Friday, February 7, 2014

Who wants to make their own honey? It couldn't BEE easier!

Booth at New England Grows with a few hives
 and some frames.  ©2013BDG
Each year at New England Grows, our regional horticulture and landscaping trade show, I try to find a few inspirational ideas amongst the trucks, gas-powered equipment, organic sprays and artificially-dyed mulch.  Unfortunately, there was little that was new, interesting or particularly inspirational this year.

However, all was redeemed when I found the booth of Best Bees.  A local company based in Boston's South End that works with its clients to provide hives, bees, supplies and beekeeping services.  With people gardening more and home vegetable gardens on a dramatic rise, I can't think of a more valuable or cooler business to be involved with.  With the recent declines in native bee populations, vegetable gardens and native plants will benefit from homeowners bringing bee populations back into the neighborhood.

A deluxe painted hive with copper top.
Best Bees was started by a behavioral ecologist and beekeeper, Noah Wilson-Rich PhD, who has studied and written extensively on bees and beekeeping.  His staff is filled with doctoral students and experienced beekeepers, with all the profits going back into bee research.  Currently they manage about 200 hives in rural, suburban and urban environments from Cape Cod to north or Boston.  To meet Noah and experience his passion for bees, check out this Ted Talk.

Now, anyone who has worked in the garden and horticultural business has heard clients express great fear and reservation at having bees in their gardens, in fact I have had people tell me that they want only flowers that don't attract bees.  This is hard to do unless you want to live in a bubble and the bigger question is why wouldn't you want to be around honey bees.

This often irrational fear comes from a misunderstanding of honey bees.  Often they get clumped in with more aggressive wasps, hornets and the ever-present yellow jacket.  Honey bees are docile and require great provocation to sting… they are just not interested in us.  Rather, they are interested in collecting pollen, and the by-product of their pollen gathering is that they transfer pollen from flower to flower thereby fertilizing them.  They are critical to the success of vegetable gardens and will certainly increase the yield of many crops if you keep a hive.  The pollen then goes to the hive where it is transformed into a critical food source, honey.

Partially formed honeycomb in
a frame.  ©2013BDG

Best Bees will work with people to set up a program that works best for them.  If you just want the benefits of a local bee population and pounds of honey every season, their beekeepers will make regular visits to ensure the health of your hive and extract your honey.  If you want to be more involved in the process, they will just sell you the supplies and bees and consult with you.  If you use their services they will guarantee the health of your bees and replace them if they succumb to disease or other problems.

They have basic to very ornamental hives, and last year their largest seasonal haul from a client's  hive was 54 pounds of honey.  That can make for some wonderful gifts to friends or you can hog it all for yourself with tea and biscuits.

For those of you who enjoy spending time in your gardens and love learning about your plants, soil and environment, this is a natural progression to understanding the greater process for creating food and flowers, and the prize is liquid gold.

Active hive on a rooftop garden in Winchester that
I visited last spring.  ©2013BDG