Beekeeper, apple grower ‘blessed’

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The woman lifts her blouse, careful to reveal only her back to the man.

Ken Hays, a Bosque Farms beekeeper, grabs a bee between his thumb and forefinger, presses it to the woman’s back and watches as it stings her. Then he does it again, nine times altogether. At one point, a bee stings him on the finger.

Mike Bush-News-Bulletin photo: Ken Hays, a master gardener, beekeeper, apple grower and small business owner in Bosque Farms, has raised apples and bees since 1970. This month, he will be harvesting Arkansas blacks and Rome beauties.

“Ouch,” Hays says, shaking his hand, then continues as if nothing had happened.

The woman, a regular visitor to Hays’ Honey and Apple Farm, also takes the bee stings in stride, even while acknowledging that they hurt. She is there willingly because she knows the treatment will help relieve the even worse pain of her chronic arthritis.

The nine bees, however, all females, die within an hour. About 99.9 percent of bees are female, Hays says.

The sting treatment, called BVT, is short for Bee Venom Therapy, a science that Hays says was developed in ancient times by the Chinese but perfected by the Japanese.

Although certain aspects of it may resemble acupuncture, it is different. Hays says it is good for any immune system deficiency. A bee, he explains, has seven anti-inflammatory pectins in her venom.

As soon as the treatment is over, the woman leaves. She did not want her picture or name in the newspaper, but will be back in a week or so looking to be stung again. She is one of dozens of people who visit Hays just for that reason. He doesn’t charge a dime for the BVT.

Moreover, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and Hays routinely stings himself in the elbows to ward off a recurrence of bursitis.

“I like to get stung at least 10 times a week,” he says.

Hays and his wife, Sherri, own and operate the Hays Honey & Apple Farm. The BVT is just something he does on the side. As the name of the 6.6-acre farm suggests, apples and honey are their specialties.

The apple orchard has 500 trees — all Stark Bros. — which bear a dozen or so delicious varieties of the fruit.

Hays harvested and sold all his ginger gold, early UltraMac and gala apples in August.

September is his busiest month, the best time for picking, packing and selling Stark crimson, blushing golden, Granny Smith, Fuji, Braeburn, Stayman winesap and Jonagold apples.

Finally, in October, he will harvest the remaining Arkansas blacks and Rome beauties.

Hays has raised apples and bees since 1970, shortly after retiring as an air traffic controller. He started out as a controller with the Air Force, then worked for the Federal Aviation Administration in Albuquerque for 28 years.

The outspoken and friendly 74-year-old with neatly-parted white hair, bright blue eyes, a truly refreshing sense of humor and an opinion on everything from politics to religion has also been a Certified Master Gardener for the past 21 years.

Speaking of politics, he calls himself an Independent, but appears to lean toward conservatism. He would like to see former Gov. Gary Johnson elected president, but is realistic enough to know just how unlikely that is.

His religion is Christian. He attends the Church of Christ in Bosque Farms and loves to quote Proverbs, a book that he says “teaches a lot of common sense.”

Generally, his preferred method of farming is organic. But this year, he had to spray for apple maggots, a pest that has been known to destroy entire crops. He also hangs hundreds upon hundreds of pheromone strips in the fruit trees to confuse another would-be pest, a moth, to keep them from mating.

The bees, meanwhile, live and work in hundreds of wooden boxes called superstructures. At harvesting time, the honey is scraped from the hives with the use of a hand-held hot knife, then separated from the beeswax in a big centrifuge called an extractor. From there the honey is strained and bottled.

Hays enjoys repeating a slogan that he learned from a friend: “No rain, no flowers, no honey – Lots of rain, lots of flowers, lots of honey,” and unfortunately, the drought has greatly reduced the amount of honey his bees produce.

He usually keeps most of his bees in an apiary down in Truth or Consequences, but this year that wasn’t necessary.

This year his bees are producing five different kinds of honey. Altogether there are hundreds of varieties.

Beside providing BVT sessions at no charge, Hays finds several other ways to give back to the community that buys so much of his apples and honey.

As a Master Gardener, every February he teaches a free Department of Agriculture pruning seminar at the Church of Christ. And three months later, he gives a seminar on honey bees at his spread on Esperanza Road.

Hundreds of people show up for that one, and he charges anywhere from $8 to $10 — but only to cover the costs of renting chairs, tables and portable bathrooms. Last year, one interested person came all the way from Florida.

Last Thursday, as he does several times a year, Hays presented a class on bees and pollination to Valencia County school children. Almost five dozen kids and another two dozen adults showed up for this week’s event.

“I believe we’re here to serve God and to serve people,” he says in explaining why he does so much for free.

Although he says it’s time to begin slowing down, he seems fit as a fiddle. He works out daily, watches what he eats (lots of apples and honey) and fasts one day a week, every week. He appears to be in excellent health.

Hays is president of two growers markets, both of which sell their wares in Albuquerque. On Tuesdays, the Presbyterian Growers Market sets up shop just west of Presbyterian Hospital on Central Avenue and on Saturdays he can be found at the Uptown Growers Market. Both are open from 7 a.m. till noon.

To learn more about honey, bees and beekeeping, visit Hays’ website at www.papabearshoney.com.

He and Sherri have been married for nearly 25 years. She no longer works full time, but still helps out around the farm from time to time.

Hays grew up on a small dairy farm about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Like many people born in the 1930s, he recalls being very poor. And while he alternately complains and laughs about that poverty, he thinks it was ultimately beneficial, a good learning experience and character builder.

“I was so poor,” he says, “but now I’m blessed.”