My father, Rick, has many great qualities. He’s patient, gentle, and wise. These traits come in very handy with his hobby as a bee-keeper. While at my parents’ house for a few weeks, I interviewed my dad because people are always fascinated when I tell them about his bees. Lately, my nickname for dad is ‘Beebuster’ (of the ‘Ghostbuster’ variety) because he removes hives from inside people’s houses. You can check out his website and facebook fan page for Maplecrest Valley Apiary.
How old were you when you first started bee-keeping?
I started in 1971 when I was about 15 or 16. I just thought bees were interesting so I bought two or three hives through the mail order catalog. I also got some stuff in Roxbury from another bee-keeper. I used to go around the area hotels to sell the honey. I stopped for a while, then recently got some hives again.
Why did you stop and what made you decide to start it up again?
A local boy tipped over my hives. Plus, I was on my way to college and couldn’t bring the bees anyway. You have to be close to tend to the hives.
I started again because Mom was doing bee-sting therapy for her MS. I was getting the bees from someone else. Then I got one hive for ourselves which just made it easier. One hive turned into four the next year so I could get more honey. Then four turned into 12. And 12 turned into 28 to keep up with the demand for raw local honey from treatment- free bees.
They are easy to multiply because the bees have a natural instinct to swarm, or start another colony. They send out the old queen with half the bees; but if you catch them before they do, you can split them yourself.
I also wanted to get honey bees because the population has gone down to half or two-thirds of what it used to be three or four decades ago. All the pesticides are affecting them. You just don’t see as many honey bees flying around anymore. I love watching the bees work. I can’t go by the hives without stopping to watch them.
Tell us more about bee-sting therapy, or apitherapy.
There’s a lot of people that see results for migraines, arthritis, and MS. No one really knows why but there’s something in the venom that stimulates the immune system. Also, I just heard a story about a bee-keeper in Lyme, Conn. (the Lyme disease capitol of the world) who says that he and his other bee-keeping friends haven’t had Lyme disease while many of their friends and family have. There’s a theory that the venom kills the spirochetes that cause the disease. Mom notices a difference when she does it – she has more flexibility in her muscles. I have a higher range of motion in my arthritic shoulder when I get stung.
You sell honey now too. What are the health benefits of honey?
The pollen in honey helps people who have allergies and when used topically, honey helps with burns. Plus, it’s a natural sweetener. Honey is, simply, nectar from flowers that the bees do something special to. It’s the only food, if covered, that will never spoil.
What are some interesting facts you’ve learned about bees?
They are the only insects that provide food for humans. A third of what we eat is pollinated by bees.
There’s some bacteria on bees, or in the hive, that ferments the pollen they collect which then makes it usable to feed their young.
The most fascinating thing is that they collectively fly 50,000 miles and visit approximately 1 million flowers to make one pound of honey.
Is there anything else you want people to know about honey bees?
They are very gentle and pretty much harmless, unless you threaten their hive. And even then, you can open the hive if you are careful. Forget the protective suit – I hardly even wear a veil.
If someone wants to become a bee-keeper, how should they start?
I will add my testimony that honey has, indeed, helped my allergies. When I first moved to LA, they were really bothering me so I got some local honey. I noticed a difference right away. Same thing when I came to visit my parents – I had a few teaspoons of honey when I started sneezing or had an itchy nose. If you want to try it for yourself – make sure you get local, raw honey that’s not highly filtered so the pollen is still in it. You can find it at health food stores and farmer’s markets.