Here’s something I bet you didn’t know. I, Penelope Norton, am a beekeeper! And not just in the sense that I “work at The Hive” – I keep actually honeybees.
As a child, I grew up outside. I grew up going to nature camps at Huntley Meadows Park, going fishing with my grandfather, making mud cakes with my sisters. Nature fascinated me and bugs and insects were never something from which I shied away. So as a teen, when I started gardening at Mount Vernon Estates as my summer job, I became enthralled with the beehives there. In college at James Madison University, I got into the local sustainability and farm-to-table movements. I was able to learn the importance of our local ecosystems, farming responsibly, and what eating locally can do for our bodies and planet. All this to say, at age 20, I became determined that I would keep beehives one day.
Fast forward to the last four years and that is exactly what I have been doing. When I tell people, they immediately assume that I am in it for the honey. Though I have to admit my honey is absolutely amazing, that is a very small reason for keeping bees. While local and raw honey is known to help combat allergies and is amazing for you, and mine is as local and raw as it gets, participating in bee keeping is bigger than me and feeding my sweet tooth. And I certainly don’t do it for my safety. Please see the picture below of when I stupidly opened my hive without my protective gear on. I think Darwin called that Natural Selection!
Plain and simple, bees are critical for our food production, and they are in short supply. “Three out of four crops across the globe producing fruits or seeds for human use…depends, at least in part, on pollinators…supporting the production of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide.” (FAO) Needless to say, large-scale commercial agriculture relies heavily on actually renting out mass amounts of beehives for their pollination season. While this makes the world go round as we know it, it is not ideal. Rented beehives are in fact supporting farming industries such as almonds, blueberries, and apples.
Picture this, semi trucks are literally loaded with thousands of honeybee hives and are then driven from one pollinating season to another. The same bees that pollinated your apples in the early spring in Virginia are out in California by late summer pollinating your almonds, having made stops in between. All this travel exposes them to tons of herbicides and pesticides, which are taking a serious toll on the life span of a beehive. Between the 2018 to 2019 season there was a 40 percent beehive loss in the United States alone. (NPR) Clearly, we need a more disbursed, and locally-based, population of bees in America.
So why do I keep bees? I love, that in my small way, I can add back to the number of pollinators in my area. With beehive colonies decreasing every year I want to be a part of an effort to replace the hives we are losing. Our food production depends on it. If you live down by the Mount Vernon area my bees could be helping pollinate your yard and home gardens!
After reading all this you may be wondering what you can be doing to help the situation. If you have become inspired to keep bees, reach out! I am happy to help you get started. If beekeeping isn’t for you (see above picture of my swollen eye), here are some other ways to help!
I may have left you with more questions than answers and if that is the case please reach out! I am happy to talk with you about it! In the meantime support your community by supporting local and otherwise, enjoy some pictures of me with my bees!
Stay safe and healthy!
Heard the buzz? The Shoe Hive & The Hive are a pair of luxury boutiques in Old Town Alexandria. Featuring both big name designers like Rag & Bone and Stuart Weitzman and smaller brands like AGL and L'Agence, our unique selection and impeccable service are what set us apart.
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