Generations of well-bee-ing

Rothauge shows 10-year-old Julien Renault the ins and outs of a beehive and how to retrieve honey-filled frames. Bowman, Renault’s grandmother, stands by, also taking in Rothauge’s tips.

Editor’s note: This the second in a series of Sentinel articles exploring local beekeeping.

It’s a partly cloudy day at the end of August, and Francis Rothauge is tending his bees. But this time, he has another mission as well.

He lifts the top off one of the hives, peeking in and explaining what’s going on inside to eager 10-year-old Julien Renault. Renault holds his hands out, hoping a bee will land on his gloved fingers so he can get a closer look. 

Renault has yet to be stung while near the bees and wearing his bee suit, and he has an exceptional amount of confidence around a buzzing, busy hive. Rothauge’s kind explanations and conversation seem to help as well, as he explains that while a bee sting may hurt, at the end of the day Renault will be okay. It’s just one of the things that bees do to keep their hive safe.

Maureen Bowman, Renault’s grandmother, stands nearby, asking questions and listening to Rothauge’s words as much as Renault. Today, Rothauge is not only robbing the bees, he is teaching Bowman and her grandson how to do the same.

“Part of my job, I feel, is to get people started,” Rothauge said.

Bowman had a hive nestled in an old photobooth on a portion of property she was getting ready to sell. “I didn’t want to harm them,” she said, “so Francis came and helped me put them in a hive box.” She then brought them back to her orchard but lost the bees last winter and now Rothauge is helping her get started again.

“You can read about [beekeeping] all you want,” said Bowman, “But there’s so much difference to be with somebody that knows what they’re doing, and obviously has a love for what he’s doing, because that’s an important thing too.”

Rothauge brought her a swarm about a month ago and she has been working to get them through the winter.

Renault, though not an owner of a hive himself, has helped out in his grandma’s garden since he was two years old, and now he’s learning how to keep bees because, as Rothauge says, there aren’t enough young people who are into the hobby.

“You go to the Lane County Beekeeper meetings and there’s very few people there under 40. Most of them are over 70. We gotta keep training people and talking to people and educating people about the importance of the bees and what we’re doing. And so it’s great to see Julien here,” said Rothauge.

Bowman is excited to introduce the concept of beekeeping to Renault. “I became so interested in it and I thought ‘I just gotta get this guy a bee suit, we can do this together and we can learn about it,’” she said. He likes showing the bees to his friends too, said Bowman, and the pollen on their legs.

Rothauge isn’t new to imparting his knowledge; he has taught a variety of people how to care for bees. He finds the process extremely rewarding, especially when his pupils get to enjoy the fruit of their labors.

“To see the bees thrive, to see other people pick up and learn things and be interested in the honeybees and wanting to make sure the honeybees are surviving and getting proper nutrition ... it’s enjoyable to see people who are picking up on it,” said Rothauge.

People find him a variety of ways, from talking to him while he sells honey to needing help with their bees who ‘left,’ or mysteriously disappeared. Though most of the time the bees have actually died from disease or attack from wasps or some other danger. Some people also meet Rothauge through him rescuing hives on their property. Regardless of how he meets people, he loves helping them.

When he rescues a hive of bees, sometimes the property owner will pay him upwards of $100 for a simple job because he’ll tell them to just pay him what they think the service is worth. “Well when I get something simple like that [job], I just take that money and put it in the education fund for the Lane County Beekeepers,” said Rothauge.

He also donates 10 percent of the money he makes from his bees to the American Cancer Society. After a melanoma scare, he sees a need to help people become more aware of the most common form of cancer and know that is is very treatable if caught early. 

Beekeeping may have some sweet rewards, but for Rothauge it’s more than the honey. He is obviously passionate about helping others and making sure the next generation forms an interest in beekeeping.

“Hearing [people] talk to me about what they’ve done and the joy and feeling of accomplishment they have because ‘they’ve just done it! And they know they did it! And it’s gonna work!’ So it’s like with anything else, when you teach somebody else how to do something, that’s just like a schoolteacher, it’s a joy,” he said.

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