Interview with NH Beekeeper Barbara Lawler
Lawler is the president of the NH Beekeepers Association and vice president of the Capital Area Beekeepers Association
Photo by John Hession
When a friend told Barbara Lawler she’d enjoy raising bees, she thought he was crazy. Now, nine years later, she thinks anyone who doesn’t like bees is crazy. In fact, she’s now president of the NH Beekeepers Association and vice president of the Capital Area Beekeepers Association.
Lawler and her husband have had between nine and 18 hives in their back yard with three different races of bees — Italians, Carniolans and Russians. They raise their own bees, though you can buy them through the mail (“the Post Office loves that”) or from local commercial beekeepers (“several travel south to pick up truckloads of bees”). Ask her how many times she’s been stung, and she says, “Ah, the sting question.” And probably for the nth time, she answers that her husband has been stung three times in nine years, and she has been stung “let’s just say, more than three.” That’s because she takes stings deliberately for health reasons. Bee venom, she says, is increasingly being used in conjunction with traditional medicine.
A major concern in recent years — a significant decline in the number of honeybees. “They are early warning systems alerting us that something isn’t quite right,” she says. “We just need to listen.”
What’s the most interesting aspect of bees?
Where do I begin? Over their short lifetime (six weeks), they take on many jobs — nurse, housekeeper, guard, forager, undertaker. They communicate through movement, pheromones (scent) and sound. Their ability to move from one role to another and communicate the needs of the hive demonstrates a true collaborative effort. No room for egos or drama or selfishness. We humans have a lot to learn from bees.
The number of honeybees has been declining for a number of reasons. Why should we care?
Do we like variety in what we eat? One out of every three mouthfuls of our food are reliant on honeybees. Medicine — a beehive is a virtual medicine chest. Products from the hive including honey, pollen, Royal jelly and bee venom, to name but a few, are increasingly being used in conjunction with traditional medicine. Wound care centers across the country use honey for deep cavity wounds, bee venom is used to treat a variety of maladies from tumor reduction to arthritis, Royal jelly for menopausal symptom relief. Unfortunately, many folks don’t seek out these more natural measures until after exhausting traditional methods.
Is beekeeping popular in NH?
Over the last five years beekeeping in NH and across the nation has exploded. As people realize the importance of bees and as demand for local, responsibly produced foods increases we see a movement toward local beekeeping — not much different from the local backyard chicken movement. Some of the bee schools across the state have in excess of 100 students. Beekeeping is also picking up in much more urban settings — there are beehives on rooftops in Manhattan. When done properly beekeeping can be done responsibly and safely in both rural and urban settings.
Is it hard to get started?
Some folks take to it like ducks to water. Bees are livestock, and there is training and ongoing information needed to be successful. Anyone who thinks they are going to put bees in a box and net honey in the fall will be disappointed. Bee schools and local bee clubs are the best options to learn about and sustain successful beekeeping