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Beekeeping hobby helps Grand Forks pastor ‘contemplate, slow down and think’

Honey bees fascinate the Rev. Paul Knight. "That this little creature does so much is just amazing to me," said the pastor of Hope Evangelical Covenant Church in Grand Forks. Knight began to explore the world of beekeeping a few years ago as part...

Pastor Paul Knight, holds up a frame pulled from his box as the bees continue working on the honeycomb. Knight lead pastor at Hope Evangelical Covenant Church in Grand Forks, became fascinated by beekeeping. HeÕs in his third season of beekeeping which, as a hobby, offers many benefits he says.
Pastor Paul Knight, holds up a frame pulled from his box as the bees continue working on the honeycomb. Knight lead pastor at Hope Evangelical Covenant Church in Grand Forks, became fascinated by beekeeping. HeÕs in his third season of beekeeping which, as a hobby, offers many benefits he says.

Honey bees fascinate the Rev. Paul Knight.

"That this little creature does so much is just amazing to me," said the pastor of Hope Evangelical Covenant Church in Grand Forks.

Knight began to explore the world of beekeeping a few years ago as part of his goal to learn new things.

"Every four or five years or so, I try to pick something I don't know how to do and learn about it," he said.

He's taken up bicycling, gardening and "about six or seven years ago, I bought a 25-foot sailboat that I didn't know how to sail."

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Whatever he chooses, "I get engrossed in it," he said. "I'm kind of 'Type A' (personality trait)."

Whatever the case, taking on new hobbies and interests is rewarding.

"If I didn't do this, I'd become a flat and uninteresting person," he said.

Getting started

The notion of beekeeping first piqued his curiosity four years ago, so he started reading about it, Knight said.

A bit of an "entrepreneur," he visited the beekeeping operation of a church member who lives near Emerado, N.D. Despite being stung, it didn't dampen his interest.

Later, he checked with city officials and learned no ordinances prohibit beekeeping in homeowners' yards. "They said go for it," he said.

When he heard about a man who was retiring from beekeeping, he decided to buy his equipment.

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"I bought two hives and painted them up," he said. He was "fascinated" by the bees.

Now in his third season of beekeeping, Knight looks after 12 hives-two in his yard and two each in five friends' backyards-all in Grand Forks.

"I'm about at my capacity," he said, noting he may expand with the help of others, including his son, Daniel.

But he doesn't need to worry about where to set up new hives.

"People have asked me to put hives in their yards," he said.

Learning from experience

Although bees can survive the winter, Knight hasn't been able to make that happen yet, he said. "I've tried to overwinter them but have not been successful so far."

He orders honey bees from a supplier in Hackensack, Minn., in January or February and drives there to pick them up in May.

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He buys Carnelian and Italian bees, which are the most common among beekeepers, he said. "They're a more gentle bee, and they're prolific."

He's learning from experience.

"You buy them in packages," he said. "A package contains three pounds of bees-10,000 bees-and one queen."

He estimates the bee population in each of his two hives grows to 60,000 to 80,000 bees by midsummer. That may seem like a lot of bees, but he's become adept at interacting safely.
"When I take out the frames, I move carefully and I wear my (protective) suit," he said.

Neighbors have not been troubled by his bees-except for an isolated incident.

"In one of the yards, a neighbor was stung, but I think that was because someone messed with the hive," he said.

"The only time bees are aggressive is if they feel threatened, or if you're moving things around a lot," he said. "If you're careful and slow, they can handle that."

His niece's son, Mason Morris, who's 5, has become an able assistant, he said. "He thinks he's the 'bee whisperer.' He's never been stung, even though he's literally within a couple of inches of the bees."

'Every bee has a duty'

It's his fascination with bees-and their well-organized productivity-that continues to capture Knight's interest.

"Every bee has a duty-except the drone-from the moment they're hatched," he said.

Chosen by the colony, the queen bee lays 1,200 to 2,000 eggs a day, he said. "That's her duty. She's fed a different diet than the other bees-a 'royal jelly'-for five to seven days."

The queen lives anywhere from three to five years; other bees live six to seven weeks.

Among the others, "there are 'undertakers' (which) take the dead to the edge of the hive, and I take them away," he said.

"Some work in the nursery and take care of baby bees. Some repair the wax on the comb; others are cleaners. They're busy bees."

Because he's a pastor, it's probably inevitable that he notices correlations with human beings.

"Every person is gifted to do something for the community," he said.

Knight attends to the hives every week or two.

"I set up boxes, paint boxes, replace old frames and keep the hives free of debris," he said. "The bees take care of themselves; they're incredible housekeepers."

They also are part of the natural world that human beings have been given by God, he said. "Bees pollinate the flowers and crops and keep the system running."

But they "are in crisis right now because of 'colony collapse syndrome,' " he said. "The U.S. is the No. 1 producer of honey. We're losing one-third to one-fourth of the bees a year; beekeepers are re-multiplying to keep up. It's a pretty significant issue."

Colony collapse disorder, or CCD as it was renamed in 2006, is a phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind the queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen.

The disorder causes significant economic loss worldwide because many agricultural crops are pollinated by Western honey bees.

No. 1 honey producer

North Dakota leads the nation in honey production. In 2015, North Dakota bees produced more than 36.3 million pounds of honey, valued at more than $65 million, according to Michelle Mielke, public information officer for the state's agriculture department.

"The number of beekeepers in the state has increased as well, from 182 in 2010 to 264 in 2015," she said.

The state licenses beekeepers, and Knight is certified.

Licensure is necessary because, to protect and keep track of this important industry, the state needs to know where the bees are coming from, especially if they're from out of state, Knight explained. "That's my theory."

Although he's relatively new to beekeeping, Knight has enjoyed encouraging success.

"We had a great season last year; we had really, really good honey," he said. "I'm guessing we had over 75 gallons of honey. The bees went crazy."

He harvests in late August or early September, using an electric stainless steel extractor which spins the frames to release honey from the honeycombs into 5-gallon, food-grade, sanitized buckets.

"With (the extractor) you can do 10 frames at a time," he said.

He sells the honey in half-, 1- and 2-pound containers, labeled "Knight's Urban Honey," mostly on Facebook. His label features "a little bee carrying a sword and shield (because) my name is Knight," he said.

Last year's bounty is nearly gone, he said. "I have about seven or eight pounds of honey left."

He hasn't made a profit, he said, but "someday I might."

Personal benefits

It's probably the connection with nature that better explains Knight's fascination with beekeeping.

"God gave us this beautiful earth and creation ... and I want to learn more about it," he said.

For the most part, he keeps his hobby separate from his work as pastor, but the wisdom gained from observing bees does find its way into his sermons.

"Every once in awhile I make a reference to it," he said.

Honey is mentioned in various places in the Bible, including Proverbs, Ezekiel and the Psalms. The latter stating, "How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth."

In addition to informing his thinking, beekeeping bestows other benefits.

"Beekeeping makes me a better person," he said. "I'm more well-rounded. It connects me to creation. It slows me down. I have to be patient-I'm a fast-paced person. In connection with that, I'm a better pastor.
"It also disengages me from the work I do. Church work is fun and exciting, but it could consume me if I let it."

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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