It turns out, if you want to buy 10,000 bees and a queen bee in New England, you have to plan early. In February we received confirmation that our Flow Hive would ship in late March and realized we needed to get the bees to go with it. As we started looking around, Jon and I realized that we knew *nothing* about bees, and we would be relying on our friend Randi for a lot of education.
Here’s a great example of knowing nothing, from an email exchange between Jon and Randi back in February when Randi asked for opinions on buying bees:
Jonathan: Ones that produce lots of honey, are good for our local environment (preferably native) and have a chance to overwinter. Basically, I don’t know diddly and would go with whatever Randi thinks. The couple of places I looked at this morning, seem to indicate that their bee packs are sold out for 2016 already.
Randi: Just FYI, Apis mellifera (honeybees) are from Europe. There are no native honeybees, though there are lots of other native bee species that are still important pollinators. Not hive-bees though.
See that? Right off the bat we didn’t even know that honeybees aren’t native to the US! Our honeybee education had begun.
All of us quickly learned (including Randi) that you have to reserve your bees early around here! All the obvious places were sold out! Luckily, Randi’s friend Dr. Noah Wilson-Rich, the founder of The Best Bees Company, was able to help us out and reserve us a “package!” I should pause here to say that the main business of The Best Bees Company is residential and commercial beekeeping. For an annual fee they will set up a hive at your location and maintain it for you. You get the benefit of having the pollinators around, providing a haven for bees (let’s hope it’s safe) and fresh, and local honey, with none of the work. Their profits fund research to improve bee health – in fact, that’s where Randi and Noah met – they got their PhD’s at the same time at Tufts!
Fast forward now to April, and Randi and I were headed out to visit The Best Bees Company in Boston (yes, in the city) to pick up our bees.
We met Noah and he showed us around their facility. They have a lovely front of house area, and a cool area where they build beehives, they had an artist decorating hives, stacks and stacks of hives, and stacks and stacks of packages of live bees, waiting to go out to their new homes!
This is where I learned that Noah is not just the owner of The Best Bees Company, but also a researcher and author! He wrote The Bee: A Natural History and is currently affiliated with the MIT Media Lab. In 2015, the company split off The Urban BeeKeeping Laboratory & Bee Sanctuary as a separate 501c3. I realized what a great opportunity he has there for research when he pointed out that he has staff in 8 states who visit over 100 hives every month and record answers to a set of questions that he provides as the staff are tending the hives. One seriously awesome thing they’ve discovered through their research is that urban bees tend to do better than rural bees! In 2014, Northeastern published a great article on Noah’s background and research into vaccinations for bees. It’s very accessible, so I direct you there for more information on his research!
After the tour, Noah showed us an example of what our queen would look like once we got her cage out of the larger cage holding the bees (and brushed off the queen tenders that would cling to her cage). He explained how we would take out the cork plug, and then the queen tenders would eat through the sugar plug to get her out. That process would take about 3 days, giving the bees time to get used to the new hive and their new queen.
After talking it through with Dr Noah Wilson-Rich, we were ready to take our 10,000 bees home and install them in their new hive!
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