Meet New Hampshire Beekeeper Mary Ellen McKeen

We need bees, and one woman is determined to do her part to save them

Meet Mary Ellen McKeen, keeper and house mother to numerous thriving hives of honeybees. She speaks lovingly, even maternally, of their personalities and unwavering work ethic. As we know, their numbers have been dropping alarmingly and they are responsible for one of every three bites of food we consume. We need these busy pollinators to stick around. McKeen is on a mission to save both our winged friends and, inevitably, us. So take a class, buy some hives, harvest your honey and help preserve our trivial habits of eating. Or do it for the flowers. Get involved. Bee all that you can bee.

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  • They say one out of every three bites of food is there because of pollinators, so you can say we have all been involved [in beekeeping] since our first bite of food. 
  • I started studying beekeeping seven years ago, and got my first colonies the following year. 
  • Last year, I went into winter with 20 colonies but lost eight over the winter due to the severe drought. They just couldn’t build up their winter stores fast enough, even though I fed them. 
  • So I’m down to 12 in three locations. I have some at my home in Somersworth, I keep bees at Bedrock Gardens in Lee, and I keep some at Beeline Skin Care in Henniker.
  • Flowers are good [bee forage], but there needs to be a large amount of flowering plants, so a backyard garden is not nearly enough to sustain a colony. Many garden plants are hybrids that offer no nutrition for bees.
  • Invasive species are very popular with honeybees. It’s a well-kept secret that beekeepers love to find locations with lots of invasive species!
  • In the early spring, a hive is at its lowest population of about 10,000 to 15,000. At the height of the season, there can be anywhere from 50,000 to 80,000 bees in a colony. That’s a lot of females working together for the common good.
  • Every batch of honey tastes different. It all depends on what flower source the nectar is from, what pollen is present in the honey, what the weather is, etc. 
  • That’s why I can’t figure out what that stuff in the grocery store is. It’s all the same taste and all the same color. It’s not what honey looks or tastes like from my bees or any of my fellow beekeepers. 
  • There is a lot of fraudulent “honey” out there, and some doesn’t contain any nectar at all.
  • Honey has medicinal properties for people too. It is a living food with beneficial enzymes and healing properties. Many people use local honey to help their seasonal allergies.
  • I have Eastern European clients who swear by the ingestion of honeycomb for stomach issues. Apitherapy is big in Europe, but, since there is no money to be made by drug companies, we have little medical research here in the U.S.


Apitherapy Considered: To Bee or Not to Bee

Apitherapy is a form of alternative medicine that uses honeybee products, including honey, pollen, propolis, royal jelly and bee venom. Proponents of apitherapy make some remarkable claims about its health benefits. It’s also a traditional or folk medicine that’s long been used to treat various illnesses and their symptoms, as well as pain from acute and chronic injuries. Medical science has taken note, conducted studies, and suggests apitherapy may be a treatment for multiple sclerosis, while researchers with the Lyme disease research group at the University of New Haven studied the effects of bee venom and found it could be effective against the bacteria that causes Lyme.

Credits: Thanks to former worm lady (now farmers market maven) Joan O’Conner for recommending Mary Ellen McKeen; to Julie Hundley for the help in bee wrangling; and to Bedrock Gardens in Lee for the extraordinary location.

Categories: People