A popular hobby becomes a big buzz for business

Photo by Nancy Tarnai Dawn Cogan poses with jars of honey her bees produced last summer.
Photo by Nancy Tarnai
Dawn Cogan poses with jars of honey her bees produced last summer.

Nancy Tarnai

You may be a person with absolutely no interest in bees and honey but if you ever encounter Dawn Cogan, that will likely change.

Cogan’s enthusiasm for beekeeping is contagious to say the least.
She has not only supplied the sweet substance for years to customers at the Farmers Market, but she has taught many local families how to get started in honey production. She will be offering beekeeping workshops in February and March.

Cogan’s interest began 10 years ago when her daughter was suffering severely from pollen allergies. “I wanted to treat it naturally,” Cogan said. “I heard if she was given one or two teaspoons of raw honey she would gradually build up an immunity to local pollen. Believe it or not, it worked.”

So, Cogan purchased a gallon of local raw honey for $75. Because of the cost, Cogan decided it would be a good idea to have her own bees. Since she was homeschooling her two children the endeavor could also function as a science project.

The children helped build the hives and the family took them out to their 160-acre homestead off the Elliott Highway. That first year the bees produced three gallons of honey. Then Cogan enrolled in Steve Petersen’s beekeeping class, moved the hives to the Aurora area and that year’s yield was 46 gallons. “That was way too much honey,” Cogan said. She began selling honey at the Tanana Valley Farmers Market and three years ago started teaching beekeeping classes.

Cogan’s fascination with insects hails back to her childhood in Slaterville (she still lives in the home she grew up in). Back then, nuns living near Monroe High School kept gardens nearby and Cogan would visit often, catching grasshoppers and bees in jars. “I was just crazy about insects,” she said. Later she became a Master Gardener, which goes perfectly hand in hand with beekeeping, Cogan said.

She loves sharing her knowledge about bees. “It’s so important to find ways to learn as a family,” she said. “The learning should never end.” She follows that philosophy too. She earned a bachelor’s degree in management communication from Northwest Christian College in Eugene, Ore., and is now working on a master’s in educational ledership.

One thing that keeps Cogan intrigued with bees is the hive is a live lab. “In the lab you learn all about insects which is life sciences and you learn construction; when you study bees you see they’re created to construct in a way that is durable and efficient.”

Even NASA has used hive design, Cogan said, and engineers use the hexagon shape that bees create in their hives.

“The mere fact that bees are able to fly up to seven miles to gather resources they need is a miracle,” Cogan said. “They find their way back using the sun.”

And Cogan finds honey to be an amazing substance. “It has vitamins and is one of the few foods that has enzymes that you can’t process out of it. It doesn’t ferment. It was preserved in the Egyptian pyramids because it is antibacterial.” Her family uses honey on oatmeal, bread, yogurt and in salad dressing. Cogan avoids cooking with it.

Another plus is beeswax for making candles. “They smell good and they don’t drip,” Cogan said. “Everything bees make is useful to man.” She hails the value of royal jelly, which is only found in the queen’s cells.

Photo by Dawn Cogan Dan and Dawn Cogan are happy beekeepers, dressed for success.
Photo by Dawn Cogan
Dan and Dawn Cogan are happy beekeepers, dressed for success.

Of course there is the downside to beekeeping—getting stung. Cogan is stung 10 to 50 times each season even though she wears a protective suit. She keeps Benadryl and children’s epinephrine on hand always but has never had to use them. “One sting in the wrong place on the body, if the conditions are just right, it could be lethal,” she said.

Cogan’s goals with her classes are to help families become more self-sufficient and to share the values people can learn from bees: “They have a good work ethic. There is simplicity. They have a short life and yet they use what they have been given for the sole purpose to provide for the next generation. They work selflessly to ensure the next generation is trained and prepared for their tasks.”
To become a good beekeeper requires the right equipment and consistency, Cogan said. “You’ve got to know what to look for and how to move the frames inside the hive to entice the bees to produce the maximum amount of honey. It also helps to have good weather and a natural water source nearby.

“The bottom line is we get a lot of resources and benefits from honeybees,” Cogan said. “I encourage anyone who has gardens and would like another way to be self-sufficient to explore beekeeping.”

Contact information:

Beekeeping classes at Monroe High School Feb. 16 and 23 and March 23 and 30: register at http://sciencebasedart.blogspot.com/



This column is provided as a service by the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Nancy Tarnai is the school and station’s public information officer. She can be reached at ntarnai@alaska.edu