photos by jessica swanson
When Brenda Calvert’s husband Bob retired from the Navy 10 years ago, he was looking for a hobby. Already flourishing was Brenda’s garden art business and small farm on eight acres in Brush Prairie. When Bob became interested in beekeeping, it was a perfect complement to the business – obviously – and soon, it became a large part of the couple’s business.
“He got hooked,” Brenda said, “and then I got hooked.”
Bees are in the news a lot these days – and it’s never good news. This summer’s lowlight was a 50,000-bee pesticide death in Oregon that prompted the Oregon Department of Agriculture to place a 180-day ban on the use of dinotefuron, a pesticide based on neonicotinoids, a type of pesticide associated with massive bee die-offs. The couple currently manages 18 beehives, each of which can produce up to 250 pounds of honey in a season from a variety of flower sources. More importantly Brenda has become a leader in the beekeeping community, an advocate for bees and sustainable practices, and a mentor to aspiring beekeepers.
Half Moon Farm is a steward of bees and the land use practices they need to survive. When the Calverts moved onto their acreage in 1998, they cleared the overgrown blackberries with pigs, who uprooted the whole property and allowed the Calverts to avoid spraying toxic chemicals on their land. They have continued to develop their land in similar ways, sustainably and in tune with nature. The couple has various pollinator gardens, a large lavender patch with more than 400 plants of various European varieties, heirloom pumpkins and a variety of vegetables, fruits and nuts thriving in concert with a diverse wooded acreage.
Brenda does not use spray pesticides, rather opting for torching weeds, using boiling water on them or, if necessary, injecting them with apple cider vinegar or a “touch of Round Up.” She beams with pride at the amount of beneficial insects and other creatures living on the property, such as praying mantises and “about a million frogs.” For fertilizer, Brenda uses organic chicken and mushroom compost and diatomaceous earth. She raises chickens for eggs, which are in high demand, and this year, a few pigs are hanging out in the front garden. This fall, a new farm store will house all of Half Moon’s products in one place.
Half Moon is not a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm, but instead its customers check for availability and then make appointments to come by and pick up produce, flowers and honey. Brenda grew up on her family’s land in the area and remembers “riding my horse to Battle Ground” and remarking that the landscape has truly changed since there were dozens of dairies dotting Clark County and bees weren’t dying by 30 percent a year.
There are a number of theories about why bees are dying at alarming rates – one of Brenda’s is that there are so many chemicals, their immune systems are simply breaking down and the hive cannot stay as strong as it used to. These days, bees need extra care. In the Pacific Northwest, the bees must be protected from the dampness, and to that end the hives at Half Moon Farms have eaves to keep the homes dry.
There is a bit of interest blooming in backyard beekeeping, but Brenda encourages pragmatism – taking a bee-first attitude. “Forget about the honey” she said, and concentrate on establishing the bees when first getting started. A hive of bees needs almost 100 pounds of honey to survive and they spend the first few years establishing themselves.
For more on keeping bees and bee awareness, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or check for up-to-date local information on the Washington Beekeepers Association website: wasba.org/local-beekeeping-organizations/#2.