Shavertown beekeeper has side business making and selling hives

Last updated: July 22. 2014 11:27AM - 1706 Views
By - egodin@timesleader.com

Chris Kohl attracts honeybees by placing a small bit of honey on his finger.
Chris Kohl attracts honeybees by placing a small bit of honey on his finger.
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Owner: Chris Kohl

Location: Shavertown

Phone: 570-362-1506

On the Web: http://www.sweetvalleyhives.com/

SHAVERTOWN — One Back Mountain resident, Chris Kohl, is as busy as the honeybees he cares for since he started a sideline business, Sweet Valley Hives, selling handmade Warre hives.
Backyard beekeeping has grown as a popular hobby as many people want to have a positive impact on the honeybees' survival and environment, Kohl said.
Honeybee populations have been negatively affected by a virus, the Varroa mite, which is a bee tick, and a new class of pesticides.
“A healthy hive can fight off two of these but not all three,” he said.
The revived interest in beekeeping is based more on the bees' survival and aiding pollination than harvesting honey, he said.
According to the Back Yard Beekeepers Association, honeybees are responsible for 80 percent of insect pollination. One hive can collect 66 pounds of pollen a year. This gives the old adage, “busy as a bee” a new perspective.
“One hive can impact hundreds or thousands of acres around you,” Kohl said.
Remembering a favorite quote from an unnamed publication, Kohl said the solution is “not one person with 10,000 hives but 10,000 people with one hive” that will make a difference. He explained when one or all types of detriments can enter a commercial beekeepers hive, they can quickly spread to other nearby hives.
Still a 'Sweet' business
Kohl, who held a lifelong interest in the honeybee and its intricate colony, started Sweet Valley Hives, an online business, in 2012 in Sweet Valley. Since then he has moved to Shavertown.
“We kept the name,” he said. “Sweet Valley Hives just sounds nice.”
Kohl started beekeeping in 2009, locating his hives on the second floor of a barn, to keep them bear-safe. Today he cares for 11 hives, two of which are in his backyard.
To give his bees a home, he made Warre Hives out of oak. Warre Hives are a French design promoting the bees' natural instinct to build down as new hive boxes are added to the bottom.
Through small modifications, based on trial and error, Kohl added his own touch to the classic design. Curiosity to see what the buzz was about inside the hive led him to add an observation window.
Secondly, the original design for the Warre Hive did not have an area where a queen bee is placed for the introduction and adoption process into a new hive.
Kohl explained that when starting a hive, bees are ordered from a different vendor and arrive by mail. The queen is created from a different bee hive. She needs to be accepted by the new colony.
This process happens when the worker bees eat through a compressed sugar plug, which keeps the new queen in a matchbox-size box. Beekeepers will check to make sure the queen was accepted and escaped the box. Without a queen ring, there is no designated area to place the queen bee for easy inspection later.
“It can take up to three to five days for the adoption process,” Kohl said.
Among other improvements Kohl includes, each hive comes with two propolis screens. Propolis is a hard resin-like substance bees create to fill cracks in the hive for weatherproofing or to quarantine parasites that may enter the hive.
Having two propolis screens allows for easy cleaning or to keep one clean screen for mite treatments, Kohl said.
He added a screened bottom board to aid in the prevention of infection by the Varroa mite. The invasive Varroa mite came from Japan about 20 to 30 years ago. This tiny insect can destroy a colony.
Ensuring proper spacing between the top bars, Kohl added a hardwood insert with slots cut in. This allows the top bars to be removed and replaced easily, maintaining bee space.
Busy when bees aren't
This past winter, while his bees were clustered in their hives for warmth and inactive, Kohl was very active.
“This past year was very busy,” he said. “I have shipped hives to 31 of the 50 states.”
With a day job, Kohl found himself working long hours into the night building hives to meet incoming orders.
When someone is starting up a new hive, Kohl said the hive has to arrive before the bees do. Noting he does not sell bees, just the hives, he enlisted the help of his wife, Eileen, and son, Michael, to get the hives completed and delivered to his customers before their bees.
All the work to establish and maintain a hive is worth it. Kohl and his wife like to sit in their yard and watch the bees come and go from the hives.
Having no fear of being stung, Kohl said his grandchildren play in the yard around the hives.
“Honeybees are not aggressive unless you are a direct threat to the hive,” he said. “It is quite relaxing to watch them.”

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