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The Buzz On Beekeeping: Is It for You?

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 (FRHI Hotels & Resorts)

The practice of harvesting honey from bees has been around for centuries, but lately we're hearing more buzz about it — especially in urban areas.

Businesses, such as hotels and rooftop gardens, have been known to keep bees — including the average Joe who just enjoys a good drop of local honey in their tea.

If you're thinking about becoming a beekeeper, it certainly has plenty of benefits.

According to Andrew Cote, President of the NYC Beekeepers Association, there are several great reasons to consider. "Producing local honey is a valuable resource because eating it fights local pollen allergies," he reveals. Have a garden? Bees pollinate flowers and can eradicate over 75,000 varieties of pests. Cote adds that it's a great way to connect with nature. "It sounds counter-intuitive, but it's a very calming pursuit to work with bees," he says.

Beekeeping is also extremely beneficial to the environment. "In response to the nation's honey bee shortage, many hotels are realizing the importance of the bee population to help sustain the world's vegetation and animal populations," explains Executive Sous Chef Ian Bens, Co-Beekeeper at Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown. "Many pollinating bees have disappeared due to habitat loss, pollution, and colony collapse disorder, an unexplained disappearance of honeybee colonies in North America. Creating these hives helps keep the bee population healthy and helps to ensure that plants are pollinated, which is also essential for insects, birds and animals to survive."

Bens adds that the hotel also uses the honey to make their own lip balm, sunscreen, as well as honey-infused teas and syrups. "Our signature BeeTini is made from rooftop honey, honeycomb, tequila, and fresh lemon juice," he states.

If the idea of keeping bees appeals to you, here's what you need to take into consideration:

  • Educate yourself. Before getting bees, Cote strongly advises reading as many how-to books as you can and taking a course with your local beekeeping association.  "It's a hobby that involves live creatures and if done wrong, it could have an adverse affect on your neighbors and surrounding areas." 
  • Know where you're going to keep your bees. Bens says bees are self-sufficient, but they do require a dry hive to live in that is protected from the elements, a source of water, and some sun. You also need to make sure you're close to a community garden, park, or lawn. "Any place that's conducive where the bees can live well and not bother others," says Cote. They travel up to three miles away foraging for food, and always return to their respective hives and queens. 
  • Get the right gear. If you're a newbie beekeeper, there are many great starter hives. Cote recommends getting a Langstroth, Top Bar, or Warre hive. You'll also need a hive tool, veil, gloves, and a smoker. 
  • Don't get in over your head. If your bees get out of control, or you are no longer able to keep them, it's your responsibility to contact a professional beekeeper or association like your local Beekeepers Association.

While beekeeping is a full-time job for Cote, he says bees are relatively low-maintenance and can be kept as a hobby. "If you maintain one hive, you can spend no more than one hour per week during bee season, which is generally through the months of April and November," he says. "During winter months, you don't open the hive. The bees cluster together to keep themselves and the queen warm and will not fly again until the temperature reaches 60 degrees Fahrenheit."

So, have you considered beekeeping? Let us know your thoughts below.