I met Noah Wilson-Rich earlier this month at New England Grows and got a chance to talk to him about The Best Bees Company, an urban beekeeping and research operation he founded in Boston. I’m really interested in bees, and quite a few of my clients share this interest, so I thought I would catch up with Noah by phone to get a few more details about his company and the work they’re doing.
|Noah Wilson Rich of the Best Bees Company, photo by Porter Gifford|
Noah: I went to Northeastern for my undergraduate degree, and started off in the pre-med track. I was able to take some elective courses and one particular course on sociobiology (the social behavior of animals) really interested me. In that course I was introduced to bees. They are highly social animals, have been around for tens of thousands of years and have a system to take care of each other and keep each other healthy. In 2005 I started my PhD program at Tufts to study how bees stay healthy, and by 2006 we started to see evidence of Colony Collapse Disorder. Fast forward a few years to 2010. I finished my dissertation and wanted to keep finding ways to make bees healthier. There was no grant money for research, so I started Best Bees (by selling beehives) as a way to fund my own research.
Andrea: And now you have the Urban Beekeeping Lab in the South End, do you continue that research today.
Noah: Yes, we now have 17 people working at Best Bees in three main areas: research, beekeeping and what I call beekeeping without the bees. People in this last group work building beehives (bees prefer to live in all natural hives, so we build ours by hand using all natural parts), and harvesting honey. Funds from the company go to research and right now we’re working on a oral vaccine for bees and products like a bee yogurt which helps bees with digestion and immune support.
|A Best Bees hive in a Boston community garden|
Andrea: I understand that bees produce honey for their own subsistence. If you have a hive that you want to survive the winter, do you want to stop harvesting honey at some point in the season so they have enough for themselves?
Noah: Honey is really just flower juice, so bees are producing honey anytime there are flowers in bloom. There is a period, midsummer, when things are dry and the flower pollen isn’t particularly nutritious. There tends to be a break in honey production then, and that break really separates the early season from the late season. With that schedule we do two harvests a year, the first in July and the second in September. The honey itself is lighter in the first harvest (with more of a citrus flavor) and darker in the second harvest (more from wildflowers and clover). We do leave at least half of the money in the hive at the second harvest for the bees to use over the winter. Honey never spoils though, so it is better to leave too much in the hive and harvest it the next spring, than leave too little for the hive over the winter.
|A Best Bees Company beekeeper tending a hive, photo by Douglas Levy|
Andrea: This might be a strange question, but does honey produced from urban hives taste different?
Noah: No, it doesn’t taste different, but bees in urban environments do produce a higher quantity of honey and we find that hives in the city have higher winter survival rates than hives in suburban/rural areas. We don’t really know why that is, but it is an interesting phenomenon.
|Fresh honey right from the honeycomb|
Andrea: That is really fascinating!
On another topic, what would be one or two things the average homeowner should (or should not) do to support the bee population.
Noah: The three biggest threats to bees are disease, pesticides and habitat loss. This last one is something that anyone can help with. If you have outdoor space, a window, roof, anything, plant a flower or spread some seeds, anything you can do to create habitat is a great thing for bees.
(Check out my post from last year, The Amazing Job of a Honeybee, for tips on how to create a bee friendly garden).
Andrea: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me! What else should people know about Best Bees?
Noah: We offer free site consultations and are happy to come talk to a homeowner about our services, where to locate a hive etc. We also are involved in a great program called Classroom Hives, where we coordinate with schools to bring observation hives into classrooms. It’s a great program aimed at providing real life learning tools to kids.