Computer programming and farming don’t seem like natural partners. But for the Foley family, mixing the two is the norm. La Jolla Country Day School class of 1995 alumnus Steve Foley has built a thriving homestead in Leavenworth, Washington, by remaining flexible and relying on grit.
Both Foley and his wife, Kelsey, telecommute in their computer programming jobs and adjust their schedule to fit their lifestyle. On their 8.5 acres, they tend a diverse range of livestock, vegetable and fruit crops, and bees, using sustainable and organic methods. “My life is very dirty,” jokes Foley, who begins his day by “taking care of the ‘heartbeats,’ the two-legged then the four-legged.” Once children Kestrel (11) and Ridley (7) are off to school and the animals are tended to, he focuses on computer projects.
Over the years, with a lot of trial and error, the Foleys have developed a living system for working the land and building a life they love. Some experiments included caring for chickens, ducks, cows, lambs and pigs, and growing heirloom crops like German Extra Hardy.
Their curiosity keeps them exploring, which is how beekeeping found its way into the mix. Kelsey took a class, and Steve read an article, and before long, he was known in town as “the Bee Guy.” He put up an electric fence to deter bears and has had as many as 15 hives at one point. As his processes improved, he led the North Central Washington Beekeeper’s Association to share his knowledge with neighbors. Here, he shares with us:
What’s the first step someone needs to take to keep bees? My favorite approach is to contact your local beekeeping club and see what classes they offer to get you off on the right foot with direction from an experienced beekeeper. You’ll have a million questions in your first seasons, so it’s best to line up a source of answers early.
What are your favorite beekeeping resources? Mike Bush’s series on beekeeping, The Backyard Beekeeper (great photos), The Beekeeper’s Handbook, Randy Oliver’s Scientific Beekeeping website (www.scientificbeekeeping.com), the American Bee Journal, and supply catalogs to keep up with the latest and greatest equipment
How can you gauge how much honey you’ll harvest? If I have solid, periodic rain during my nectar flows and some not-too-hot weather, I can have a decent honey crop. An eye toward the weather and word of mouth from other area beekeepers normally gives the best clues about how the nectar is flowing. I aim to harvest two to three gallons of honey per hive and leave enough in the hives for a hard winter.
Do you get stung? Do you need to wear a special suit? I get stung several times a year, usually when I’m in a hurry or being a bit rough with the bees or catch them by surprise. I wear a veil and jacket, long work pants and tall boots. I stopped wearing gloves years ago, so when I get stung, it’s usually on my hands!
What are the medicinal benefits of keeping bees and harvesting honey? Many claim allergy relief and general health boosts from consuming local honey. Honey does have some antifungal and antibacterial properties that people say make it a great treatment for burns and skin problems. But I have no personal experience in these areas. I can confirm that honey harvest is a delicious mess that makes for smiles on children and adults alike.