Surgeon’s beekeeping hobby yields sweet success


Craig Chang made the most of the sunny weekend in Victoria, working on an irrigation system for a forage of alfalfa and clover.

Cows won’t be feeding on these crops; bees will.

Alfalfa is a high-nectar producer, which foraging worker bees take back to their hive to turn into honey, said Chang, 46, of Victoria, who is a general surgeon by trade. Alfalfa requires a lot of water, Chang said. He estimates the crop requires about 9,000 gallons of water per acre every day, which is why he’s building an irrigation system.

For the third year in a row, Chang’s hives have produced low quantities of honey, he said. The continuing drought conditions have not only starved the crops but also the bees that feed on them. The drought has also created a kind of natural selection environment for the bees, he said.

“Droughts are not all bad,” he said. “They help the natural selection process. Only the hardiest bees survive.”

Chang remembers 2010 fondly as the year his seven hives produced more than 1,000 pounds of honey. There was optimal rainfall in 2010, he said, and the bees produced honey until July, when the rain stopped.

“It was amazing,” Chang said.

Though he has not harvested much honey in the past three years, his fondness for bees continued to grow.

“I actually really like them,” Chang said. “Bees are amazing little creatures.”

Chang has been beekeeping for six years and now has 11 hives. It takes a persistent and inquisitive mind to be a beekeeper, he said.

“There’s more to it than most people realize,” he said. “I thought it would be easier keeping bees.”

Chang became a beekeeper hobbyist because of the environmental benefits of bees and the thrill of working with them.

“It’s like tending to a garden, except my garden can kill you,” he said.

The knowledge of beekeeping is like a craft or trade learned through experience and community, he said. In his first few years as a beekeeper, his bees didn’t produce any reserve honey for him to harvest. It took trial, error and talking to fellow beekeepers for him to learn the proper way to care for bees and when to leave them alone.

“Bees are beautiful in their uniformity, and they’re survivors,” he said. “They’ve been around a lot longer than we have.”

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