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The Buzz Over Beekeeping

Beekeeping in America. With bees under pressure, many Americans are tending hives. We listen to the hum, and taste the honey.

Timothy Fulton, a self-described "backyard beekeeper" is seen with his bees in Kenosha, Wis. (AP)

American bees are disappearing, but not in a lot of American backyards. 

As bees have generally come under pressure all over, a new wave of individual Americans have stepped up to start and tend their own hives. 

Backyard beekeeping is hot and cool at the same time — part environmental, part epicurean. A meditation on buzzing beauty. A path to nature, and to sweet pots of honey. 

Maybe there’s a hive in your back lot, or a honeycomb fresh on your kitchen table.  

This Hour, On Point: we’re catching up with America’s new wave of backyard beekeepers.


Kim Flottum joins us from Kent, OH. He is editor of Bee Culture Magazine.

Jane Wild joins us in the studio. She is a ‘backyard beekeeper’ based in West Newbury, MA. She is also vice president of the Essex County Beekeepers’ Association. She has been keeping bees since 1991. She and her husband have 14 hives.

David Tarpy joins us from Durham, NC. He is one of the country’s top bee researchers –known more formally as an apiculturist and entomologist. He teaches and raises queen bees as part of his research at North Carolina State University. He is the official state judge of honey and hive products (honey, wax, mead) at the North Carolina state fair.

Many thanks to the Savannah Bee Company for providing us with samples of their artisanal honeys.

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  • Carol S.

    Beekeeping insights from British comedian Eddie Izzard…enjoy!

  • Noreen

    Are genetically modified (GM) crops the reason for the mysterious die-off of bees? In a U.S. 1999 laboratory test, nearly half the caterpillars that produce monarch butterflies died eating milkweed dusted with the pollen of genetically modified Bt corn. A research project done in Germany from 2001 to 2004 fed bees a highly concentrated form of Bt corn pollen. Nothing happened to the bees in that study, that is, until a parasite accidentally infested the bees. At that point, their colony suffered a “significantly stronger decline in the number of bees” than a colony that had not been fed the concentrated Bt corn pollen. The immune systems of the former group appeared to have been compromised (www.truthout.org/issues_06/printer_032307EA.shtml). Has someone mapped the geographic extent of GM crops and the geographic extent of the bee die-off?

  • Eric M. Jones

    For perspective, the November 1918 Popular Mechanics Magazine has this article:

    Wholesale Death of Bees Due to Poisoned Flowers

    “Poisoned flowers in the Santa Monica Mountains of southern California have caused serious injury to the bee industry in that district. Thousands upon thousands of bees are reported to have been killed. The work is believed to be that of German agents or sympathizers. When the bees began dying in wholesale numbers, laboratory tests were made, which determined that they had been killed by poison. Further investigation disclosed that the flowers in the vicinity bore the same poison. Its character and the methods used in spreading it have for obvious reasons been concealed. Armed guards have been stationed in many of the bee districts, and a reward of $5,000 has been offered by the California Association of Bee Raisers for the capture of the miscreant who maliciously spread the poison.”

    — Eric M. Jones

  • Marianna Holzer

    I’ve been keeping a few hives since 1993 when I was diagfnosed with MS. It is wonderful to see the growth in our VT Beekeeping club since I first started.
    I use the bees to sting myself to help with my MS. I took Copaxone for a while, but have gone back to the bees as I can no longer afford the medicine.
    I love sitting by the hive and watchiing the little bees fly in all loaded down with pollen & nectar.
    We need the bees!

  • http://web.mac.com/famouspotatoes2 Desirée Foard

    Hi Tom

    I don’t keep bees but I try to have lots of flowers in my yard that bees like: alyssum, guara, pentas etc. They also love citrus blossoms. I love how the bees make the garden come alive, buzzing and flitting around.

    Bee happy!

  • Philip

    What can you tell us about municipal regulations on keeping bees? Would I be able to keep a hive in my backyard in town, or would I have code enforcement down on me for that?

  • Andres

    Can your pannel talk a little about the benefits of unpasturized honer (farmers mkt0 vs those found in supermarket?

  • Rick Evans

    Do the guests know any bumblebee keepers? Would they please speak to what’s involved. I understand one doesn’t keep bumblebees for the honey. But they are fun to watch.

  • http://lizybee.wordpress.com Sweetman

    I’m a backyard beekeeper–a bandit backyard beekeeper because I don’t want my neighbors to know, I don’t want the city to know, I just want the bees to pollenate and survive. And I like the honey.
    It’s a labor of love. My mistakes, both large and small have been at the bees expense but it’s worth the stings. Unfortunately I lost a thriving hive last year due to inexperience but have started anew with what looks like great success.
    Bees do well in the city, they have such a variety in a small area. They are not alwasy well received by most but I try to emphasize that bees prefer pollen to people.
    I did have the pleasure of presenting to the local Friendly Garden Club–what a terrific and receptive audience.
    I read Bee Culture and belong to ECBA so this is a terrific program for me, thank you.

  • Marianna Holzer


    for anyone interested in Stings for things like arthritis or ms

  • Jean-Claude Bourrut

    Been keeping bees for 20 yrs, dozen hives; it is a fascinating world and a great hobby. With import of bee pests in the US, the response has been chemicals (pesticides, antibiotics…). i believe that for too many years this route has only propped our hives, providing cruches to our bees and lead beekeepers on an addiction path.
    i know the official answer is: “can’t keep bees without chemicals” but CCD has proven that one can’t continue sustainable beekeeping the synthetic chemical path.
    We have to get off that @#$!?# (scuse my French !)
    Jean-Claude Bourrut

  • Douglas

    I’ve been a beekeeper for 5 years now. One of the most amazing things is how a beehive is divided up into different castes. There are nurse bees, house cleaning bees, mortician bees, guard bees and the workers who collect nectar and pollen. They aircondition their hive in the summer and keep it warm in the winter. Truly amazing animals.

  • http://writingeveryday.wordpress.com/ Pam Phillips

    I wonder if I would see any honeybees at all in my yard if it weren’t for beekeepers in my neighborhood, but I would like to speak up for the native bees. They need our help, too. It’s not just the bumblebees; there’s a wide range of native bees that get overlooked.

    The good news is that it’s less work than beekeeping. It’s more like bee ranching. Three things you can do:

    Plant flowers.
    Don’t use pesticides.
    Leave some undisturbed bare ground in your yard.

    The first two things are also good for honeybees. The ground is where most native bees nest.

    A fun place to learn more about native bees is The Great Sunflower Project, at greatsunflower.org.

  • rich whelpley

    I am a first year beekkeeper and am moving at the end of July. I am wondering what advice the beekeepers have for moving a hive.

  • http://xx Sandy

    We are moving to central Florida and I am interested in keeping bees but am concerned with the possibility of killer bees overtaking a hive. Is there a way to discourage or keep them away from my hives?

  • Alex G.

    This program sounds like an infomercial for this beekeeper’s honey. Tom Ashbrook is talking about the samples he has right now and the beekeeper is talking about their honey. Shame on NPR for stooping to this level.

  • G. Wyman

    In researching natural remedies for poison ivy online once, I read claims from a beekeeper who assert, now that he eats his local raw honey, he’s developed an immunity to poison ivy, when he used to be very sensitive to poison ivy. He theorized that this was because his bees make their honey in part from pollen drawn from nearby poison ivy flowers.

    I wonder if Tom’s guests can comment on the possibility of this being so. I love the idea.

  • Dee Kieft

    I live in an area of Florida where bee’s are produced near the citrus groves. We love to ride our motorcycles to the groves and watch the bee’s and the smell is wonderful. My yard is totally organic and chemical free and I have tons of bees. I even put in a wildflower bed for my bees. They love it.

  • R.Wong

    re bee keeping,
    What about the aggressive african bees that the media has warned about spreading from the south to the north?

  • G. Wyman

    That’s cynical and a little silly, Alex! Of course, the enjoyment of what bees produce is one of the components that would be discussed on a show about beekeeping & its benefits. Check out the bios at the top about who Tom’s guests are.

  • rich

    Is there any chance the beekeepers can respond to inquiries on here. I was the only commenter with a question and though I enjoyed the stories from listeners, I really could have used the advice.

  • http://writingeveryday.wordpress.com/ Pam Phillips


    Bumblebees are semi-social. They form colonies, much smaller and not nearly as organized as a honeybee hive.

    In spring the queens look for a new spot to build a colony. They may use abandoned mouse nests, grassy lumps, or other dry cavities. It’s also possible to build nesting boxes for them.

    If you have bumblebees in your yard, there is probably a queen who found a quiet corner she likes, and she’s busy raising more bumbles. They will enjoy your flowers all summer. In the fall, young queens will mate and then find a place to hibernate.

    Enjoy your bees!

  • jeffe

    Without bees we are left to eat grains and root vegetables and little else.

  • Betty

    I heard an NPR program on ants yesterday. I’m hearing a lot of similarities between ant and bee culture. Has anyone researched these similarities? What have we learned?

  • http://www.honeybeeclub.org Kathy

    Moving a hive can be done, with care. There is a lot of good advice out there on the web. Check out these pages:


    Hope that helps!
    Worcester County, MA

  • Aaron

    Let’s not forget perhaps the most famous bee keeper – Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Too bad he’s not with us today to help solve the colony collapse mystery.

  • Erik T

    For those interested in bees: Sue Hubbell’s “A Book of Bees” is really good. It’s about her experiences as a beekeeper in the Ozarks, and has a lot of technical information on the lives of bees, and on caring for them and gathering their honey.

  • Jane Wild

    Dear Rich:

    I will assume you are the person who is moving and looking for info.

    Follow Kathy’s advice checking at those sites she gave you and check with your local extension service and see if they can hook you up qith a local beekeeper or some club that can advise you.

    How far away are you moving from your present site?

    Jane Wild

  • http://N/A Zenbee

    This piece was an interesting..but similar presentation on the current honey bee situation. It presents a picture that is troubling(as it should be) but with no clear or statistically significant data to back up the anecdotal information.

    One of your interviewees..while considered a beekeeping authority by some(mainly beginning beekeepers and the general public) has little more than his own speculative and anecdotal information with which he bases his opinions. Being a hobby beekeeper..and editor of a beekeeping magazine does not necessarily provide the credentials to be speaking with authority about what may be happening with the honey bees currently..although it often makes for interesting reading/story telling.

    However..most..if not all of us associated with the beekeeping community have a very vague understanding of all of the variables involved (as it has been for the past 150 years at periodic intervals). It is quite probable that we will never actually know what exactly causes Colony Collapse Disorder..a term which is a misnomer in itself.

    The current honey bee situation should be a wake-up call not only to beekeepers..but to all of us..that we need to be more environmentally conscious and aware. As a collective(global community)..we can and should be addressing issues such as honey bee die-offs much more effectively/comprehensively.

    Thank you for your consideration.

  • http://www.elisetomlinson.com/blog/index.html Elise

    My new 10 year old step son is a vegan, same as his mom who passed away recently. He (and other vegans) will not eat honey. This is a real pain as a lot of the healthy organic baked goods etc. use honey rather than sugar. I found this website “Why Honey is Not Vegan” that lists all the reasons his mom gave him for not eating honey, how can I counter these claims scientifically (he’s a very logic oriented little kid)…? http://www.vegetus.org/honey/honey.htm

  • http://www.beekeepingsuccess.com/ bee keeping

    Home bee keeping remains a popular past-time and it seems that more and more people these days are turning to bee keeping

  • http://www.worldofbeekeeping.com Ron


    Go backyard beekeepers!

    Great picture by the way. Very cool perspective upwards towards the sky and the frame in view.

    Me likes :)

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