Backyard Beekeeping

Written by: Lauren Brois on Jun 7th 2018
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By TIffany Kakkanatt and Alex Barkan*

photos by Karen Sabath

On a pleasant morning in early July, Energize NY summer intern Tiffany had the opportunity to observe Karen Sabath’s backyard hives. Karen is a master beekeeper and is the founder of Hudson Valley Natural Beekeepers. Ms, Sabath began beekeeping nine years ago, when her sister established Rainbeau Ridge Farm, a small scale sustainable farm located in Bedford Hills, and hired a beekeeper for the farm. As Karen learned more about beekeeping, she became intrigued by these incredible insects. In fact, Karen has not only continued to maintain the hives within Rainbeau Ridge but has even developed hives at her own home for the past few years. To find out more about how and why you should consider beekeeping too, read more about my visit with Karen’s backyard bees.

Karen’s backyard bees are incredibly important to our ecosystem and food supply. Most plants rely on natural pollinators like bees to produce our crops, so it is critical to protect bees, and if possible, raise them, especially as climate change and widespread pesticide usage place pollinators under increased threat. Moreover, growing bees boosts your garden while, of course, producing natural honey that tastes noticeably different than the store-bought stuff. As Karen espouses when visiting schools and libraries, bees are an admirable species that are also nothing to be afraid of. For the most part, honey bees are not aggressive and are gentle, busy insects. The defensiveness of bees is hugely influenced by environmental conditions, and bees tend to be calmer when the colonies are: in direct sunlight, away from natural predators, in mild temperatures (less than 95 degrees), and when there is nectar available for the bees.  

To ensure that her hives are thriving, Karen inspects her hives every 10 to 14 days. Typically, an inspection of one hive takes about ten minutes, depending on the season. The reason for the inspection is to check the health of the hive. The hives have several ways of communicating to Karen that they are well. At first glance, a robust population is an excellent indication of a healthy hive. Other signs include the presence of eggs in the honeycomb indicating that the queen bee is doing her job. However, the best indication of a healthy hive is spotting the queen herself. The queen bee is essential to maintaining hive population and can produce more than 1,500 eggs a day. As queen bees are so important to maintaining a healthy hive, checking on the queen is one of the most important parts of performing an inspection.

Karen has committed herself to a sustainable lifestyle and backyard beekeeping is one of the many ways she has done so. She also is a board member of Bedford 2020, an organization committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the Town of Bedford. Karen reduces her carbon footprint by driving a plug-in hybrid car. She takes part in Bedford’s community choice aggregation which allows her to buy into renewable energy options to power her home. Additionally, her family worked with Energize NY to complete home energy upgrades just under three years ago! Although her main motivation to Energize her home was from a sustainability standpoint, her family enjoys savings on their utility bills as well as a comfortable home throughout the chilly winters and warm summers. As we were speaking, Karen’s roof was being prepared for solar panels. When her home was assessed before the solar project, Karen was told her home is highly efficient because her house was Energized!  

Karen enthusiastically embraces sustainability in all aspects of her lifestyle, from backyard beekeeping to Energizing her home, and you should too!

So how can YOU get started on your own hive?  

First, it’s important to note that different towns have certain rules about backyard beekeeping, so check in with your town for the specifics. According to NY State Law, new hives can only be built on properties with at least a quarter of an acre or more, which, generally most single-family homes in Westchester would quality for. Furthermore, Karen says that while beekeeping requires dedication, it is not greatly time consuming and it is incredibly rewarding whether or not you get honey. 

Karen’s quick tips for beginner beekeepers:   

1- Visit or shadow someone who maintains their own hives  

2- Take advantage of local resources. Check out Hudson Valley Natural Beekeepers!

3- Begin planning in the Fall/Winter (now!!) to begin raising your bees in the Spring. You’ll need to plan your space and build your boxes, gather the appropriate supplies and tools, and obtain your bees. You can find bees locally from the Hudson Valley Bee Supply and Anarchy Apiary. Bees are sold in packages and are available for order beginning in early May. Another option is to source them from Georgia or California.   

4- Start beekeeping in the early Spring (MARCH!)

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*About the co-authors:

TIffany Kakknatt is an undergraduate student interested in environmentalism and sustainability. As am a summer intern at Energize NY, she is working on sharing the stories of local sustainability heroes in Westchester. This was a particularly interesting visit for her because of her previous work preserving bee populations last summer as a volunteer with The Fund for the Public Interest to ban neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides that is detrimental to bees.  

Alex Barkan is a senior at Croton Harmon High School and is interested in sustainability. She is a summer intern at Energize NY and is planning on going to SUNY Binghamton this fall. As a part of her internship, she got the chance to edit and research about backyard beekeeping, which was really interesting to learn about.