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Osage Nation hoping for sweet success with Harvest Land hives

The bees at Harvest Land have gone through a lot, but the beekeepers have installed their hives in a safe spot where cows will no longer knock them over, and they are not at risk for attack by moths, beetles, and mites. In 2025, their hives will be ready to produce enough honey to sell.

As a founding member of the Tribal Alliance for Pollinators, the Osage are working hard to grow not only bee hives but also plants that help the endangered insects thrive.

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear has publicly expressed his support for the bees, and as though hungry for honey, Harvest Land has upped their focus on beekeeping and they are making enough progress that they’ll yield some honey this year and more in 2025.

“Bees are wild animals,” said Tom Ashmore, who has worked to fight off threats to 20 bee hives such as moths, beetles and mites since back when Harvest Land was Bird Creek Farms. “We didn’t have a spot to put them and the cattle would regularly come in there and knock them over,” he said. “That was our first year of beekeeping and we fought off all that.”

Ashmore is Harvest Land’s resident beekeeper along with Cameron Chesbro. Both Ashmore and Chesbro are environmental project specialists and their job has involved learning all about bees.

This year, the bees have been safely nestled in a spot of their own; but all those threats the bees faced meant they had to start over. The beekeepers learned how to protect them with careful attention and have since grown their remaining hives and kept them safe.

This May, Harvest Land bought 11 hives from Kansas City. “We got a ‘nucleus,’ it’s got a queen, workers, it’s essentially half a hive and it’s got the key components of a hive for it to build,” said Ashmore. Now, Harvest Land has a total of 15 healthy hives.

The Tribal Alliance for Pollinators has provided the Harvest Land beekeepers with seeds to benefit the bees, and they’ve also bought seeds and planted them near the bees, which are located west of Pawhuska. “The wildflowers are self-propagating. They can just be broadcast out there in the field,” said Ashmore, who added that they also have 10 big buckets of wildflowers that will be transplanted.

Those wildflowers provide a little feeding station for the bees, said Ashmore, and Harvest Land is protecting them from aerial spray, a practice that ranchers and “people that hate anything but bluestem do,” he said.

Native plant installations at Harvest Land also feed the bees. There is a native plant plot adjacent to the bees, and at the Osage Ranch, which the beekeepers are planning to expand. “That’ll tie into some of our biological habitat assessment studies,” Ashmore said.

Harvest Land also has an orchard with 5-foot-tall saplings that include pecans, paw paws, peaches and more. “The elderberries are producing. We will potentially be able to get elderberries off of them this year,” he said.

The bees are enjoying the abundance around them, but that does not mean the honey can be rushed, said Ashmore. “Everyone wants honey [but] Harvest Land [only] has two to three hives that are established enough that they are expected to produce honey this fall—if all goes well,” he said.

“There are times when you feel that you’re just at the whim of Mother Nature. This year we caught two swarms, that’s when a beehive outgrows its hive, and they naturally will. The queen will take necessary workers with her and the hive will have a new queen emerge. The hive basically splits. She flies off and decides where she’s going to make her new home, and that’s what people find in trees.” One of those emergent hives was on the Wahzhazhe Heritage Park Trail which abuts Harvest Land.

“It was on Facebook’s ‘concerned citizens’ page. We went and got that, we brought that one back to our hives and it stayed for a couple days and took off [again,]” said Ashmore. “Bees are literally wild animals. They will do what they want to do. You can set them up with the coziest shack and if they don’t want to stay there, they are gone.”

Harvest Land expects to harvest 100 pounds of honey this first year. Given that a healthy hive yields 60 pounds of honey. Ashmore expects to begin selling honey next year.

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Chelsea T. Hicks
Chelsea T. Hickshttps://osagenews.org
Title: Staff Reporter
Email: chelsea.hicks@osagenation-nsn.gov
Languages spoken: English
Chelsea T. Hicks’ past reporting includes work for Indian Country Today, SF Weekly, the DCist, the Alexandria Gazette-Packet, Connection Newspapers, Aviation Today, Runway Girl Network, and elsewhere. She has also written for literary outlets such as the Paris Review, Poetry, and World Literature Today. She is Wahzhazhe, of Pawhuska District, belonging to the Tsizho Washtake, and is a descendant of Ogeese Captain, Cyprian Tayrien, Rosalie Captain Chouteau, Chief Pawhuska I, and her iko Betty Elsey Hicks. Her first book, A Calm & Normal Heart, won the 5 Under 35 Award from the National Book Foundation. She holds an MA from the University of California, Davis, and an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts.
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