Bill Avery opened the lid of a blue box in his backyard and dozens of the honeybees flew out, buzzing around him. Four such boxes contain four hives in the side yard of Avery's 2-acre property on Ponus Ridge, through an arched stone entryway from the driveway and behind a lush garden.
"This one looks OK, I'm going to start feeding it today," Avery said, pulling out and inspecting each of the 10 wooden frames containing a honeycomb. Avery feeds the bees with sugar water.
The next box wasn't doing so well. In a healthy hive, most of the honeycombs are filled with honey and bee pupae and the box (or apiary, as it's known in the business) is full of bees. In this box, there were not nearly as many bees and the frames were sparsely filled. "They're self-regulating, so if there's not a lot of food they don't lay a lot."
Avery wore the traditional garb of the beekeeper -- a large white suit with a mesh mask covering his face. He did not wear gloves, but pumped smoke, which is a smell bees hate, from a metal container onto his hands. He said he does not get stung frequently, and that the stings have started to hurt less than they did when he began, three years ago. He does not wear gloves because he can then feel when a bee is on him and can brush it off before it stings. Bees can sting through gloves anyway, he added.
The hobby of beekeeping has increased across the United States as the number of honeybees has dwindled. In the past six years, the bee population in North America has seen massive die-offs, in a phenomenon that has been named Colony Collapse Disorder.
Therefore, more and more people are taking to keeping their own bees.
"We have seen an explosion of people keeping bees. Attendance at our annual bee schools are increasing," Mark Creighton, the state of Connecticut's apiary inspector, said. "A lot of people want to get back to our historical roots, and when our forefathers came over, everyone had a hive with them."
But many beekeepers simply want a hobby that yields something sweet, like honey. Such was the case with Avery, who said he got into beekeeping in his semi-retirement as a way of participating in his wife Linda's garden without having to bend down and weed.
Linda said she was initially worried about introducing 10,000 stinging bees into her backyard, but she said she never gets stung.
"When bees are on the plants they never pay attention to me," she said. "They can be covering a plant and it's no danger to me at all."
The garden on the Averys' well-manicured property was full and blossoming on a recent summer morning. The garden includes many flowering plants, like blue hydrangeas and butterfly bushes, which are like dessert for bees.
"I like being out in my wife's garden and on the property. It takes a little time to get it going but then you can manage it without spending too much time on it," he said.
Two years ago, he collected more than 40 pounds of honey.
And what does one even do with 40 pounds of honey?
"Christmas gifts," he said.
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