More than Honey: local beekeeper Fred Terry takes on new project

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Fred Terry, Oracle’s Singing Beekeeper

By Skylar Khan

Special to the Crier

Singing beekeeper Freddie Terry of Oracle has embarked on yet another new adventure.

Fred Terry and a select few beekeepers are starring in the movie More than Honey, produced and directed by Markus Imhoof of Switzerland. On May 22, 2013 the film won a Prix Walo, the most important award in Swiss show business, for best film production.

A profound statement taken from the film is a referral to an Albert Einstein quote: “If bees are dying out, mankind will die four years later.”

More than Honey recently made its US debut in Seattle, WA, followed by a premiere in Sacramento, CA. Let’s hope that the Loft is next in line to show the movie to its Tucson audience!

Terry sells his honeybee products at the Farmer’s Market at St. Phillip’s Plaza on Sunday mornings, such as Freddie Terry’s Apiary honey, organic honeycomb, pure wax candles and honey wax skin creams. His loyal pal Tux, appropriately named for his black and white fur, is never more than a step away.

While Terry was getting his MBA in 1974 at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, AZ he became friends with an old beekeeper. This relationship would forever change his life. After a two-year apprenticeship in basic beekeeping and hive management, Terry set out to start his own beekeeping business. He was the first beekeeper in Arizona to harvest and sell both bee pollen and propolis.

At one time, Terry managed around 400 bee hives. Today, this number has shrunk to approximately 150 hives overall. They are located within a 12 mile radius in and around the Oracle area.

Scientists have been struggling to identify the cause for the enormous dwindling of bees in recent years. When ‘colony collapse’ became big news and money was pouring into bee research, a bee scientist obtained a grant to analyze pollen that the bees were gathering in agricultural sites in California. She found 10 agrochemicals at one almond site alone. Five of the 10 were fungicides.

Fungicides destroy the flora of the gut in bees, reducing their ability to digest. The result is less honey.

John Miller of Miller Honey Farms in California is another beekeeper featured in More than Honey. Miller oversees approximately 500 million bees. When he encounters a newly deceased beehive, he no longer mourns the dead hive and bees because it happens so frequently now, he laments.

One of the reasons for the drastic decline in bee population, according to Terry, is the fact that bees are shuttled to agricultural sites by the truck loads, in rare cases even by railway. Thus, maybe three quarters of the bee population in this country may be working a specific site. If there are herbicides, fungicides, or other harmful toxins that affect the bees, they cross infect each other which then leads to the tremendous dying off of the bees. Terry’s bees are kept in the Sonoran desert far away from agriculture.

Desert beekeeping depends on rainfall and general weather conditions. Bees depend on the nectar and pollen from wildflowers, trees and desert plants. If there is no rain, there are no flowers and there is no honey.

Unusual spring weather in recent years has led to unusual consequences.

“The month of May has traditionally been the most productive month in past years, but not anymore” states Terry. “The weather needs to be warm and still for good honey production. Lately, it has been too cool and too windy. Wind upsets the plants and, as a result, they have less nectar.”

For aspiring beekeepers and anyone who is interested in the subject, Terry recommends reading The Wisdom of the Hive and Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley, whom he refers to as the greatest American bee scientist. The Buzz about Bees by Jürgen Tautz of Germany comes also highly recommended. That book is said to contain extraordinary photographs. Terry continues to explain that according to Tautz’s research, bees communicate with each other in a form of ‘dance language’ that is presented as a vibration within the hive.

Fred Terry was approached by Swiss filmmaker Imhoof because of his work with African bees. Terry first introduced African bees to Oracle in 1992. They proved to be strong and productive, but also ferocious.

By 1993, Terry had traveled to Costa Rica to study African bees in that environment, and the following year he visited and studied them in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He has been visited by bee scientists from other countries.

Some African bees have been found to live in places in South Africa that closely resemble the area in and around Oracle, Arizona. These places are located 32º South of the Equator and Oracle is 31º North of the Equator. Both are arid locations with sky islands. Terry teasingly adds that when the African bees came to Oracle, they said “we are home!”

Earlier this year, Terry traveled to the Peruvian Andes, Machu Pichu and a nearby jungle where he discovered yet another kind of bee: the stingless bee. The stingless bee is known for having been cultivated by ancient civilizations such as the Mayans, Incas and Aztecs.

The stingless bee’s melipoma is higher in moisture content, has a tendency to ferment, and has a higher acid content than that of other honeybees. Its main use today is in eye drops.

Terry states that it can dissolve cataracts, as had been described by the Mayans. These bees are found only in tropical areas, and he says that demand for their melipoma far outstrips supply.

Terry plans to revisit the jungle in the Sacred Valley below Cuzco, Peru as early as midsummer this year and work on a project to build an apiary for wingless honeybees in a preserve.

The medicinal benefits of bee sting therapy has been known to aid in reducing pain caused by arthritis. We are now also seeing bee sting therapy used to decrease symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis. Patients can get live bees supplied directly from a beekeeper.

“Being stung by a bee as a child is really a good thing” according to Terry “because then we are less likely to develop hypersensitivity toward bee stings as an adult.”

Terry takes offense at African bees being called ‘killer bees.’ He states that death by an African bee sting is rare. Most can be avoided with proper education and awareness of one’s surroundings. He explains that people die in the tens of thousands through infectious diseases incurred in hospitals, or through automobile accidents, whereas death by African bee sting can be counted on one hand per year!

In addition to beekeeping, Fred Terry is an accomplished singer/songwriter. Accompanied by his faithful dog and a guitar, the singing beekeeper visits schools where he teaches songs to preschoolers and kindergartners in English and Spanish. The rhythm of the music allows for easier retention of the lessons learned.

Terry also performs at social and cultural events. One of his songs is “Bee Positive”, and another is called “The Secret.” These songs reveal some of the things Terry has learned from the bees.

Meet Fred Terry Sunday morning at St. Phillips’ Farmers Market on River and First in Tucson. You may want to sample his organic honey and take home a few beeswax candles. And don’t forget to buy a CD for your children and grandchildren so that they may become bilingual too!

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