Busy Bees

Friday, November 30, 2012

It was a rainy weekend and not a honeybee was in sight at the Beaver Brook Association’s Nature Center in Hollis. Nevertheless, more than a dozen potential beekeepers from Hollis, Brookline, Nashua and other towns and states convened to learn about raising honey bees.

Workshop teacher Christy Hemenway, owner of Gold Star Honeybees in Bath, Maine, shared her knowledge with an emphasis on raising bees in a wooden structure known as a top bar hive, a style of hive different than the traditional, stacked, box hives most often seen in bee yards, known as apiaries.

Hemenway presented a program focused on four topics – the history of beekeeping, bee biology, bee diseases and hive management. She displayed the various tools, apparel and gear used by a beekeeper. She showed a top bar hive, a wooden unit elevated waist-high on four, sturdy legs.

She showed that a top bar hive is composed of a wood box some four feet long topped with wooden bars placed in rows perpendicular to the long sides of the box, somewhat like saltine crackers in a waxed-paper sleeve. The bees build their beeswax cells, known as honeycomb, suspended from the top bars.

The honeycomb cells form the bees’ “nest” in the inner cavity of the wooden box. The nest, or hive, headed by a queen bee, may contain baby bees, worker bees, drones (male bees), pollen or honey.

April Peavey, of Hollis, a producer for Boston Public Radio WGBH, praised honey bees’ role in pollinating flowers and vegetables. Resources online and elsewhere note that without bees, the transfer of pollen that cross-fertilizes blossoms would be drastically reduced.

Fruits, veggies, nuts, grains and flowers owe their ripening primarily to honey bees, along with other pollinating insects.

“I bought a top bar hive kit at the workshop and I’ll order my bees in the spring,” Peavey said. “As a part-time vegetable gardener, I’m hoping the bees will help with pollination. I’m not keeping bees to make honey.”

The program that weekend was a hands-on experience.

The students learned to inspect a hive and how to determine its vitality. They found out about winterizing a hive to protect it from cold, wind and rain.

Hemenway said that bees cluster together in cold weather and vibrate their wings to produce a comfortable level of heat.

The cluster forms and reforms, as every bee except the queen, who always gets the comfy spot in the center, gets a turn in the middle and others take a turn on the outside.

Hemenway said one of her goals was to educate the students about the importance of honey bees to the future. She said bees have a fossil history of some 65 million years. Modern beekeepers, she said, help ensure the bees’ season-to-season survival by providing sugar syrup or fondant, similar to frosting, during cold months. The best food by far, is their own honey, she added.

“Harvest surplus honey in the spring,” Hemenway said. “Let them eat in the winter.”

The workshop drew potential beekeepers from Hollis, Nashua, Brookline and several Massachusetts towns – Brewster, Westford, Gloucester and Townsend. A Philadelphian, Janet Hansen, was also present. A student from Providence, R.I., Kevin Kempf, was there. A resident from Holden, Maine, Jon Updegraff, was on hand.

Hollis resident Ko Baryiames, a software engineer and avid beekeeper with two beehives, had early notice of the beekeeping workshop, for his wife, Beth, is an educator at Beaver Brook Nature Center. The site, the couple agreed, is a scenic gem comprised of rustic buildings, forest and gardens. About 2,000 acres and 35 miles of trails are well visited. A wide range of workshops, art and photography exhibits and nature talks are held there.

“I have two hives already but I wanted to try something new,” Baryiames said. “The top bar style is very appealing. It is much lighter in weight than a traditional hive.”

Ian Smith, of Brookline, attended the workshop. He is a senior at Hollis-Brookline High School. He said he keeps an eye on the Beaver Brook website to make sure he doesn’t miss something interesting. He registered quickly upon seeing notice of the beekeeping workshop.

“The workshop was very interesting,” Smith said. “I learned a lot and am planning on getting into it (beekeeping) when spring comes.”

Hemenway, who penned a book, “The Thinking Beekeeper,” that is to be released in December, said she hopes each of the participants will continue on a journey into the satisfying world of beekeeping.

When the beekeeping weekend, which included an organic breakfast and lunch each day, was concluded, each student received a signed “certificate of beginning.”

“I call it a ‘certificate of beginning’ because there is so much to learn about bees,” Hemenway said. “You’ve only just begun an important journey.”

For more information about top bar hive beekeeping, contact Christy Hemenway online at Upcoming events at the nonprofit Beaver Brook Association, 117 Ridge Road, Hollis, is available online at

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