A Sweet Trend
Travelling around Fairfield County, you may have seen what appears to be a small white chest of drawers in someone’s backyard. It’s not tiny furniture, of course, but a beehive. Backyard beekeeping is a growing hobby in Fairfield County, fueled in part by a renewed interest in locally-sourced food and by the desire for a connection to the natural world.
Backyard beekeeping is a hobby that is surprisingly easy and has many rewards: fresh local honey, beeswax that can be used to make candles and cosmetics, a more vibrant garden and the knowledge that you are helping to repair a bee population in crisis. In addition, bragging rights should not be underestimated—imagine how enjoyable it would be to present friends and family with lovely and delicious little jars of gold that you harvested yourself!
An added benefit is literally helping save the plant. There is still no agreement on the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder, a problem that has decimated the general bee population. Without sufficient pollination, it’s easy to see how our food supplies could be severely threatened. Backyard beekeeping helps propagate healthy bees that will continue to busily make their way around our gardens and farms.
I’ve long been intrigued with beekeeping and the recent introduction by Williams-Sonoma of its Agrarian line sent me over the edge. Their collection of pitched-roof beehives that look like tiny cottages ignited in me a fierce desire to don a bee veil and join the ranks of apiarists.
I had the good fortune to speak with Howland Blackiston, author of Beekeeping for Dummies who happens to live in Weston.
I cut to the chase: “Bees and kids?" Mr. Blackiston gave me the short answer: “No problem.” He went on to explain: working honeybees in general are extremely gentle creatures. If you come across a honeybee doing its job in your garden, you can actually pick it up without incident. The bees to watch out for are the few whose work it is to guard the entrance of the hive. In his 30 years of keeping bees at his Weston home, no family member or visitor was ever stung. “And pets?” A dog has to only tangle once with a hive to know to give it a wide berth.
So, how to get started?
- Get educated! In addition to the many books available on the subject, there is copious information on all aspects of beekeeping on the Internet.
- Join a club. Southwestern Connecticut is fortunate to have the Backyard Beekeepers Association as a local resource. They run meetings and workshops throughout the year.
- Order your equipment—again, there are lots of local and online resources. Bee Commerce is in Weston and supplies both equipment and bees. Brushy Mountain Bee Farm is an online source that supplies complete beginners kits for an economical price that include a complete hive, gloves, veil, smoker, tools, books and videos.
- Check with your local zoning department. Many towns encourage agricultural activity to promote a rural character. Zoning regulations obviously vary from town to town, so be sure to consult with your local department.
- Be(e) aware: Occasional stings while maintaining the hive are possible. Before your start, it would be wise to find out if you or a family member has an allergy to bee stings that is severe.
How much work does it take to keep bees? At minimum, a beekeeper needs to commit to around ½ hour about 6 times a year for basic maintenance. You will soon be spending far more time for pleasure and curiosity, however, checking on honey production and studying the fascinating little inhabitants.
What is it that makes beekeeping seem so romantic? Like wine and artisanal cheese, local honey is a unique product, taking on the qualities of its environment. More than just a local food source, however, bees are an essential part of our ecosystem and becoming part of that natural circle feels deeply satisfying. There is also a connection to childhood—outdoor activities easily transport me back to that young time. And sharing the hobby with my own children passes on my love for the outdoors--the best benefit of all.
Ellen Malmon AIA is an architect who writes and draws.
To contact Ellen visit her website: www.ellenmalmon.com or call 203.417.0855