All That Buzz
Backyard beekeeping comes to Wilton
photos by Nina Pomeroy
When conjuring up the idea of a beehive one might think of the image in A.A. Milne’s classic, Winnie the Pooh, but many of today’s beehives actually resemble small huts or tables, and can be glimpsed on properties around town. These hives are designed to maximize the health, protection, and productivity of bee colonies. As the knowledge of bee colony collapse, and the importance of honeybees to our food supply has grown, so has the interest in helping improve and increase the bee population. A handful of Wiltonians have embraced beekeeping as both a hobby and also to help protect and nourish our ecological system.
The plight of bees in the U.S. has been getting a lot of press, which, according to Leslie Huston, president of Bee-Commerce in Weston. “It has gotten folks interested in having a hive or two in their own backyards. If they have a garden, they may have noticed a lack of bees. They want to improve their garden’s productivity and help out the beleaguered bee, too.”
Some see bees as a nuisance, as scary, or even potentially lethal, but their existence is critical to our food supply. “The biggest benefit bees
provide is the pollination of plants—generally wildflowers—which help them survive and flourish year after year. In a home garden, the bees’ activities encourage larger produce such as big fat pumpkins, plentiful berries, and so on,” says Huston. “In commercial agriculture they are key players in producing bountiful crops of many fruits and vegetables, specifically almonds. More than a million honeybee colonies are brought to almond orchards to pollinate crops, and are then brought to various locales to pollinate crops each in its season: apples, cranberries, peaches, and pumpkins. Bees also pollinate crops such as alfalfa, which is important in raising livestock. Honeybees really do put a lot of food on our tables.”
Marina Marchese of Weston is the owner of Red Bee Honey and Apiary, and is the founder of The American Honey Tasting Society. Her soaring national popularity is testament to the growing trend of beekeeping. She also sells many bee-derived products from honey to lip-balm to beeswax candles, as well as her best-selling book, Honeybee: Lessons From an Accidental Beekeeper.
Back in Wilton, Kevin Meehan minds the beehives for Ambler Farm. While the farm itself has just one hive on its property, it has more in other locations including Millstone Farm and at a private residence. Meehan uses the hive at Ambler Farm as a teaching tool, showing students that bees are not to be feared (but certainly to be respected) and how important their survival is to ours. “Honeybees are our best example of how humans depend on insects to help us survive,” says Meehan. “They are also one of the best examples to help both kids and adults understand that how we treat the land matters because our chemicals impact nature—in this case, honey bees.”
Despite its challenges, beekeeping is a rewarding and fascinating opportunity to examine the hive culture first-hand. The acceptance of the queen, for example, determines the fate of the whole colony. Last year, Farah Masani of Farah’s Farm in Wilton lost one of her hives to the frigid winter temperatures. The worker bees will sacrifice themselves to keep their queen insulated in the cold months, which Masani said was apparent when she opened her hives last year. Of the one hive that didn’t survive, she said, “it was like a moment captured in time, with all of the worker bees’ bodies surrounding the queen’s in an effort to keep her warm.”
“What people really need to know about keeping bees is that it is a big commitment in terms of time and expense,” says Masani. She has often seen what she describes as the “Christmas puppy effect,” where parents give children animals as presents on holidays, and when they turn out to be more work than anticipated, the pets are put up for adoption or even abandoned. So if you’re keen on joining the beekeeping ranks, make sure you’re prepared for all the effort involved.