Bee-ginner's Beekeeping at Better Farm

Artist-in-Residence Lilli Fisher gets acquainted with our newest roommates.

Better Farm last Thursday picked up its newest batch of roommates; several thousand honey bees and a queen from beekeeper extraordinaire Ted Elk in Hammond, N.Y.

Ted has a great backyard beekeeping setup, and sells honey, bees, and other related equipment out of his business Many Flowers Honey Company. Excited by the prospect of purchasing local bees already acclimated to the North Country seasons, we jumped at the opportunity to partner with Ted for this project.

Ever inventive with how we do things around the farm, Director of Education and Programming Katie Mollica picked up the honey bees with her hatchback car (you can imagine the ride back to the farm...). Ted talked her and a few other Better residents through the care of said bees and how to transfer the nucleus into a hive.
When you start out with backyard beekeeping, you purchase a nucleus set of worker bees and a queen, called a nuc. This initial group of bees begins the process of reproducing in a large cardboard box holding several rows of trays. These look a bit like hanging files in a cabinet.
Once you take the bees home with you, you want the opening in the box to face true east in order to protect bees from prevailing winds. You need to wait a couple of days before transferring your bees into the hive in order to let them acclimate to their new surroundings and get over the stress of the move.

This morning, betterArts resident Lilli Fisher volunteered for the task of the Better bees' first transfer from box to hive.

First, she suited up in this amazing bee suit Ted let us borrow (we'll be buying a new one from Better Bee this week). She also put on a light-colored pair of heavy-duty work gloves (bees are more inclined to sting if you wear dark colors, which they don't like. This is why all bee suits are white). Check out the duds:
Lilli moved the nucleus box over a couple of feet and put the bees' hive in the exact place the nucleus box had sat. Honey bees have a ridiculously strong sense of direction (they're said to be able to find their way home from as far away as 1.5 miles), and that sense is so precise that if their hive is moved so much as three feet away they might not go inside it.

Then, Lilli lifted the lid off the nucleus. We were surprised to find the bees had already produced so much honey that there was one frame stuck to the top of the nucleus box. No problem: Lilli expertly separated the parts and began to slide the nucleus frames into the hive.
Not a single bee sting to boot—even for the photographer, standing nearby. Here's the finished product:

Lilli left the nuc box and lid next to the hive in order to allow the honey bees to find their way into their new home. Here's an action shot of the bees doing their thing:

If you'd like to come see all the buzz in person, email us at We will be checking on the bees and growing their hive every two weeks.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.