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!
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!
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!
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.
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.