters in the club as well, impressive! I don’t know if other clubs call in the rock stars every year like we do, but they should. The educational experiences are phenomenal plus with reasonable club dues, and fundraisers we are able to make things happen. It’s fun to be able to run ideas off the best minds in the business!! I will call it quits at this point. 

JB (Mobsta) Alexander (I must say Great Guy or he’ll break my legs;)

1, 2 & 3. I got hornswaggled in by my wife Rena, then I became “The Mobsta” because I can get everything for free for the club (especially Alcohol) 🙂 Then I fell in Love with the club. Nicest family I have ever had.

Jeff Bergland – Past President & Great Guy!

1, 2 & 3. I’m a transplant from St. Charles, Illinois. My father, George Bergland, as a kid from the age of 10-12, had his own apiary on his family farm in Wasco, Illinois. As I was growing up I had a fascination with bees, but was never given the opportunity to work with them. During my adulthood, my father kept telling me that I should really give beekeeping a try. Well, once I moved to Boise, Idaho and bought a home, my wife Anne paid for me to take a beginner beekeeping class at the Idaho Botanical Gardens. The instructors of that 2010 class, among a few others, were Steve Sweet and Kevin Duesman. After enjoying their lecture on honey bees, I was immediately enthralled in the hobby of beekeeping! Further enticement came from Mr. Sweet when he gave me a bottle of his honey labeled “Sweet Honey”, which he professed was a “cure for all that ails you”. With honey in hand and some pretty severe pollen allergies, I started eating his honey on toast, adding it to tea and cooking with it. Within two short weeks my allergies were gone and I didn’t need to take medication anymore. Wow! Now, I really wanted to raise bees for my own health benefits! I immediately ordered some hive boxes from a bee supply company and acquired some nucs from a couple of newly made friends in the Treasure Valley Beekeeper’s Club. As a result of my interaction with the TVBC and with virtually no substantive knowledge in beekeeping, I was elected President of the Treasure Valley Beekeepers Club (TVBC) in 2011, for a two-year term. As of 2018, I have been beekeeping for seven years and actively maintaining nine hives. I really enjoy teaching classes and sharing information on the benefits of all thing’s bees and other beneficial pollinators. I even got involved in the Oregon State Master Beekeeping classes. I completed the program and I am now a Journeyman Beekeeper.

Steve Sweet, founding member.

Steve Sweet – Past President & Treasurer, Plus Founding Member of the TVBC and a REALLY Fun, Crazy, Great Sense of Humor, Intelligent, Caring and Loyal to the Core Great Guy!

1. “A long time ago in a land far, far away . . .” (actually 1972 in Davis, CA), I lamented to a friend that Organic Chemistry was apparently going to be my demise, yielding a lightsaber to the heart of any college graduation aspirations. At his suggestion, an appeal was made to the Academic Senate to substitute Entomology 101 for the science credits as ascribed to Organic Chemistry. Under the tutelage of Dr. Norman Gary and Dr. Harry Laidlaw, the full course of beekeeping classes, including a graduate class in queen rearing, more than fulfilled any science credits. Coupled with a stint as a work-study student, I became adept at lifting heavy boxes, cracking hives for the researchers, picking up discarded burr comb, sweeping floors, stacking empty equipment, mixing up tanks of sugar syrup and loading trucks.

2. With the advent of the idea of a TVBC, graciously fostered by the Idaho Honey Industry Association in the Winter of 2007, a disparate conglomeration of individuals from across the Treasure Valley (Mountain Home, ID to Ontario, OR, generally ranging along the lower Boise River) united under a common appreciation of one species of insects. The wide range of individuals and experiences has been astounding. We have university staff, students, and teachers, a plethora of high tech reps, title officers, outside salesmen, a wide range of medical professionals, financial officers, legal minds, emergency services personnel, and retired individuals. You name it! Over the years, commercial beekeepers throughout the Valley and nearby areas (Noyes Apiaries, HoneyGold/Cox, Treasure Valley Bees, Golden Bee, S&W Honey) have also been tremendously supportive of the hobbyist contingent. Our wide range of individuals, united behind the honey bee, brings together a very broad life-experience and generally people very tolerant and accepting of new ideas. We are indeed fortunate to have such a highly motivated and sharing people dedicated to successful beekeeping.

On top of the strong foundation of individuals, the TVBC is blessed with a very dedicated troupe that is willing to be active in club leadership roles, club activities (education through the Oregon Master Beekeeping Program, Pollen Paddy Parties, Crack Candy Board Parties, etc.), community outreach (Foothills Learning Center, Western Idaho Fair, Bug Days) along with special programs, such as sponsoring our 2017 Total Bee-Clipse with Dennis vanEngelsdorp, Randy Oliver, Steve Sheppard and friends.  

Jennifer Berry being arrested at the Capitol for giving Idaho’s Lieutenant Governor, Georgia honey.

Over the years we have also had some truly wonderful talented beekeepers come to Idaho to help spread the word, including: John Miller with a sold out special showing of the then-new movie “More than Honey,” in which he was a central protagonist; and other National Honey Bee Day luminaries such as Kim Flottum, Randy Oliver, Dennis van E(mentioned earlier), Jan Lohman, Ellen Topitzhofer, Dewey Caron, and of course, Jennifer Berry.

3. How has the TVBC benefited your beekeeping experience?

Personally, my beekeeping practices have needed to evolve under the onslaught of mites, Deformed Wing Virus, and what seems to be a plethora of other ailments, foreign to when I was originally introduced to honey bees. Honey bees seem to represent the harbinger of a constantly evolving environment. In order to be able to succeed under these continually varying conditions, one must maintain constant vigilance and be prepared to constantly change. Staying with the same ol’, same ol’ is a recipe for disaster in the beeyard. Being involved in the TVBC has brought me closer to a wide variety of individuals interested in both the science of beekeeping and the continual commitment for improvement in beekeeping practices.

On a personal note, the support the TVBC has obtained from the Oregon Master Beekeeping Program and all the wonderful and supportive individuals that have passed through our little part of Idaho, have been extremely gratifying. The support of national organizations, such as the Western Apicultural Society that recently held its annual convention in Boise this last August has also benefited our local beekeeping experience. The excitement generated by a wide-array of highly talented, internationally respected beekeepers right here in the Treasure Valley has improved the outlook for successful beekeeping here for years into the future. SS

As you can see, the enthusiasm these people have for teaching folks about bees, keeping their bees alive and helping each other, is amazing. I wish they lived closer so I could hang out with them more often. They treated me like gold, kept me well fed, made my stay in Idaho fun and entertaining, and even shipped me a box of rocks (I’m a bit of a rock hound and collect them wherever I go). If you live in the area, make your way to one of these meetings. You will learn how to keep your bees happy and healthy, and make friends for life.

Take care of you and your bees!