Urban Beekeeping with Jacqueline Beaupré

We’re very excited to offer a Skillshare class on urban beekeeping, a very practical past-time that is newly legalized in our area! Our class will be taught by Ms. Jacqueline Beaupré, a Boston beekeeper at The Best Bees Company, where she builds and maintains honey bee hives for businesses and residents in cities and towns all over eastern Massachusetts. She also works as a research assistant studying food allergies and eczema at Boston Children’s Hospital. Jacqueline first became interested in honey bees while earning her master’s degree in science education at Boston University. She is looking forward to starting a Warré-style hive this spring at the Boston Nature Center’s teaching apiary and sharing her enthusiasm for honey bees with students when she goes back to teaching biology next fall!

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Jacqueline and friends. Photo by Doug Levy.

Urban homesteading and self sufficiency is growing in popularity all over the country, so we predict this class will be very popular! How did you first get interested in beekeeping?

When I started graduate school for a Master’s in science education, I was looking for a campus club to join and found the Boston University Beekeepers. The buzzing noise and threat of stinging had always made me nervous, but I was motivated to join by my grandfather (a beekeeper), as well as the fact that honey bees are so ecologically important and fascinating! I’m glad I did because I learned my anxiety was totally unfounded and I got some new beekeeping friends and an awesome hobby out of it!

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Can you truly taste the difference between the honey you buy in a health food store and honey made in your own backyard?

Absolutely! Honey off the comb is one of the tastiest things in nature! Honey reflects the local nectar foraged by bees, so in diversely-planted urban areas like Somerville, bees will make a very complex and delicious honey! I highly recommend visiting Follow the Honey near Harvard Square. They have an amazing selection of seasonal, local, and global honey to try—all with completely different flavors and textures. I just sampled some of Dee Lusby’s Arizona cactus flower honey there and it was so good! So, fair warning: once you try real honey, it’s impossible to go back to that plastic bear stuff from the grocery store.

Many environmentalists are concerned about the effect of beekeeping on the ecosystem. Is it possible to raise honeybees in a sustainable way?

I’m far more concerned about the effects of NOT beekeeping on the ecosystem. Right now a lot of our pollinator populations are in decline. Native bees and honey bees are no different- about one third of known honey bee colonies die annually. This level of population loss is ecologically unsustainable. But if biodiversity isn’t something you care about, just consider the economic costs. Most of our food (experts say up to 80%) is ultimately produced thanks to bee pollination, so losses would cost billions of dollars and reduce us to eating mostly wind-pollinated grains. So beekeeping and bee-friendly gardening/agriculture has never been more important. Oddly enough, urban beekeeping is often more successful than its rural counterpart. We’re still determining why—it might have to do with a greater diversity of pollen and nectar in the city, as well as less widespread pesticide use.

The Best Bees Company acts sustainably by practicing chemical-free beekeeping, meaning we do not use any drugs or pesticides to control infections or deter hive invaders. If we see something that doesn’t belong in the hive or look healthy, we simply remove it. This keeps things in check without resorting to poisons. A side benefit to this method is that weak hives are not kept alive by accident—natural selection is less interrupted and strong colonies become stronger. Best Bees also uses most of the profits from beekeeping services to conduct research developing bee probiotics at our Urban Beekeeping Laboratory & Bee Sanctuary in the South End. Just like humans can benefit from healthy yogurt cultures and a balanced diet, so can bees!

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Is any sort of permit required to raise honeybees in your backyard?

Somerville and Brookline passed legislation to legalize beekeeping and have started instituting a permitting process. It’s not particularly easy to navigate, but it’s a start.

How much of an investment is involved?

Beekeepers usually say that managing a hive takes more time than caring for a cat but less time than a dog. Obviously it varies by season and the health of the hive.

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A backyard hive.

No prior experience or knowledge required to take part in this Skillshare class, right?

Right! Newbees welcome! The only way you can mess up beekeeping is to not have fun.

Tell us a bit more about The Best Bees Company. If Skillshare attendees get really excited about keeping their own bees, how do you help them do that?
The Best Bees Company is primarily a beekeeping service. We construct and deliver custom hives to businesses and residents all over Massachusetts. Since clients own the hive and bees outright, they also own any extra wax and honey produced by their bees. If you are interested in beekeeping but are not ready to start a colony by yourself, you could hire us for the year to periodically check in on your hive to make sure it is happy and healthy. Our beekeepers use a custom app to track the well-being of each hive visited in order to collect data and inform the frequency and extent of services needed. While contracted to monitor a hive, we guarantee its population all year long and through the winter.
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The staff at Best Bees, summer 2013.

What other bee-related activities and organizations does Best Bees support that participants should check out?
I would look up the Boston Beekeepers group on Facebook (now transitioning into the “Suffolk County Beekeepers Association”) and the Middlesex County Beekeepers Association. The SCBA’s Tour de Hives is tons of fun: 150+ bee enthusiasts bicycle around to different local hives to learn about bees and beekeeping. Last year, Best Bees’ Urban Beekeeping Lab was a stop! The 4th annual tour will take place on June 21st and probably be mostly in Cambridge.
Noah and I from The Best Bees Company also work with the nonprofit Classroom Hives which helps local K-12 teachers install and use observation beehives in their classrooms. There are currently observation hives in Fenway High School and the Mission Hill School. If you know a teacher that would be interested in incorporating some bee science in their classroom—spread the word! Check us out here.
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A classroom observation hive at Fenway High School.

Chat with Jacqueline about her Skillshare class on Twitter at @jbeaupre424, learn more about Best Bees on their website, and you can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

2 thoughts on “Urban Beekeeping with Jacqueline Beaupré

  1. Pingback: The Secrets of Beekeeping – Getting Started in Apiculture | Beekeeping Made Easy for Beginners

  2. Pingback: Beekeeping Help for Future Beekeepers | Beekeeping Made Easy for Beginners

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