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Certified Naturally Grown status awarded for Talent honey producer

Valhalla Organics of Talent is the first Certified Naturally Grown honey producer in Oregon and is one of the few on the west coast with the nearest in Utah.

Certifications was achieved despite having just one hive survive in their apiary near Bly Mountain past Bonanza, where a tough winter saw the loss four other hives. The location is adjacent to over a million acres of federal land where the bees can forage with a less likelihood of encountering pesticides.

“Beekeepers across America had massive losses last winter,” said Ruby Reid of Valhalla. “It was just a really tough year. I was thrilled that one of them had made it.”

Reid and her partner, Chris Day, started Valhalla in 2016 and moved the apiary when they purchased 5 acres near Bly Mountain which they developed through an internet funding effort. Valhalla also operates a mini-farm in Talent that produces CNG-certified produce, eggs, pickles and preserves.

CNG requires a commitment to organic practices and is an alternative to the National Organic Program that serves medium- to large-size agriculture operations. CNG is tailored for direct-market farmers producing for local communities with fewer paper work requirements.

“Many producers are drawn to CNG because our peer-review inspections foster valuable connections and knowledge exchange among farmers who share a commitment to high standards for farming in harmony with nature” says Alice Varon, CNG’s executive director.

With no nearby certified aviary operators, Reid used the option to have a qualified local expert conduct the inspection. Magdalena Winter of Be Happy Herbs in Ashland reviewed the apiary.

A 21-page booklet from CNG that details criteria for apiary certification includes requirements, prohibitions and recommendations that cover physical structures, hive care, bee management and other elements.

Among the recommendations is that beekeepers leave as much honey as is required to allow the bees to survive the winter without supplemental feeding that contain sugar syrup. To survive winter, Reid estimates that the hives should have 60 to 80 pounds of honey. That may preclude any harvesting of honey this fall although Valhalla has an online signup system should some become available.

Currently there are 13 hives in the apiary, but two weaker ones will be removed to a CNG vineyard, and bees from a third will be folded into the 10 hives intended for overwintering. Bees from stronger hives have been stealing from the weaker ones.

“Sometimes robbing can be really atrocious, having killing of bees by others and yellow jackets,” said Reid. Robbing can be decreased by making and entrance that only allow one bee at a time and by putting a hardware cloth screen over the main entrance to fool the robber bees.

Bees in all the hives were still alive when the couple visited the remote site in January. But later in the season a warm spell, followed by a week of snow, then another warming followed by a rainy period were likely causes of failure, said Reid. Bees will begin having babies and start forging when temperature rise, but climatic interruptions can lead to a lack of forage materials.

“They are communal animals. If they don’t have enough food, they will all die,” said Reid. Bees from the survivor hive have shown they can handle tough winters, she said.

After an older four-wheel-drive vehicle expired last year Valhalla entered a Greener Farms Together online competition, garnered 8,000 votes and received $6,000 which allowed for purchase of a new vehicle for the trips to Bonanza.

Recent improvements at the 5-acre site include a perimeter fence and apiary electrical fencing which is primarily designed to keep bears away but also deters smaller animals. Valhalla is exploring sources for other development money to create a sustainable farm operation. A major project would be drilling a well as water now need to be hauled to the site.

Reid is secretary of the Bee City USA-Talent committee and secretary for Pollinator Project Rogue Valley. She is an apprentice in Oregon’s Master Beekeeper Program. Valhalla’s products are for sale at local markets and can be purchased on-line at ValhallaOrganics.com.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

file photo A honey bee and a black bee share space on a sunflower at Irvine & Roberts Vineyards in Ashland.