urban agriculture

Celebrating National Pollinator Week: Is Beekeeping for Me?

By Catherine Wooster-Brown

Catherine Wooster-BrownThere’s nothing better than sweet golden honey drizzled onto your yogurt, ice cream, or fluffy biscuit. What if you could have a constant supply of honey right in your own backyard, produced by your very own honey bees?

As of 2014, there were about 125,000 backyard beekeepers in the U.S. Each city has its own zoning ordinance for honey bee hives. And there is always a local beekeeping group nearby.

Of course, there are plenty of backyard beekeepers in the Heartland, so the Big Blue Thread (BBT) decided to highlight five of our beekeeping cohorts here at EPA Region 7 during National Pollinator Week, June 20-26.

Jamie Green, Toxics and Pesticides Chief

BBT: Why did you decide to keep bees?

Green: I was preparing to attend a forum several years ago on pollinators, and as beekeepers would be participating, I decided to do some general reading on beekeeping in order to better understand some of the issues or concerns I might hear. The more I read, the more I found them to be pretty interesting insects and decided that, to learn more, I probably would need to do it myself. I thought I would do it for a couple of years and move on to something else, but I’m still learning and found I enjoy working the bees.

Honey bee pollinating flower

Honey bee pollinating flower

BBT: What do you enjoy the most about beekeeping?

Green: There are a lot of different things I find enjoyable about beekeeping, so it’s a little difficult to narrow the list to a few. I enjoy working and observing the bees. I keep my hives at an acreage not far from home, but far enough that it gets me out of town for a little while. It’s a little bit like gardening, in that you work to help keep the hive healthy and thriving, and then once a year you get the opportunity to enjoy the harvest of a little of the extra honey the bees produce. I also enjoy sharing the honey with others. I try to give some to the family that is gracious enough to let me keep my hive on their acreage, and also to others in my family.

BBT: What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about beekeeping?

Green: Take a class. There are plenty offered by beekeeping associations and community colleges. Read a lot and connect with at least someone that is experienced and can coach you along the way. In the few years I’ve been doing it, I’ve learned it’s not as easy as just putting some bees in a box and forgetting about them until harvest, so having someone you can bounce questions off is helpful.

BBT: Do you have a favorite food to drizzle honey on?

Green: Honey is good on everything!

Kathleen Fenton, Public Affairs

BBT: Why did you decide to keep bees?

Fenton: We wanted to keep bees to bolster the honey bee population and to help better pollinate our fruit tree orchard.

BBT: What do you enjoy the most about beekeeping?

Fenton: What I enjoy about beekeeping is that it’s a never-ending educational program – learning their processes, their behavior (swarming, health, honey production, pests), and truly teaching others who are interested in the topic. We have loved sharing what we’ve learned over the years.

BBT: What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about beekeeping?

Fenton: Don’t be afraid to ask for help from other beekeepers and just do it! It is fun and relatively easy, and it’s a terrific hobby. I mean, really, one of the end results is HONEY!

BBT: Do you have a favorite food to drizzle honey on?

Fenton: Honey drizzled on grilled Brussel sprouts – and one of the special things we do with our honey is give most of it away as our Christmas gifts to family. It’s a big hit!

John Dunn, Wastewater and Infrastructure Management

BBT: Why did you decide to keep bees?

Dunn: I was curious about keeping bees, so I attended a local beekeeping meeting and I said to myself, “I could do this!” Bees are so smart.

Beekeepers at work

Beekeepers at work

BBT: What do you enjoy the most about beekeeping?

Dunn: It is a real learning curve and I am constantly amazed. Don’t like the stinging so much.

BBT: What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about beekeeping?

Dunn: Lots to learn, hang out with bee people. By its very nature, beekeeping requires some learning and patience. Bee people have these qualities and it makes for a good crowd.

BBT: Do you have a favorite food to drizzle honey on?

Dunn: I eat most of my honey off my left index finger. A little dab will do ya!

Aaron F. Casady, Environmental Science and Technology

BBT: Why did you decide to keep bees?

Casady: Growing up, I helped my beekeeper uncle harvest honey and the experience stuck with me. After I moved to Kansas City and started full-time office work, I looked for hobbies that would help me to stay connected to the outdoors and to explore my interests in agriculture. Beekeeping was a perfect fit.

BBT: What do you enjoy the most about beekeeping?

Casady: Just watching the bees come and go from the hive and observing them work. It amazes me that every time I open a hive, they don’t even stop to look up (that is, if I do it right). They just keep on working! They accomplish so much for being so tiny.

BBT: What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about beekeeping?

Casady: Beekeeping can be a difficult (and expensive) hobby. Find someone to shadow for a year before you decide to get your own hives. Then when you do have your own hives, don’t be afraid to treat them for pests and disease when necessary.

BBT: Do you have a favorite food to drizzle honey on?

Casady: Vanilla ice cream is my favorite food to pour honey on!

Catherine Wooster-Brown, Environmental Data and Assessment

BBT: Why did you decide to keep bees?

Wooster-Brown: My husband, Rick, and I love to garden. We love to work on our own gardens and travel to places to see other gardens. Gardening and bees is a natural fusion. A few years ago, Rick said to me that he would like to put a beehive in our garden and I thought, “What a cool idea!” So for his February birthday, I bought him an unfinished Langstroth beehive that we had to put together, frames and all, and  then painted the outside. It was a fun project to work on together during the winter, and then we picked up our first package of bees in April and installed them into our finished hive. It was just like getting a new pet!

Healthy honey bee frame covered with bees and capped honey cells

Close-up of healthy honey bee frame covered with bees and capped honey cells

BBT: What do you enjoy the most about beekeeping?

Wooster-Brown: As my beekeeping cohorts mentioned above, watching bees come and go from the hive, their little pollen sacs all filled up, makes you feel like everything is right with the world. Honey bees are a superorganism, which is an organized society of individuals that functions as an organic whole. They are fascinating to observe. Did you know that honey bees are able to keep the hive temperature consistent (around 95°F) in both summer and winter by moving their wings in unison? OK, so I’m easily fascinated!

BBT: What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about beekeeping?

Wooster-Brown: You can hire an experienced beekeeper, as a mentor, to help you get started. That is worth its weight in gold, because when there’s a problem – and there will be – a beginner or intermediate beekeeper may not recognize the problem as quickly as an experienced beekeeper. You do have to catch some problems right away or your bees could swarm (leave the hive) or they could decline to the point of no return.

BBT: Do you have a favorite food to drizzle honey on?

Wooster-Brown: My favorite honey drizzle is on a fluffy biscuit. But Kathleen’s idea of honey on grilled Brussel sprouts sounds yummy!

About the Author: Catherine Wooster-Brown serves as an ecological risk assessor at EPA Region 7 and a member of the Region 7 Pollinator Workgroup. Catherine has a degree in environmental science and policy from the University of Maine, and studied aquatic biology and macroinvertebrate taxonomy in graduate school at Missouri State University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Bridge Builders

By Leon Carter

Recently, EPA staffed an information booth at the first of what promises to be an annual event: Urban Resolutions for Bridging African Americans to Natural Environments. The purpose of the U.R.B.A.A.N.E. Conference 2011 was to discuss, develop and possibly deliver resources related to the conference’s themes: environmental education/ justice, the creation of green jobs, green industry/development and urban agriculture. All relate to EPA’s mission.

The conference combined informative classes and workshops corresponding with one or more of the of conference’s themes. Absent were scientific jargon and circuitous thoughts. Discussions were in “plain English”. Getting the word out is important. We must convey our mission or message to those we serve for it to serve its purpose. The conference was good at this and I plan to replicate that skill myself.

As an African American who grew up in the inner city, I relate to the difficulties faced by the urban community for whom venturing into the “great outdoors” or the “natural environment” was an adventure unto itself which was rarely great and very far from natural. The everyday existence within many communities of color is often marred by violence and blight, which is further exacerbated by environmental injustices that are easily hidden due to a lack of public interest, attention, or both. There were times in my childhood when the term “open space” referred to “vacant lots” that had become the target of fly dumpers. “Fresh air” meant you were upwind of the smoke stacks. So, I applaud those within the community who are fighting for change through the creation of public forums where social and environmental issues are openly addressed. This is no easy task, but a necessary one if communities hope to further their transition from “quiet resistance” into “stakeholder” and accept accountability and ownership for the direction of the community

As the event wound down, I spoke with many who came by my booth to voice thanks for EPA’s efforts and the job we’ve done. I was doubly proud: to have been the face of the EPA at this event and to be well represented and have our issues recognized by others outside of our community.

About the author: Leon Carter is an intern in EPA’s Chicago office in the Energy Star Program. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Urban Planning-Land Use and Policy at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.