Bee Here Now
The buzz on local beekeeping
Karen Sabath inspects her Katonah hive with two friends to ensure that it is “queen right” and that there were new eggs, larvae, and a capped brood.
Photo Courtesy of Karen Sabath
Bees are a vital part of our ecosystem. They pollinate plants that provide food and shelter to humans and animals; they are integral to the food chain; and of course, they produce honey—a natural sweetener and energy booster.
Karen Sabath is one of the founders of Hudson Valley Natural Beekeepers, which holds meetings and shares the “buzz” with its 300 members, including many of the 100 or so beekeepers she estimates live in our community. The Bedford 2020 trustee and treasurer got started beekeeping about nine years ago with an online class at honeybeelives.org. She keeps three hives at Rainbeau Ridge, her sister’s Bedford Hills farm, and recommends that two to four is the right number, as two allows you to share hive resources, and four probably maxes out available food in the bees’ two-to-five mile foraging area. She says that each complete hive set-up can be purchased for about $300 and that you can buy a nest including about 5,000 bees and a queen (the hive may grow to 40,000 to 50,000 bees at the peak of the season) for about $150. Sabath’s three hives produced about 30 pounds of honey last year (you only take the excess that the bees don’t use), and, mostly because she feels the product is “more precious than gold,” she only uses the honey for special gifts and doesn’t sell an ounce. She’s advancing her education through Cornell’s online master class, but she’s already considered an expert, having started Sustainable Stewards, a small consulting business that provides beekeeping services and sustainability advice to corporations, schools, and individuals.
The ecological insights are what fascinate Sabath the most. She explains, “I love the way there is a super organism that works together for mutual hive survival and how different that is from the way we humans behave. I’m amazed that male drones, female foragers, and the queen each have their own defined roles; how the hive “clusters” to save energy in cold weather, but that the bees still leave the hive to defecate; how the hive knows when it’s just the right time to swarm, dividing the existing hive to form a new hive around a second queen; that each hive produces not only honey, but also special compounds such as propolis, which is used to seal the hive but which has also been used as a traditional medicine for treating throat irritation and other problems; and that each honeybee’s lifetime contribution is about one-tenth of a teaspoon of honey.”
Another beekeeping enthusiast, Abbott Fleur, operates The Lodge at Honey Maple Grove, a bed and breakfast off Route 172 in Bedford. He keeps six hives which produce up to 120 pounds of honey in a good year and sells his production under the Honey Maple Grove label to guests at his “bee and bee,” at a few local shops, and at farmers markets. Fleur observes that “honeybees are wonderful animals, and working with them teaches you that you ultimately have no control over nature; it makes you humble.”
George Bianco (pictured on left with Andrew Bianco) is a managing director at Merrill Lynch who lives on an historic Bedford farm. Rare breed Belted Galloway cows, merino sheep, and heritage turkeys and chickens were recently raised on the farm, and Bianco started beekeeping last year to play a part in helping the threatened honeybee population and to learn more about local honey’s anti-allergen properties. He started with two hives, yielding 25 pounds of honey from one and none from the other. He’s intrigued by the social system of the hive and remarked that, “the more you handle them the more you become a kind of ‘bee-whisperer. If you remain calm, so do they; it’s amazing how you can sense when the bees feel excited or threatened.”
Interested in getting started with your own hives? There’s a lot of help offered locally, including Sustainable Stewards, HoneybeeLives, and Bedford Bee Honeybee Service which provides everything from hive installation and maintenance to beekeeping classes at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills and John Jay Homestead in Katonah.