Friday, December 18, 2009

Corners don't feel good

I round the corner,
walking quietly, trying to avoid the old man who always makes some lewd comment after explaining to me that he needs a woman, a housekeeper.
The bulldozer acts as a gateway and as I walk past in and into the walled in garden numerous small songbirds flit out of the beds and onto the concrete walls. I feel a blessing. I feel that yes, I have actually done something here. There must be a dozen of these birds, looking down on me, singing sweet songs on a frigid day in December. I wonder what they were eating, maybe they were picking through the hundreds of tomatillo fruits left on the ground to rot because I couldn't find the creativity to do anything with them in September. I so deeply adore how nature feasts on my laziness.

I walk past the garden and towards the bee boxes.
Silent and Still
18 degrees fahrenheit with a threat of a blizzard coming from the south.
I push my hat up to expose my ear and press it agains the cold white box.
a soft buzzzzzzz
I listen to each of the 4 sides figuring out where the cluster of bees is...mostly on the north side nearing the upper middle of the boxes. A trances states waves over me. These bees! What ARE they doing in there? I hear a girl drop to the hard screen at the bottom of the hive. It is cold, so cold. Another bee drops. A certain clang at the bottom of the hive shatters any comfort I may have felt at the soft buzz of them surviving thus far. Fear strikes me again. What is it about them, I feel such awe, love, and fear around them...Just a bunch of bugs, what power they possess!
I feel myself, I feel them. I caress the hive, it is so cold. The corners so hard. The corners. They just don't seem right. "The bees will figure it out" I often hear myself and others saying. Live and let live. I will do my best to not impose my will on them, to not anthropomorphize and to really listen and behave in a way of integrity for the bug communities.
Top bar hives seem like the next logical step for me. Oh! The thought of a table saw and lumber and angles and measuring is pretty daunting. But it does seem like the next best move, get rid of the corners. Corners don't feel good.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

What I have been up to

We were at Fosterfields Living Historic Park. It was a 1920-1930's harvest festival. I was there with Brant selling our locally grown and crafted foods. Ted Blew's Jersey fresh popcorn brought the people over to us, Beth's farmhouse jams brought the bees. Not sure what brought Bob to the table, but there he was talking my ear off for a good half hour or more about his land in Lincoln Park. I listened and probed and finally inquired. "I am looking for land to grown on, do you have any room for me?" "Is 5 1/4 fenced in acres enough room for you kid? If not, we have lumber and post hole diggers and many more acres for you to work on."

And there you have it. A dream becoming a reality. I was determined to grow on land in Morris county. 7 miles from my home just makes it that much more ideal. That I will be working with a 79 year old, free spirited, wise, down to earth, loving man makes the icing on the cake and brings tears of gratitude to my eyes.

Black soil that is pretty much clay is the base here. This land has been worked organically for decades. The energy is sweet as are the people who stop by to say hello when I am out in the field working at untangling the mass of artemesia roots that have taken hold over the past year or more. These beds have been fallow and the land is singing with life! I am hard at work on beautiful days like today and give such gratitude for the opportunities!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Yes I can

I remember when I was teaching my now 15 year old niece to climb trees. It was late spring in the budding forest and we were crossing a thick patch of mud. The only way to get across without getting dirty was in the trees. So we went up. I saw the fear in her eyes as I encouraged her to go to the next tree. "I can't" she whined.

It was in that moment when I realize 'can't' is the only thing that could make her fall. 'Can't' was the only thing that got in the way of her making that confident swing from one tree to the next. I knew she could, but it was in the face of her knowing that she could not. I explained to her that when one takes risks such as climbing trees one has to believe in themselves otherwise gravity will win. When you reach your small hand over to grab that branch and you do it with trepidation, you will have a weak grasp and may lose it. You have to grab the branch and swing your foot over with confidence, trusting that it will land where you want it to and the next tree will hold you just as this tree has. If you second guess any of that, in the mud you will go. I showed her how I do it and encouraged her to follow. She made the leap and we made it home tracking little mud behind and a new word in our conversation. Can.

But 10 years later and I find myself forgetting that word. The bees have mites, they are being robbed and any attempt of feeding them seems to be causing more harm than good, the hive is not tight, the bees, pollen and nectar are in too many different areas. I go in to help them with treatments for mites and they sting like a colony of killer bees. I can't. I just can't do this. Beekeeping isn't meant for me. I am a woman...too sensitive, too weak. I think too much, I don't do enough, I anthropomorphize, I just cannot do this!

There is a rush that happens when I crack the propolis seal on the inner cover over the hive. The ladies come up and greet me. Sometimes calmly, often with a bit of 'what the hell?!' My hands shake and my body trembles. My heart beats in my head. I feel my insides being exposed as I expose hers. "Am I doing this right? Am I hurting them? Am I smart enough, good enough, sure enough?" They smell fear. They smell doubt. They insist with their piercing poisoned stings that I am not. "Go Away!" they insist.

And so I do. The belief of 'I can't' has permeated this hive. In beekeeping one has to make split second decisions and be confident in them. Like climbing trees or rocks. Angry bees are the gravity of the situation ready to take you down and swell you up if you do not move with stealth and care.

Consciousness of my body and their body, care for each movement and each split second decision is of utmost importance when working a hive. Last week I had to go into the hive and tighten it up. I took a lot of deep breaths and listened to their responses to my attitude. When They got worked up ('what the hell are you doing moving my home around?!') I breathed deeply and moved within the resistance. They were very calm when the hive was put back together minus one box. Love and vulnerability made the work possible. Can is a word that is being remembered again as I work with these amazing bugs!

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Revealing the beds to see what lies beneath

Will turn the soil (meh) and top them up with old compost that has been waiting for me for a couple years. Then probably build some more beds. It is a flood plane here (the passaic river) and very much clay soil, so I want to avoid drowning root systems.

Apparently it is black gold!
Artemisia is the weed of the land here. weeding mugwort is a delicious intoxicating day!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The unexpected always arrives.

"HEY! I didn't expect you!"

We have been doing things a certain way for so long that we have just come to assume that this is the only way to accomplish anything.

No other way
No other choice.

Possibly building on false

false presumptions sometimes crumble away slowly and
sometimes collapse quickly

Let's take grade school presumption #1 for example

One plus one
One plus one is based on the premise that everything is separate and will stay that way. But take a drop of water for instance (of which the earth is 70%).
One drop of water plus one drop of water equals?....

...yes, that's right! ONE drop of water!
One drop of water turns into an ocean.

We presume we know things
We want to feel (or be) in control

I went into an active beehive 25 feet off the ground in a centurion kentucky coffee tree the other day. I pulled out a ladder, secured it in place and climbed up to take a peek. Hundreds of honeybees flying in and out looking for food. The lovely ladies were coming in with bright and pale yellow pollen loaded in their pollen baskets to feed the babies. The hole, their entrance was big though. I could fit both my hands in there. Would they survive the cold of winter. My mind says no way, they are too exposed. They have a really sweet little home. Winter is the time of dying. I hope they prove me wrong and make it through. I hope they can figure it out. A way to keep warm and survive.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


This marks my third summer working with the bees. I was thinking that 3 years sounds like a long time but it is nothing in helping me understand such a great mystery as the honeybee and the hive. Among beekeepers it is said that in order to be considered a beekeeper you need 5 years under your belt. Most people make it 3 at most. I understand why.

Last year, true to personal form, I thought I understood beekeeping pretty well. I worked with and studied under some great teachers and movers and shakers in the bee world. I went into a lot of hives and saw a lot of different bee realities. I knew what was going on most of the time and felt pretty comfortable in my work. That was until the cords were cut and I was out on my own. On my own and often too proud to ask for guidance…


Fear is the biggest hurdle in this work. It is not the fear of being stung that gets me. It is more the fear of upsetting a volatile being. It is the fear of hurting someone who cannot afford any more hurt. It is the fear of my own power to foster life and manifest death. With thousands of stinging insects buzzing in my ears all of these fears come rushing to the surface, forcing my heart to beat faster and harder, causing my entire body to quiver uncontrollably as if I had just downed a gallon of coffee.


With all of this fear I would forget to breathe.

Without breath it is likely I will make a fatal mistake. And I have.

Thousands of bees can live or die at my hand. That is a huge responsibility for someone who shies away from such things. One wrong move and the whole thing could end. One thoughtless manipulation and the bees could have a few weeks of recovery from my lack of forethought, or thought of their needs over my own.

This is beekeeping. This is learning.

Add to all of this disease and mites and my sleep is lost at night. I see why folks quit after 3 years. The pain of losing hives, of seeing your sweet little ladies inundated with those little blood sucking parasites. To see her little legs trying futilely to remove the mite that is so perfectly positioned so that the bee cannot get her off. To see the babes with shriveled wings and shrunken bodies is heartbreaking. Small hive beetle, wax moths, wasps, mice, ants, you name it…we are all after what the bees got. How about witnessing a brutal war between a weak hive and a strong hive. The strong hive will come and destroy the weak hive and steal all of it’s honey. Peaceful my ass!

When times are good, times are good. Nectar is flowing, brood is being born, the hive grows, the honey is stored. Everyone is happy and full of love and light. But when the slim times come. Well, you know. It’s ugly.

Mainly though, what I am doing is projecting my inner process onto the bees. I imagine this is much of the medicine that they offer up to us; and have offered up to us for thousands of years. They are healers and I a humble servant. My fear is for all sacred mysteries and I pray that we will make it through these challenging times together. I pray that in 2 years I will have a big beekeeping initiation. We will all do a waggle dance together to celebrate the harvest of health and prosperity as well as human submission to the divine wisdom of nature.

Is anyone reading this? Is blogging as inane as I believe it to be?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Finding Beauty in a Broken World

This place is more a prayer than a garden

A piece of the planet so long abused for the sake of human progress

Sparkplugs are more common than worms in the earth here. If you can call it earth. This conglomeration of dirt and concrete and car parts and plastic pieces and broken glass. This pit where dirty automobile oil has been sopped up and vitality of life has long been forgotten. This place is where I want to build a garden.

So to the old abandoned factory lot I bring in compost and discarded tree parts to hold the soil in place. I bring in seeds and a hose.

I plant a prayer

Terry Tempest Williams entitled her latest book “Finding Beauty in a Broken World”. And this is exactly what I have set out to do here.

This place is lifeless and I want to bring life back to this point on the planet. I want to heal what is broken.

Inside and out

I put a blue plastic tarp in the back of my chevy astro van, buy a cheap shovel from the neighborhood hardware store and get to work filling up my van with composted suburban lawn debris. Day after day, load after heavy load I go back and forth from the recycling center in Morristown to the factory lot in Boonton until I just can’t shovel anymore. Until the dirt is so far lodged in the van door that it won’t shut. Until the compost pile has become a big mass of muck. Until I got a phone call from my mother asking that I take her to the hospital. Her blood pressure is 80/50 and the visiting nurse was insistent that she go to the emergency room.

Big black leather boots

Big black rubber treads on big black leather boots


Glossy waxed white sterile hospital floor

Antiseptic antibiotic hygienic controlled environment

Mud ripped clothes rustled hair wild microorganisms

Finding Beauty in a Broken World

I planted seeds

Water fell from the sky

Death and disease lingered around the edges of my world

The seeds sprouted. Life bursting forth from the mysteries of the dark earth. A salad was eaten of spicy arugula, freckled lettuce, dark green spinach, mustard greens, and red russian kale. All it takes is some nurturance of micronutrients, water and sun. Vibrant green life entered me, invigorated me, brought love and gratitude to my heart and nourishment to my body

30 year old woman, cardiac arrest, maybe it was the alcohol mixed with the anti-depressants, maybe it was the years of bulimia, maybe it was just a mistake, but the fact remained that a loved one was dead.

Groundhogs devour the garden. All life that had sprouted was gone. Depressed and determined I erected a fence.

Seeds planted

Peas, beans and greens sprouted

Rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain rain

Rain rain rain

No light, no sun, no growth

Critters comes and eat it all (again)

Then one day the sun came out. I watched after weeks of rain how 2 days of sun can create such a burst of life. I build trellis’ for the peas.

Erect a bigger fence

More seeds planted

More time in the hospital with mom

Another young loved one dies in a car accident

Uncle dies of sudden heart attack

Critters eat whatever grows (again)

Another fence around the fence. Tomatoes and herbs that were started indoors go out.

I have planted something here

And it wasn’t what I thought it was

Grubs, wire worms, ground hogs, wasps, ants, dragonflies, robins, beetles, crows, flies, rabbit, cat, bees

The food on this ground would have been toxic to me anyhow.

I am growing hope

For life

Life carries on

In this lot of death and toxicity, these critters come and thrive now. In those quiet moments of hopeless despair, I know that I have provided refuge for fellow beings on the planet. When their world looks like it is being gobbled up they found a place to settle in where they are not threatened (when I am in the right frame of mind of course). These are the underdogs, the ones that humans are all too eager to label as pests and exterminate.

A big fat groundhog waddled in front of my moving car yesterday. I had the opportunity to press my right foot to the skinny gas pedal and put an end to that gluttonous marmot; put an end to the devouring of gardens and hope; put an end to all the disappointments and pain of loss. But it was in that moment of choice between braking or accelerating that I realized that the fate of this place depends on my relationship to it. That the only way to really find beauty in a broken world is to see clearly what is before me and not to be governed by selfish desires. We are one being on this planet with many parts and my fate is dependant on the land on which I live. So I nurture what needs to be nurtured and clearly it is my heart and the marmot's belly.

My prayer continues to grow…

Saturday, July 18, 2009


I wrote this in 1998 and just came across it. Anyone who has grown tomatoes for a living might relate?

i brush up against her
she turns me green
the longer i caress her the greener i get
slowly turning brown
i look at her fruit
her shiny red curves
her flesh is so quenching to my thirsting lips
my body quivers as i swallow
i forage for her plump body
through the forest of poison leaves
How can her body be so deadly and her fruit be so sweet?

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Garden State

As I was walking down the rain drenched streets of Vancouver with a virtual stranger this evening, he asked me where I was from. I told him, with a bit of reluctance, New Jersey

New Jersey, everyone has got the wrong idea about the place. I mean, shoot, I’m thankful for The Sapranos, The Garden State movie AND soundtrack, and the new founded ‘cool’ in blue-collar heroes like Bruce Springsteen, but really, we are so much more than that!

New Jersey, you know the place… “the girls with big hair”, “the land of shopping malls and greasers”, “the armpit of America”. Too many people have the wrong idea. Tonight, as I walked through this quiet rainy Canadian city, this man informed me that “New Jersey is one big suburb”. His comment was made from his observation from the interstate. His observation as he drove through the state was one made of ignorance, one made by someone on his way to somewhere else. He didn’t know the Jersey that I knew.

As people drive through the ‘garden state’ like addicts on their way to their next fix they don’t see all that I know of this beautiful land. I would bet my last Atlantic City dollar that they never put a spade in the earth and witnessed just how deep and rich this garden state soil is. I would bet that same dollar (now that it is two) that they have never planted a heritage tomato seed brought to NJ by the struggling Italian great grandparents of the now flourishing mobsters. Have they watched the massive green fruit grow darker and deeper in its hues of red to match their European skin, as the days grow even hotter and brighter in the July Jersey sun? Have they even tasted a Jersey tomato? Maybe. But one of mine? Doubt it! The soft, sweet, ruby flesh dripping onto the cutting board after a sharp stainless steel knife slices through it. Ya wouldn’t fuhgetaboutit.

Have these people who have ‘been through jersey” driven the back roads? Where for miles all you see is old deciduous forests accented with meandering rivers and train-tracks and then, out of no where you are in a beautiful old town that has sat among these hills for hundreds of years. Not only do the buildings speak of their age, but also one visit to the cemetery and the crumbling gravestones give you the sense of the antiquity of this state.

I imagine the same ignorant people who talk trash about Jersey are the ones who have moved there with their multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies and chemical plants. These are the same people who stand to make a profit off of people agreeing that Jersey IS a dump. Because if you think it ain’t worth anything then why would you defend it? It is not the people and the land that stink, it is the corporate pollution.

It really wasn’t coined ‘the garden state’ for nothin’ and I just really want them to know that.



When we talk of nature, we often exclude humans, ourselves. We speak of the innate knowing in nature. How amazing it is that nature knows how to do whatever it is she does. How the bees know how to create hexagons and honey and wax and queens. How the earth grows bramble to protect and cleanse the land. How salmon know how and where and when to go every fall to spawn. It is common to find someone standing in awe at the mystery of how the geese know how to fly in that pattern and which direction south is or how the killer whales know where to hang out every year to eat on their migratory journey south.

The human entity is just as miraculous as the rest of nature. The designs and intricacies of timing and function are astounding when observed. We take so much of human nature for granted and scoff at the destruction our societies have created. I have heard it said that it is easier to see what is outside of ourselves, but if we take some time to look inside, we might be in awe of what lies in our bodies, hearts and souls and learn to love human nature a bit more. When is the last time you heard anyone talking about how miraculous it was that for about 1/3 of our lives we are in hibernation? Our bodies just shut down shop and say good night when the sun goes down. Or what of the mystery of women shedding blood and tissue every 28 days in accordance to the moon? I stand in awe at our relationship to the sun and the ocean and the mysteries that conduct much of our behaviors.

But what of these relationships between humans and the rest of nature? If we gave ourselves as much forgiveness as we gave the rest of nature and viewed our place on this planet as essential, then maybe healing could take place. It is my belief that until we do that; until we recognize that we are an integral part of nature, we will not survive these trying times.

We look at the bees and see their eminent demise.

According to many, past and present, it is due to the industrialization of their life cycle.

Industrialization of life cycles is happening to all life on the planet, if we are to look at it in a broader sense. Humans included. Our natural inclinations are being suppressed and superseded as well as all other creatures on the planet. This has a dreadful effect on us, just as it does on the bees, on the salmon, on the whales, the birds, bats, cows, frogs, on the ecosystem in general. Sleep disorders, anxiety, heart disease, ADD, menstrual discomforts are just a few effects of industrialization on humans that pop into my mind as I write this.

As humans, we tend to take the blame for all the worlds woes (I do anyway, but I can also blame that on being raised Roman Catholic). We blame human nature for all the destruction in the world. I want to encourage a shift of thinking though. A way to recognize our wondrous and mysterious link in the sacred web of life. A way to honor ourselves and listen to our natural inclinations as opposed to following what is expected of us or demanded of us by the industrialized thinkers. Life is dynamic and with consciousness and care we are all welcome to walk into that mystery.

Looking inside can be difficult, as there is often pain lying there within the truth of our souls. In finding those imprisoned wild places within us we will be able to relate to the natural world with more clarity. It is in the relating and listening that we will know what we need to do to shift the course that we are on.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

As Seen in Edible New Jersey

saving grace

The honeybee has a new hero. You.

by tammy toad ryan

For thousands of years, honeybees have been an important part of human lives. From magical rites in ancient Egypt to pollen on shelves in health food stores, bees have offered us a connection to the natural world that inspires a certain humility coupled with a notion of healing powers. So it’s no surprise that, when news came around a few years ago that our little ally was sick and dying, a rallying cry was heard across the continent: What is going on? What can we do?

It used to be that this Garden State was full of gardens and farms. Generally, each of these farms housed a few hives containing bees that would forage on the land, which held a diversity of plant species. The farm’s trees, weeds, shrubs and flowering plants offered nectar that the bees would use to make honey, and the pollen was used as a protein source to feed their young. In the bees’ quest for food, they moved pollen from one flower to the next, ensuring pollination and reproduction. With the help of these pollinators, the land provided abundant crops.

Monoculture, a system of farming that uses vast tracts of land to grow a single crop, changed this arrangement. With monculture, chemicals are often used excessively to eradicate weeds. Without diversity of flowers, the bees are not able to survive. On land with only one species of flower in bloom for a short period of time, bees must move on. And, since pollination is vital to the production of the food that we eat, farmers who practice monoculture must import bees at certain times. So beekeepers haul thousands of hives around on flatbed trailers every three weeks or so depending on how long the bloom is on the specific crop that needs pollinating. In some cases, bees are moved from state to state to pollinate.

“Bees pollinate 60 percent of the food that we eat,” says Jake Matthenius, former New Jersey State bee inspector. “From clover and alfalfa for animals to cranberries and blueberries, they help produce food.” After 42 years as state bee inspector and 65 years of beekeeping, Matthenius should know. Bees are said to be the backbone of
agriculture. Without them life on the planet as we know it would end. Melons, squashes, blueberries, apples, nuts, alfalfa, clover, cocoa, vanilla, mango, plums, apricots, cherries, avocado, canola, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, cotton, carrots, coffee and kiwi are just some of the crops that would not survive without the efforts of pollinators.

So how are the bees doing? “When I left the Department of Agriculture [in 1990] there were 40,000 hives in New Jersey; now there are 10,000,” says Matthenius. “You tell me how they are doing.”

Jean-Claude Tassot of Tassot Apiaries in Milford has been keeping bees most of his life. Six years ago he and his family decided to make a business of it. Over the years, Tassot has seen many changes in beekeeping. “It was more natural before; it is worse now because of chemicals. The bees are not healthy. If they were, there wouldn’t be problems like CCD [colony collapse disorder, the most recent assault on the weakened colonies]. They are not healthy because of chemicals.” Tassot disapproves of the use of insect-control products like Bayer Advanced, which is given to plants in food, water, or soil. The insecticide is actually taken into the plant. Rain and water cannot wash it off. Insects are killed when they come into contact with the product or when they attempt to eat the plant. “We need to ban the way we use chemicals now. We have
to realize this is not good for the bee and it isn’t good for humans.” Tassot’s hives are faring better than many. He uses essential oils, rather than chemical or acids, to treat his bees for the varroa mite, a honeybee parasite that can cause serious damage to a colony. Like many beekeepers, Tassot would like to see more farms and lawns “go organic.”

Organic beekeeping is something that Earl Rowe, of Douglas Farm and Apiary in Gladstone, is very familiar with. Like Tassot, he too has been beekeeping much of his life. Rowe is a hobbyist and has about 25 healthy hives that he cares for organically. He believes that there are “too many toxic chemicals given to bees to make them ‘better.’
They are little creatures and they are really stressed out. When human beings overwork themselves, they get sick. It is the same with bees.” Earl and his son Brian teach a bee club for children at the Somerset County 4-H. They also do outreach at schools and clubs, showing people the gentleness of the bee as well as the magic of the hive. Through teaching about the bees, they encourage children and adults alike to be more intimate with their environment.

From a bee’s point of view, the environment is the surrounding area that provides food. The bees will travel up to three miles from their hive to collect nectar and make it into honey, which they store for later use. According to Tim Schuler, current New Jersey State bee inspector, “the biggest threat to honeybees is the lack of forage because of changes in land use and pesticides in our environment. The image of the perfect lawn needs to go.”

Earl Rowe agrees. If we are to help the honeybees we must be “willing to accept dandelion, daffodils and a bit of wild.” He suggests “throwing down a bit of wildflower seeds to provide nectar for bees. Each flower has different flowering times.” When a person keeps the bees in mind the whole of nature opens up to them. Flowers are no longer just pretty borders to the highway or pesky weeds, they are viewed as a source of food for our much-needed state insect.

Along with serving as the state apiarist, Tim Schuler is also the coinstructor of the beekeeping courses offered through Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. Their course for novices, Bee-ginner’s Beekeeping, covers the basics of beekeeping such as bee biology, hive management and how to put a hive together. They also
offer a beyond-the-basics class for more experienced apiculturists. This class covers Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for honeybees, methods and equipment for moving and feeding bees, honey removal methods and small-scale queen and “nuc” production (a “nuc” is a small start-up nucleus colony of bees, brood [babies] and honey).
According to Schuler, “Of the 1,000 registered beekeepers in New Jersey, the vast majority has one or two hives in their backyard.” He believes wholeheartedly in IPM. “Some measure needs to be done [to treat for the varroa mite],” he says. “Use nonchemical means as much as possible but if that doesn’t work use harder chemicals.” It is better
to have a hive that is alive with chemicals in it than a dead hive.

The growing public awareness of bees and their mysterious disappearances with colony collapse disorder has generated a new momentum in beekeeping. A few short years ago, the average beekeeper was 60 years old and male. That is changing as more people are catching the backyard buzz. Along with the 4-H program and the Rutgers
classes, there are programs in southern New York State that promote organic and biodynamic beekeeping, emphasizing the importance of respecting the entirety of the web of life. Chris Harp of Honeybee Lives teaches regularly at his New Paltz Apiary and he also conducts classes with Ross Conrad, author of Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture, at the Pfeiffer Center in Chestnut Ridge, New York. Harp and Conrad have established a following of
new beekeepers who are interested in the bees and helping the planet.

Stephanie Smith is one of the new breed of beekeepers. She keeps bees the old-fashioned way in a Kenyan top-bar hive. Top-bar hives allow bees to make their own comb in the shape that they would in nature. It is about trusting the instinct of the hive instead of forcing the bees into rectangular boxes with cells designed to get more honey
out of the bees. Smith started keeping bees in Frenchtown last year after taking courses at the Pfeiffer Center. “It is such an amazing experience, to witness such a cohesive social system. Their way of living provides for us a model of cooperation.” Beekeeping for her isn’t simply about honey or pollination, as it has been to many beekeepers in the past; to her and to many new beekeepers, it is about stewardship. “We need to shift our perspective of small creatures and start seeing them as partners, not our enemy.”

After starting to keep bees last year under the tutelage of a friend, Shaun Ananko, 26, is an inspired new beekeeper. This year will be his first with his own hive. When I asked him what motivated him and what the bees have to offer, he didn’t give the typical answer of pollination or honey. He said, “They have lessons to offer us, love and
inspiration. The bees help me find my place in the world and understand my purpose of giving back what I take and not harming the environment. They work together as one organism.” For someone who is just forming his relationship with the bees, he has a strong view as to the lessons we have learned from the bees’ ordeal with colony collapse disorder and mites over the past 20 years. The bees have offered us a way to find our connection with our environment, to take care of the small as well as the great. “Through commercial beekeeping we have put stress on the bees and it is our responsibility to bring the bee population back to its natural order,” Ananko says.

Indeed, it is our responsibility to foster these relationships with the natural world around us. For us to really help the bees and to change the course that we are on, we must be more conscious of the chemicals we use and the impacts we have on the whole of the environment. Everything is connected and what hurts one being will have a
ripple effect throughout the ecosystem. Planting flowers to feed our pollinators will help offset some of the environmental degradation that has occurred in the past century. Let us remember what our ancestors knew thousands of years ago. The bees are our messengers and our symbol of the deep interconnection of all that exists. We
must sit still and pay attention so that their message can be heard.


Become a beekeeper. Even keeping one hive makes a difference, and you don’t need an expansive farm or field to be a beekeeper. Hives can be set up in a small backyard or even on a building rooftop.To take a course, or to simply learn more, visit one of these websites:

  • HoneyBee Lives with Chris Harp, Beekeeper/Bee Doctor
  • Dancing Bee Gardens: Caring for Bees Organically
  • Pfeiffer Center.
  • Rutgers University’s New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Center. Information on their many courses, including their Bee-ginner’s Beekeeping workshops, is .

Get involved. The New Jersey Beekeepers Association offers a variety of events, products and promotions designed to increase the public’s understanding and appreciation of bees. Join your local branch.

Get the kids involved. The 4-H Beekeeping Club of Bridgewater allows kids to start keeping bees at the age of nine. Their website offers a variety of kid-friendly information for teachers as well as participants.

Create a bee-friendly landscape. Instead of focusing solely on evergreens, choose shrubs and trees that bloom, such as maple, blackberry and hollyberry, along with perennial flowers. And don’t forget: clover, thistle, dandelions and milkweed are bee-favorite sources of nectar.