Brandon Wight is as hard-working and busy as the honeybees he keeps.
When the 19-year-old from Snohomish isn’t in school or studying, he’s at one of his three jobs.
“I’m kinda crazy,” the AIM High School senior said on a recent Sunday night after finishing an evening shift at Snohomish’s Pilchuck Drive-in.
During the week, after school, you can find Wight manning the counter at Snohomish Bee Co.
It’s here where he meets clients for his third job — a side gig, really — which he does for the love of the hobby.
Wight, a beekeeper since 2017, helps new hobbyists with their hives. His price? Whatever they think appropriate.
“I love talking about bees,” he said.
He keeps four hives — two at home and two at his grandparents’. (He had five, but the most recent hive didn’t survive the winter.)
“It’s so fun. I love it,” he said, adding that he hopes to double his number of beehives within the next two years.
He started with one hive in April 2017.
“A month later, I thought, ‘This is pretty awesome,’ so I got a second,” he said.
His favorite part of beekeeping is identifying the queen. He’s met and marked all of them in his hives.
He has a special wooden tool that gently holds the queen in place so he can mark her butt with a special kind of ink, which he gets from a craft store. As the queen ages, he uses a different-colored ink to mark her, tracking her lifetime.
“Oh, it’s so interesting,” he said.
His first year, he helped a couple of people with their hives. By his second year, now with two more hives to manage himself, he had the confidence to help more wannabe beekeepers.
“I help mostly new beekeepers,” he said.
Before he landed his job at the supply store, he would wander into the Snohomish Bee Co. shop to pick up tools. Eventually he asked for a job, but the owners, Cory and Sarah Marchand, were wary of hiring a minor. They told him to come back when he turned 18; he did, and he’s been working there since.
“(Brandon) is great,” Cory Marchand said. “He’s very patient and open-minded. Hardworking.”
When Wight goes out to aid new beekeepers with their hives — he assisted about 10 clients last year — he helps them with everything from hive positioning to mite control.
If he can help them in the store, he will, but when the situation seems “desperate,” he gives them a card and tells them to give him a call.
Most of the time, people don’t know what they’re looking at, which is one of the most common issues new beekeepers face, Marchand said.
That’s why his store offers on-site help. And pretty soon, they’ll make Wight their official Snohomish Bee Co. on-site support expert.
“We love that he goes out and works with new beekeepers,” Marchand said. “He just dives in head-first. He’s a tremendous resource.”
While Wight plans to pursue a medical degree after he graduates from high school this spring, he says beekeeping is something he’ll never tire of.
There are many reasons someone might get into beekeeping. For Wight, bees had been a childhood fascination.
“I can’t even count how many times I got stung when I was little because I was so curious about them,” he said.
For others, it’s a natural part of country living, Marchand said. They have the land and the time, so why not add beekeeping to the mix?
“Snohomish County is probably one of the most prolific counties for beekeeping,” Marchand said.
He estimates there are about 160 members registered with the Northwest District Beekeepers Association, whose mission is to promote honeybees and beekeeping throughout Western Washington. Marchand, of Monroe, is on the association’s board.
Some people get into beekeeping because they want the honey.
“By harvesting your own honey, you get to choose how you want to consume it,” Marchand said, adding that honey is most nutritious when it’s raw.
Others are just looking to save the bees, honey and native.
If they don’t have the space for a hive, Dave Pehling, secretary of the association and a retired Washington State University researcher, suggests bee enthusiasts plant a garden for pollinators.
“If you just want to save the bees, plant some plants,” Pehling said. “Just leave patches of dandelions in the yard.”
He said that native bees are actually better pollinators than honeybees, anyway, if that’s what you’re after.
“Bumblebees are the best pollinators,” he said. “Plus, they’re really cool.”
Pehling has been a beekeeper since the late 1970s. He has both native mason bees and honeybees.
“They’re amazing insects all the way around,” he said.
Honeybees are a little more work, he added. You have to harvest the honey and keep watch for mites year-round.
With native bees, he said, all a beekeeper really needs to do is drill some holes for them to burrow.
“My own mason bees are a start from some ‘shipworm’ holes in some lumber I recycled in 1983,” he said. “I raise several hundred each year just for fun. They all go dormant about July and one just stores the nests until the following March.”
Since adult mason bees are only active for a month or two, Pehling says it’s important for him to have honeybees. In the winter, he says he goes through “bee withdrawal.”
“Nice things about honeybees: They’re always doing something,” he said. “When it’s cold out, I go out and put my ear to the hive to hear them.”
So you want to be a beekeeper?
Of all of the challenges facing beekeepers, fighting off and treating for mites is probably the biggest one.
It’s a year-round concern, Pehling said.
All hives have mites, so it’s a matter of managing their population.
“The same way you would treat goats for mites or worms, you have to treat honeybees,” Marchand said. “These are living, breathing insects that need you.”
That means using pesticides. Most new beekeepers don’t like the sound of that, Pehling said. But it’s either lose the hive, and possibly infect others, or treat the mite problem at its source.
There are options, though. The Washington State Department of Agriculture has a list of approved pesticides for controlling or suppressing mites. The list includes Apivar, Mite-Away Quick Strips and Apiguard.
Information overload, common for new beekeepers, is another hump to overcome when entering the hobby, Marchand said.
First of all, different beekeepers will have different answers and best practices for different questions and scenarios. That’s one thing that Marchand, a beekeeper since 2012, and Pehling, the beekeepers association secretary, agree on.
Most of a beekeeper’s advice is anecdotal. By joining an organization like Northwest District Beekeepers Association and taking classes, beekeepers can narrow down the advice to follow.
But don’t get derailed by all of the “need to know” information. Marchand suggests starting simple.
“Egyptians kept bees,” Marchand said. “This is a simple hobby. There is no reason to overcomplicate it.”
The last great challenge to beekeeping is the cost. Marchand estimates you’ll have to invest around $1,000 to get started.
The essentials to have are a place to put the hive, something to cover your face when you handle the hive, a few hive tools (like a box opener to remove frames) and a bee smoker, a device that calms the critters.
“After that, it’s just maintenance,” Marchand said.
And don’t freak out if you kill a few bees along the way, he said.
If you go
Snohomish Bee Co. is at 403 Maple Ave., Studio A, Snohomish. Spring hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Call 360-568-2191 or go to www.snohobeeco.com for more.
Northwest District Beekeepers Association, www.nwdba.org
Washington State Beekeepers Association, www.wasba.org
Puget Sound Beekeepers Association, www.pugetsoundbees.org
Whidbey Island Beekeepers, www.whidbees.wordpress.com
Washington State Department of Agriculture, Apiaries Division, www.agr.wa.gov/plantsinsects/apiary/default.aspx
The Xerces Society, www.xerces.org
NW Honeybee Habitat Restoration, www.nwhoneybee.org
Washington North Coast Magazine
This article is featured in the spring issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.