Truisms About Backyard Bees
Backyard Bees was originally going to be called “Green Honey.” I still like that name but the results of a (very small) focus group showed that the idea of green honey was a huge turnoff. Yet, that really encompasses what I do, what I believe, what I love. Living green, and bee-ing a beekeeper.
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Backyard Bees, we are though. And it’s perfect. There ARE bees in the backyard and we ARE truly keepers of the bees. Every product that we do is all about the bees – even though we put YOU first. We make personal care products and green gifts that are good for YOU, the environment, and ultimately, the bees.
The Queen has never known how to tell a joke. She also doesn’t really know how to keep things short. But, she absolutely loves bee-ing punny and adores it when you get it…when a customer or friend comes back with a new bee pun, or even just walks away laughing at a silly something the Quene said…PURE JOY!
It may bee hard to bee-lieve but the Queen is not actually royalty. She lives in a house with 3 other males though and that makes her the Queen Bee. To use an expression of my mother, who learned it from HER mother, the Queen Bee “works like a dog” for the good of the household. Where DID that expression come from?
The Queen is not a philosopher. But she does love to share ideas and hear what other people think. Today, on the first day of 2023, she took a trail run along a muddy trail in the woods. As I ran along – and tried not to lose my balance and twist my knee in the mud – I pretended that I was stepping on the dirty and unpleasant parts of 2022. It was fun to think along those lines – but I don’t know if that helps anyone.
So, Backyard Bees is the name. But somehow in this day and age, people are SHOCKED to hear me say that, yes, the bee ARE in the backyard. I shouldn’t judge, but the most common questions I get are “Do you really keep bees?” and “Where do you keep them?”
If you’ve been following along with me, or if you’ve just started…the answer is always “Yes! I do keep bees. I am a beekeeper”. (Sometimes I say, “Yes, I am a keeper of the bees.” Eventually I’ll explain the subtle difference to you, but not today). And, I always tack on that yes, the bees are in the backyard…and four other locations, or is it 5? Things change, but seeing the bees fly in and out of the backyard hives is a source of joy for me.
I started keeping bees in Sunnyside Queens. I had a narrow but long backyard and my home was a part of a strip of row houses, connected on either side. My bees were VERY happy there (so was I!). I did think that moving away from the trains and factories and pollutants that come along with a highly populated area would benefit the bees, but it turns out, the bees seemed much more independent in the city.
Here in Long Island, I know my neighbors use pesticides and insecticides and I know it hurts the bees. Those chemicals are harmful to people too, but people choose to bee-lieve what they want to.
I keep a photo of the bees in Sunnyside with me and take it to all of my events. Ask me anytime to see it. It’s an example of how a picture is worth a 1000 words, cause it stimulates a LOT of conversation. Bottom line message: bees thrive in environments where there is diversity, just like people.
Bees do better where there is variety. If you have not seen the 2013 documentary “Queen of the Sun: What Are The Bees Telling Us?”, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Living in New York, the word ‘monoculture’ made sense to me, but watching the documentary showing the almond trees in California struck me like an arrow through the heart. I was recently in California and drove through miles of almond trees; things are a bit better but still…
Both my parents lived through The Great Depression and therefore I was raised with a mindset that maybe some people were not. Here’s just a few things they taught me that have carried over into my Backyard Bees undertakings:
- Waste Nothing
- Grow what you can
- Be a smart shopper
- Be a good neighbor
Bee-ing green is not a new way of life; it’s sometimes confused with being cheap or ‘frugal’. Being green is an old way of living and I am very proud to be the owner of a green and ecoconscious company.
One of my favorite books on green living is “Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression” by Mildred Armstrong Kalish. When you’re done watching “Queen of the Sun”, pick up this little book full of wisdom and how-to’s; I’m sure you’ll find something useful there.
I was the last of seven children and as the baby, I watched everything my older brothers and sister did. We nicknamed one of my brothers “Farmer Joe” (his name was Paul!) and one of my sisters hand-embroidered his name and some graphics on the back of a denim jacket that I wish we still had.
We didn’t have a huge piece of land but “Farmer Joe” managed to create quite the vegetable garden of lettuce, tomatoes, peas, cucumbers, carrots, string beans and even corn. I don’t think I really ate any of the vegetables (other than the cucumbers which I love to this day), but it was so fun to work together in the dirt. I learned a lot just by playing and helping!
I don’t think we ever used a single pesticide – I could be wrong, but I don’t think so. When my mom was in her late 80’s, she decided that the dandelions had to go. She tormented all of us by bending over and hand digging those taproots out of the dirt – her balance was awful it scared everyone to think she would fall and break her hip. (She did fall many times, and couldn’t always get up on her own, but she never did break her hip!)
You might not think that the Queen Bee was very knowledgeable about nutrition. After all, honey is just another word for sugar, as any diabetic knows…right? In actuality, the Queen’s first career path was that of “Registered Dietitian” and she knows quite a lot about carbohydrates (like honey and sugar), fats, and proteins! And honey is somewhat superior to granulated sugar.
Most people believe the saying, “You are what you eat.” Your food choices and what you put INSIDE your body have direct effects on your skin, your hair, your nails…your overall appearance. But as a dietitian working with high risk populations, I always embraced the body positivity movement – make the best choices for yourself, practice self-care, and accept yourself for you who are at this moment!
As a graduate student at Adelphi University (Garden City), one of my professors presented a model of holistic health using a Rubik’s Cube. I really hated that class because honestly – do you need to breakdown the definition of a healthy person into 54 components (6 sides x 9 squares each/side)? Yet here I am years later, with the total bee-lief that you are WAY more than what you eat. Good health encompasses the ability to feel joy, to practice self-care; it includes spirituality, sense of community and even vocational health. Mental health is yet another component of that model.
Another impressive class during graduate school introduced me to an educational philosophy called “KISS”…Keep. It. Simple. Stupid. I like to keep things simple…not because you’re stupid, but because simple things are the things that get done. A milk and honey mask is one of my favorite simple things, but so often people want to complicate it and add other ingredients to the 2-ingedient recipe.
It’s hard to bee brief when people ask me about what I do. It’s about way more than the bees; it’s about creating products that are simply good for you, for the environment (do no harm), and the bees. Backyard Bees. We LOVE what we do!