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The buzz about bees

Mark Johns of Misty Mountain Honey near Carnation will serve as the Sno-Valley Tilth's guest speaker at its next monthly potluck and meeting on Monday, Dec. 11. Johns will share his experiences with beekeeping and discuss the beneficial role bees can play in farming.

Johns took up the hobby of beekeeping about six years ago after leaving the computer industry. With only a dozen hives, Johns' honey operation is strictly small scale, though his passion runs deep.

"I was interested in bees for a long time," Johns said, their biology and symbiotic relationship with flowers having fascinated him for years. "They're a really interesting animal."

After being laid off by Applied Microsystems in the wake of 9-11, Johns decided to further explore his interest in bees and got involved with the Northwest District Beekeepers Association. "There you have years and years of experience," Johns said.

In time, Johns' hobby grew into a modest honey business, allowing him to indulge in another of his passions, area farmer's markets. Along with his wife Karen, Johns runs Tolt River Farm & Crafts, an outlet for their Misty Mountain Honey, as well as beeswax candles.

Misty Mountain Honey is known for its unique flavors of honey, which include blackberry, cranberry, echinacea, fireweed, Japanese knotweed and raspberry. Kate Halstead, president of the Sno-Valley Tilth, said that the honey must really be tried to be appreciated. "They're really quite different," Halstead said, a testament to what Johns has managed to do with his bees.

In the summer months, Johns and his wife set up shop in markets in Carnation, Issaquah and Roslyn. Johns said the markets are a great social outlet and a good way to be involved with the community. "We like the environment there," Johns said. "We'll always be doing this in the summer time."

Johns has no illusions about turning his hobby into a vast money-making machine, though. "You really have to go large scale," said Johns. That can mean 5,000 to 20,000 hives, certainly a lot more than his hobbyist dozen. Still, the hobby has inspired Johns to take his professional life in a direction other than computers. He recently returned to Bellevue Community College and plans on transferring to the University of Washington Seattle Campus to pursue a degree in environmental science, something his beekeeping and farming experience should give him a head start on.

Over the years, Johns has learned to take advantage of bees, but is also aware of the challenges involved with beekeeping and knows that you have to be serious about the undertaking to make it work. He hopes to provide local growers with enough knowledge about beekeeping to aim them in the right direction, whether that be establishing hives of their own, contracting out to an experienced beekeeper, or realizing that bees probably won't suit their needs.

"I want them to go away with enough information to decide if they really want to do this," Johns said.

If they do want to do it, then they can take advantage of the same resources he did, such as the Northwest District Beekeepers Association or the Washington State Beekeepers Association. "Go to as many meetings as you can," Johns said. "That's what it's all about - learning."

For more information on Misty Mountain Honey, visit www.toltriver.com.

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