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Matt and Madelyn Morris harvest honey and herbal remedies at their organic apiary in Troutdale

Published: Friday, April 20, 2012, 12:32 PM     Updated: Friday, April 20, 2012, 3:03 PM

Special to The Oregonian By Special to The Oregonian

On a rare sunny morning in March, Matt Morris slogs through a muddy field to check on his honeybees.

Matt Morris has turned a beekeeping hobby into a thriving small business.

“They’re starting to wake up,” he says, pointing to several small insects flying in and out of the wooden hive.

That’s good news to Morris, who tends the bees on a 40-acre certified organic farm in Troutdale. He and his wife, Madelyn, harvest honey and other materials produced by the bees to create Mickelberry Gardens herbal remedies, which are sold at farmers markets in Portland and the surrounding area.

The Morrises, both active gardeners interested in permaculture and sustainability, started raising bees in their backyard in outer Southeast Portland several years ago. When they discovered that Madelyn Morris was allergic to bee stings, they started looking for a place to relocate their apiary.

Through an ad on a permaculture website, the couple found the Troutdale farm, turning a hobby into a livelihood.

“We had eight hives at our house, and out here we have 40. All of a sudden I went from being a guy with bees to a beekeeper,” said Matt Morris.

In the height of summer, about 2 million bees will feast on nectar-rich phacelia, alfalfa, buckwheat and clover planted just for them. In turn, they’ll produce for the Morrises about 100 gallons of honey. They also pollinate crops for the landowner.

Many bees die over the winter, but they build up their population by reproducing in the spring. Morris also adds to his hives by catching swarms in the spring and summer. (Swarms form when a queen bee and some of her workers leave a healthy hive to create a new one.)

Collecting swarms isn’t just a cheap way to add to their holdings, Morris said. It also adds genetic diversity to the hives, making them stronger and more resistant to disease, especially important because the Morrises use no miticides or other treatments, even organic ones, on their hives.

“When my bees die, I know why,” Morris said, referring to the mysterious colony collapses seen nationwide in recent years. “It’s because it was a bad nectar year or there was a terrible mite infestation.”

While Madelyn Morris keeps her distance from the hives, she stays busy making, bottling and labeling Mickelberry Garden’s value-added products in a former restaurant kitchen in Gresham, about 10 minutes from the apiary.

morris2.JPGView full sizeAnne Laufe/Special to The Oregonian

She earned a master’s degree in Leadership for Sustainability Education from Portland State University, with an emphasis on civic agriculture. She combines her field of study with a strong interest in folk remedies to create soothing and therapeutic salves, lip balm and syrups.

“Honey is really like a medicine,” she said.

Along with honey, the Morrises also harvest propolis, a sticky, resinous substance made from trees, leaves and other plant resins, and used by bees to seal and sterilize their hives, and to prevent viral, bacterial and fungal infections from spreading.

Madelyn Morris uses it to make a throat spray for people who frequently suffer from sore throats. Other Mickelberry Gardens products include their Happy Baby Salve, Love Your Lips Balm, Immunity Boosting Honey Therapy, and Raw Honey Sugar Body Scrub.

Gretchan Jackson, manager of the Montavilla Farmers Market, is a fan of Mickelberry Gardens.

“My family used the salve for cuts and scrapes and just dry skin. And the immune syrup is fabulous; that was just great in the winter,” she said.

The Morrises hope to have their products on store shelves in the coming months. Go to mickelberrygardens.com to find their farmers market schedule.

— Anne Laufe, Special to the Oregonian


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