By JOHN O'CONNELL
BLACKFOOT, Idaho -- Aspiring beekeepers come from throughout Idaho and surrounding states for the annual spring demonstration and sale hosted at 2 J Honey Farms in southeast Idaho.
2 J Farms has carved a niche selling bee nucs -- or nuclear colonies -- for novices to start their own hives. Beekeepers attending the May 18 event said 2 J Farms offers Idaho's only sizable and dependable source of nucs on an annual basis.
To give customers buying nucs the best experience possible, 2 J Farms partners with Power County Extension agent Reed Findlay, who helps promote and run a morning course during the nuc sale to teach buyers some of the basics of the trade.
"There's a certain technique you develop in terms of pulling frames out, evaluating what's on them and putting them back in the right order," said Jay Miller, owner of 2 J Farms. "They practice on our stuff so they don't kill their stuff. We just want people to have a good experience."
For $90, his customers took home any of 200 nuc boxes, each containing three frames of brood and bees and a queen.
Other options for start-up hives include shipped packaged bees, which include 3 pounds of bees, a queen and a can of sugar in a cage, or traveling to buy nucs from Utah and California, where they're commonly sold by commercial beekeepers.
"It's very unusual to find somebody who is selling nucs," said Roger Porter, a hobby beekeeper from Chubbuck, Idaho. "Sometimes the commercial guys will do this, but most of the time they don't think it's worth their time, but you can see what this has built up to with 2 J Honey. They've been very generous to provide this service, but it's more than a service. It's a profitable thing, as well."
The Millers keep 4,000 hives and have been involved in beekeeping for generations, dating back to Nephi Ephraim Miller, a dry land farmer from Utah's Cache Valley who got his start in the honey business after trading oats for hives. He's recognized for pioneering the modern practice of migratory beekeeping -- moving colonies to pollinate crops in warmer climates during winters.
Miller acknowledged he comes out ahead financially on the spring sale, but he explained the event is less about revenue than raising awareness and spreading the craft of beekeeping. Furthermore, he said splitting up colonies to make nucs prevents his populations from peaking too early before summer.
Based on interest in the spring nuc sale, Miller's son-in-law, beekeeper Brody Tomazin, believes hobby beekeepers are on the rise.
"It's gotten to be a really popular thing to have bees in your garden. We've been doing this for five years, and every year has increased the number of nucs and people who have come," Tomazin said.
Kate Whitcomb, of Hailey, Idaho, bought nucs at the sale based on fond childhood memories of her father keeping bees. She's been working with a beekeeper from her area to learn the ropes.
"I think maybe there's an increase in beekeepers because (bee deaths) been in the media, and I think it has raised awareness," Whitcomb said.
Several beekeepers who buy nucs from the Millers sell at farmers markets, and a few, have grown sizable enough to accompany the Miller family to the almond fields of California for the winter.