Imagine relaxing in your garden; maybe you eat outside, read a book, or just take a five-minute work break. You see honey bees fluttering around before flying back to a hive. Sounds dreamy, right? The daydream is a reality for honey bee people.
“They’re great to have on the property,” says Cassy Pickard, who owns two beehives on her Massachusetts land. “My garden has been incredibly improved by the honey bees.”
Beekeeping is becoming more and more popular, especially in urban areas. According to the Agricultural Marketing Information Center, there are between 115,000 and 125,000 beekeepers in the US. However, that number does not include the beekeepers with less than five hives, which: past data suggest: can add another 80,000 beekeepers.
Still, Pickard is not one of them. Its hives are professionally managed by Dear bees, one of the oldest private and commercial beekeeping companies. “They take care of the bees, they feed them for the winter; they are really just fantastic,” says Pickard.
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Starting and maintaining a beehive can be tricky. They require continuous care and maintenance. That’s where companies like Best Bees and others like the Wisconsin-based Kinni Bees and Buddha Bee Apiary entering North Carolina.
The services, which vary in price but average about $100 to $200 per month (not including the initial hive installation), come with a guaranteed amount of honey per year, although not everything will come out of your hive.
“Most people who sign up aren’t doing it for the honey. That’s nice for them, but it’s often more about coming into contact with the natural environment in a very unique way,” says Alfredo Salkeld of Buddha Bee Apiary. “Some people who apply want to be beekeepers. Some just love watching the bees or want their kids to understand the importance of pollinators.”
You don’t need a huge outdoor space for a beehive. Some companies have installed beehives on balconies. The important thing is that you have an area that gets good sunlight and a place where the hives can live without too much commotion. Do not let your children or dogs knock over the beehive.
Pickard, who has both a dog and grandchildren, says she has had no problems with the bees. Not only are they gentle, she says, but they’ve become a part of their lives.
“I believe philosophically that it is very important to create sustainable living in different ways and honeybees are part of that,” says Pickard.
Honeybees and other pollinators are responsible for at least a third of our food supply, but they are declining. According to the National Survey on Colony Loss and ManagementBetween April 2019 and April 2020 alone, beekeepers reported losing nearly 44 percent of their colonies.
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Justin Maness, the founder of Buddha Bee, was doing field research on the effects of pesticides on bees when he came up with the idea for the company.
“The thinking was that if more people witnessed the challenges and the magic of bees, we could have an impact,” Salkeld says.
Like Buddha Bee, Best Bees and Kinni Bees have a strong desire to improve pollinator health. For Best Bees, that starts with research, which the nearly 12-year-old company has a lot of.
“The science is really limited in its ability to actually measure and quantify the health of native pollinators in a given area,” said Sam Jennings, beekeeper and sales manager for Best Bees. “By using honeybees as an indicator species, we can draw some conclusions and when we use our research partnerswe can add additional information specific to the habitat roaming time, what is available to bees and more.”
The Best Bees non-profit organization, the Urban Beekeeping Laboratory and Bee Sanctuaryconducts studies to improve pollinator health.
Pollinator health is a major concern and people, including beekeepers, are approaching it from different angles. In Wisconsin, Kinni Bees, who is in his second year of managing residential hives, sees his hives as a way to amplify the genome of bees.
“Having the hives in different locations exposes the bees to different genomes within the bee colony itself,” says Mike James of Kinni Bees. “Our goal is to have a genome in our bees that can survive the Varroa mites in several years’ time.” [a parasite that attacks and feeds on honey bees]. And that instead of spending time cooling the hive or warming the hive because it is insulated, the bees spend time grooming each other, which actually separates the Varroa mites from each other.”
However, for Pickard and others with managed hives, the magic is in watching the bees. “My grandchildren will stretch out their arms and the honeybees will land on them and talk to them,” she says.