It’s not unusual to find individuals keeping bees as a hobby and growing their own honey reserves. What you don’t see every day is an individual tending and caring for bee colonies strictly to give those bees a home and a shelter, with or without gaining the reward of honey. Doug Penning, a retiree from Coal Creek, Washington, has 20 bee colonies in his backyard that he keeps and tends to year round, during summer and winter seasons.
From letting the dandelions grow in his yard to warming cold, paralyzed worker bees in his hands (since February in Washington is its own beast), Penning puts forth the effort he does not for the spoils of beekeeping, but for the bees themselves. “I love bees,” Penning says. “If they didn’t make any honey one year–fine. Maybe next year, girls.” President of the Cowlitz Beekeepers Association, he’s the one people call to collect colonies from their properties, since his backyard shelter is always growing and available to unwanted colonies.
As a beekeeper, Penning certainly has his work cut out for him. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, around 42 percent of U.S. bee colonies collapsed in 2015, on the rise from the 31 percent of recent years. Penning is aware of this, stating that CCD, pesticides, urbanization, climate change, and disease are contributing to these collapses bee. “Bees have been around for over 50 million years, and they’ve made quite a few adjustments…. they’re going through a change, but I think that they’re going to overcome it,” he said, his optimism remains strong.
With bees losing habitats, Penning has created a new one by converting his backyard into a bee-friendly, natural environment. Bees need around an acre of flowers to get enough nectar and pollen, and as such Penning allows dandelions to grow uncut in his yard, since the noxious weeds are desirable to bees due to both being non-native U.S. species. Penning also uses natural remedies instead of store-bought miticide, which is used to protect bees from Varroa mites (miticide’s potentially devastating effects are currently debated.) “I believe that bees will make an adjustment for climate change. They can’t make an adjustment for things that we do, like pesticides.”
Mr. Penning aspires to act as responsibly as the bees he cares for to give them a fighting chance against their many threats, and he hopes that other people will do the same. He is optimistic about the bees’ survival and that they will adapt just as they have for millions of years. “Bees leave the environment in better shape than they found it,” Penning said. The hope is that we will as well.