Fear, anger, anxiety. Bees can elicit a variety of emotions in people, depending on your experience with them, your allergy status, or your feelings about insects in general. For Edwin Medrano, the Executive Steward at the Boston Seaport Hotel they are one of the best parts of his job. About a year and a half ago, with the desire to green, the Seaport Hotel decided to harvest honey and herbs on-site to shrink the gap from “farm” to table. Edwin was told he would be managing the bees. At first, with English as his second language, he was confused. Did they say bees? In downtown Boston? Yes, they did so Edwin started learning everything he could about bees, hives and honey.
He started out with two hives on the roof of the Seaport Hotel and when I joined him one recent afternoon, that number had grown to seven. Before we met the bees, I had to be outfitted appropriately. I arrived, fresh from work in a sleeveless sun dress; obviously this was not going to work. Edwin helped me step into a pair of white coveralls, then put on a jacket that had a helmet with face net attached to it and finally he helped me wiggle my hands into long gloves. As we walked out on to the roof I was surprised by the volume of the communal buzzzzz that was emanating from the bee’s corner of the rooftop (to hear for yourself watch the video at the bottom of the post). It was as if I walked into a wall of sound that was in some ways hard to ignore, but eventually eased into a type of white noise background sound to my beekeeping lesson.
I wasn’t scared, I was actually very calm, even while I sat just a few feet from hundreds, maybe thousands of bees, listening to Edwin and taking notes. Even before I put the net helmet over my head, I watched the bees swarm around their hives — which resembled a narrow chest of drawers — and me, but I didn’t step back or swat them away. I just wasn’t worried, they seemed to be happily doing their own thing. Edwin explained how he got the hives started and how he cares for the bees, feeds them and how he lets them “fly.” The bees come and go as they please, buzzing to visit nearby trees and flowers, but they always return to the Seaport’s roof and their particular hives. Bees are very loyal creatures and will always return to their home, and their queen.
Edwin feeds the bees a sugar solution and checks on them daily. Beekeeping is a lot about maintenance and anticipating what the colonies need to thrive, multiply and produce honey. We opened up each of the hives and Edwin gently pulled out the frames to see what the bees were up to. Each frame serves as staging ground for both larva development and honey production, and it was interesting to see these two different things happened so close together. As the saying goes, these bees are busy. Some of the frames already had honey in them and Edwin let me try some, complete with the honeycomb. Following Edwin’s instructions, I swallowed the very fresh honey and chewed the comb like it was gum. Eventually when the comb lost its flavor I was told to spit it out, which would have been fine had I remembered I was wearing a net over my face. Needless to say it was a messy moment.
Edwin and I calmly worked our way around the bee’s corner of the roof, checking each hive, looking for their queens, with the constant buzz of the bees as the soundtrack to our afternoon.
If you can stay calm while bees crawl all over you, beekeeping can be a very serene activity. Watching how busy the bees are made me slow my normally exhaustive pace, and forced me to just be there in that moment, watching them, feeling the sun on my oh-so flattering jumpsuit. Maybe I stayed calm and relatively still because there were bees all over me, but whatever the reason, it felt nice to just exhale and be present.
Edwin and I tended to the bees, but with the exception of one mouthful, no honey was harvested. Edwin’s goal for this year is to harvest 300 to 500 pounds of honey to be served and sold at the hotel. He invited me to come back when he harvests his next batch next month, so stay tuned for my next sweet and sticky adventure!
Many thanks to Edwin Medrano and the Boston Seaport Hotel for allowing me to meet his bees. I was not compensated in any way for this post.