Siloam Springs: Land of honey

While most would shoo bees out of their backyard and pray they stay away, Billy Stevenson is welcoming them with open arms.

The international office director set up his second hive this month, a mass of bees 3,000 and growing. And not just as a hobby – it’s the doctor’s orders. Stevenson has severe allergies that require him to take weekly shots that are a cocktail of area grass and pollen. His allergist recommended consuming local honey as a way to further inoculate himself as it contains local pollen.

Stevenson, with the help of Counseling Director Tim Dinger, built a hive, known as a super, in his backyard. After the queen was released, the American honeybees got to work sealing every joint and corner with a thick wax.

“It was like someone took a caulking gun and caulked around the edges,” said Stevenson, “as if they were saying, ‘we are sealing this place so that no foreign agent can get in. It was amazing.”

Stevenson also set out protecting the hive by setting up a reliable water source and having an abundance of plants. The scorching heat last summer seemed to cause the collapse of his last hive. He also has stopped using pesticide and convinced his neighbors to do the same. Recent studies in the journal “Science” suggest common pesticides may reduce queen populations and cause bees to become lost on their way back to the hive.

The study brings scientists one step closer to why bee colonies and other pollinators are collapsing. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, habitat loss, disease, inadequate food sources and pesticides are thought be culprits. Regardless, bees are an integral part of America’s food industry because they pollinate fruits, nuts and vegetables.

The also produce honey, which Stevenson doesn’t just find helpful for allergies, but delicious. With his smoke can and bee suit, he can peek into the super and spy on the bees’ colorful pollen stashes.

“If it’s red, I bet they’ve been on my cherry tree, if it’s yellow, I bet they’ve been on the honey suckle,” said Stevenson, who labels each jar of his “Billy’s Backyard Honey” according to the predominate pollen source. According to him, different pollen means different flavor. Acacia tree honey is sweet and light. Clover honey is heavy. Heather honey is heavy and dark. And Billy’s Backyard Honey has a sweet taste with a hint of cherry and lilac, says Stevenson.

But beyond the honey and health benefits, Stevenson finds a deeper satisfaction in beekeeping.

“There is a wonder, a splendor, that this is an intelligent design,” said Stevenson, who often will sit near his hive, watching the bees at work. “I have never gotten bored. I am always watching in utter amazement, sheer wonder at the miracle that is taking place before my eyes.”