NORMAN — In one case, a tree that happened to have a beehive in it fell on a pickup.
In another, a young baseball outfielder, bored between pitches, noticed bees on nearby clover and wondered where they'd come from and where they were headed.
The first of those two is how George Richtmeyer, 81, of Noble, got into the bee business. He later helped others get their start, including the curious outfielder who is now an adult, Brian Royal, 40, of Norman. These days, Royal, who's been at beekeeping for a half-dozen years, is passing his knowledge on to others through events such as an introductory seminar about beekeeping held by he and fellow Noble Beekeepers Association members.
“I'd be out there on the baseball field and see them flying around the clover and kind of wondering what are they doing, where are they going?” Royal said.
Royal used to travel the world as a welder, and continues that line of work, but now stays much closer to home.
And he's added a business.
“That interest in bees kind of carried over to adulthood,” Royal said. “I bought a house, settled down. I told my wife ‘I want to get a couple of beehives.' And she's like, ‘OK.' I've always got some hobby going on and anyway, we started out with two (hives) and went from two to 80 and it will probably be over 100 hives this year.”
About two years ago it became more than a hobby and Royal has made a side business out of it, Royal Bee Supply & Equipment.
Richtmeyer on the other hand got out of the business near the start of the year. Again, it began with a hive from the oak tree that fell on his new Toyota pickup in the mid-1980s.
“I always liked bees,” Richtmeyer said. “I just couldn't believe what the little things could do. He could do so much in so little time.”
In time, Richtmeyer had 700 to 800 hives and knows he could have had more.
The first year he sold 25 nucs, a half-of-a-hive of bees, Richtmeyer said. Then the next year he sold a little over a hundred nucs, then a couple hundred and then about 600 to 700 each spring.
In doing so, Richtmeyer shared his interest with others, including Royal.
“It's always been a hobby and then two-and-a-half years ago it turned into an actual business,” Royal said. “We were blessed to get this business from George Richtmeyer.”
Royal in turn is sharing that knowledge with others in ways such as the recent introductory seminar at his home.
“What we're doing today is giving an introductory to people that are new beekeepers,” Royal said. “Looking at a queen, looking at a drone, looking at worker bees, looking at the different stages of brood, looking at honey, pollen, all the different aspects inside of the hive.”
Royal was asked what the season is for bees is in Oklahoma. That gets tricky because of ever-changing weather.
“Usually early spring feeding is February and then our bees will produce honey in this area up 'til about June or something like that,” Royal said. “I extract on July Fourth weekend, normally. The last two years because of the drought, it's been a little bit different.”
The production is another of the variables of beekeeping, Royal explained.
“It depends on how big the hive is and the area that it's located in,” he said. “You know you can move a hive four miles down the road and have a bumper crop as compared to having nothing four to six miles away.”
Royal tells people that the bees usually will produce at least one medium super of honey, which is about three or four gallons, or just under 60 pounds of honey, he said. A super is any hive body, or smaller box, used for the storage of surplus honey which the beekeeper will harvest. He's heard of much more being produced.
Besides producing honey and beeswax, bees can be linked to numerous crops such as nuts, fruits, vegetables, alfalfa and clover seed production and others, through pollination. Royal thinks the increasing canola production in Oklahoma will also lead to more bees in the state.
A new federal report by the Agriculture Department and the Environmental Protection Agency blamed a combination of problems for a mysterious and dramatic disappearance of U.S. honeybees since 2006.
The intertwined factors cited include a parasitic mite, multiple viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition, genetics, habitat loss and pesticides.
The multiple causes make it harder to do something about what's called colony collapse disorder, experts say. The disorder has caused as much as one third of the nation's bees to just disappear each winter since 2006, according to an Associated Press story. Bees, especially honeybees, are needed to pollinate crops.
Royal isn't just concerned about bees for financial reasons. Instead he, like Richtmeyer after all these years, is still just amazed by the fascinating insects.
“I'm a guy that likes to learn all the time,” Royal said, “and these bees keep you intrigued.”
I'm a guy that likes to learn all the time and these bees keep you intrigued.”