For The Love Of Bees

Story and photography by Christopher Briscoe

Mario Gonzales loves his wife and children, but he adores his bees. Ask to see his favorite family photos and Mario’s smile broadens as he lights up his phone with images of his favorite queen.

Living on a few acres in rural southern Oregon, Mario is passionate his bees. Here is his story.

When I was a kid in Guanajuato, Mexico, I was fascinated by bees. Most of my friends had posters in their rooms of Farrah Fawcett. Instead, I had a poster of a beehive. It was beautiful. I still have it.

Mario's friends.

Much later, after becoming a college exchange student, and moving to Ashland, Oregon, I met a friend who helped me get into the bees. I read about bees and learned a lot about them on YouTube. Soon I had a bee hive. A month later I had 6. My wife and kids are big supporters. I’ve been doing this for 3 years. By the time I retire in a few years, my goal is to have 20 to 50 hives. I want to do this full-time.

they will fly up to 5 miles

Bees are like life. You have good days, you have bad days. In just one day, you can loose everything. Last week, during a cold snap, I lost 5 of my hives. Now I’m back up to 6. I’ve had to learn a lot about how to to take care of those guys and look out for things that can hurt them, like mites and Nosema, which is a stomach ailment bees get. If they’re healthy and happy, they will fly up to 5 miles to get pollen.

Mario Gonzalez takes a break from tending his bees.

I like the big queens. The bigger the better. I have a queen that’s about 3 or 4 years old. She’s declining. I have to buy a new one. I like the ones from Minnesota.They are more hearty than most because of the extreme weather there. The Russian bees are very aggressive. They're hard workers, but really mean. Italian bees are very gentle and produce a lot of honey. But they also like to rob. They fly to other hives and steal the honey. I would like to get my hands on some Romanian bees. They are smaller but hearty. They’re really good workers.

The Russian bees are very aggressive.

When you open the hive box, you have to open it up very gently, without disturbing them. Don’t ever kill a bee around other bees, because you’re going to have them all over you. The wounded bee releases a pheromone that signals danger to the other bees. They get mad.

Mario checks in on a hive.
Sometimes I let them sting me.

Smoke relaxes the bees. They loose their sense of smell and can’t smell the queen. They think that there is fire and all they want to do is protect their honey.

I’ve been stung about 20 times. Sometimes I let them sting me. I have arthritis. After a couple of days it gives me relief.

I give my bees special treats.

Pesticides are the main reason we are loosing bees. I’m 100% organic. China exports a lot of honey to the USA. They recently got caught diluting their honey with syrup. Some commercial bee keepers here mistreat their bees. If you treat even the meanest dog like your supposed to, you will get a positive response. I give my bees special treats - a drink mixed with yeast, lemongrass and sugar. I drive several miles to buy them organic sugar. My bees love it and work really hard for me.

Mario Gonzalez
Created By
Christopher Briscoe


All photos copyrighted by Christopher Briscoe, 2015

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