September is National Honey Month, and local beekeepers are preparing for the harvest.
Lee Wright of Lee’s Bees, Mansfield, owns 12 hives.
“Each hive has about 50,000 bees, so there are about half a million bees there,” he said.
Wright keeps his hives on the roof of an outbuilding. “The hives used to be in that field,” he said. “Now, no bears.”
Wright explained that his bees feed on goldenrod, blueberry bushes and other plants that surround the hive. Honey gets its various flavors from local vegetation, and the bees’ pollination in turn increases the bounty of bushes and flowers.
“When I got the bees, my blueberry production doubled,” said Wright.
Bees can travel 3-5 miles to pollinate, and always find their way home to their hive.
Wright has kept bees for 15 years. “I worked with someone at MU who invited me over to see his bees, and I fell in love with it.”
He does presentations at schools and day camps, and produces his own lotion bars with homegrown beeswax and honeys. This season’s flavors include blueberry, peach and wildflower.
Wright is passionate about the importance of bee pollination.
“Sure, bees make honey but pollination is the most important thing,” he said. “Thirty to 40% of worldwide fruit and vegetable growth depends on pollination.”
Wright advises novice beekeepers to begin with at least two hives.
“You can compare them,” he said. “’Which one is healthier? What did I do differently?’ Also, make sure to give them sugar water in spring.”
David Pettit of Wellsboro has been beekeeping for seven years.
“When I moved back home after the service, I had a friend, Jake Brion. He kept talking about beekeeping, so I tagged along with him to learn the ropes,” Pettit said.
Pettit has had as many as 15 hives, and now has three. “It’s more manageable; it’s all I need,” he said.
Like Wright, he is licensed by the Department of Agriculture to produce and sell honey.
Pettit also produces mead from the wax cappings in his hives. Mead is an alcoholic drink made by fermenting honey, yeast and water. The science of mead-making is intensive, involving constant measuring and calibrating for alcohol content and flavor.
“You can mess around with the flavors,” Pettit said. “Right now I have peach, jalapeno, dandelion honey and Spring & Summer Fling meads.”
Pettit is not licensed to sell mead. “It’s for personal consumption, or to give away,” he said.
Pettit also educates students about bees. He provides bee suits for kids visiting his hives, and has a life-size model of a beehive that houses photos of bee activity and life cycle.
Maggie Hart, a 2021 WASD graduate, has been keeping one hive for a year. Pettit is her mentor.
“My mom had hives, but they died,” Hart said. “Then I got my own.”
Hart said that her hive is doing really well, and that her favorite thing about keeping is “that it’s made me more aware of how important bees are. It’s also pretty peaceful to just come out here and watch them.”
Surprisingly, Hart is not a big honey eater. “I’m not the biggest fan. it’s OK, I guess. It’s just really all about the bees.”