Yard Birds Gets All the Bees Buzzing

Angela Roell, at work, tending to one of the hives.

Meet Angela Roell – she is part of a two person operation called Yard Birds, which farms backyards in and around Boston (inluding neighborhoods such as JP, Roslindale, Milton).  Besides vegetables and produce that’s grown on the land, Angela also keeps bees on these pieces of land as well and manages a total of twelve hives.

Yard Birds practices sustainable, soil building land management on a small scale, bio-remediation (the use of beneficial insects to remove pollutants), and heavy crop rotation to maximize land use.  “We’re heavily inspired by Growing Power in Milwaukee, The Blaire Grocery in New Orleans and many more education based small farms.  My goals are centered more around education and sustainability, rather than making a quick buck off the bees.  I come to apiculture and agriculture from an education/arts background so I consider it my work, as much as photography was/is my work, and as much as education and advocacy continue to be my work,” says Angela.  “I look at it as if I’m creating an image, except now I’m creating an apiary, a constantly shifting landscape of strong healthy honey bees who are pollinating. I’m also creating a small farm, growing strong plants I can feel good about feeding to people.  I don’t know if it is overrated or cheesy to think about it as revolutionary, but in a way I do.  I think it is a quiet, but powerful revolution to grow food, feed people, teach people how to grow food, how the systems of our planet work and can continue to work for us… if we’re willing to work with them symbiotically.”

Typically Angela checks her hives once every two weeks and practices treatment free methods, which means she don’t use chemicals to treat the bees.  “I try to be as ‘hands off’ as possible,” she says.

For Angela, ethical and sustainable honey production is very important – “I think I will continue to build my apiaries, split my hives and possible sell off some splits or nucleus hives (which are small hives that have a successfully over wintered queen that has survived freezing temperatures).  I’d love to expand to do small scale honey production, but I don’t want to simply buy poor genetics from the Southern US, keep bees for one season and replace them,” she says.

Several of the hives.

However, beekeeping is a costly endeavour.  “A true labor of love, if you will,” states Angela.  Currently she is working to build up her bee genetics so that she can have treatment free, overwintered, small cell bees who can survive and thrive in the Northeast.  “I buy my bees only from local sources who also practice treatment free methods and have successfully over wintered their bees.  I also catch swarms.”

Swarm season is from May through the end of June.  A swarm is when the old queen and a gaggle of bees leave the hive to create space when there is over crowding.  The hive will create queen cells, from which new virgin queens will emerge.  After the cells have been created and before they hatch, the old queen is semi-starved so she stops laying.  Then older bees will drag her out of the hive and force her to fly away.  They cluster up into a big ball of honeybees and according to Angela, it is truly the most incredible thing to witness.  Swarming allows the hive to reproduce itself (similar to cell division).  Swarms are captured by finding one and laying down a tarp under it (they’re usually attached to trees or shrubs while they seek out a new home), then cutting down the tree/shrub limb and shaking it into a new hive.  The bees always stay with the queen, so once the queen has acclimated to the space and begun to lay, the bees will stay.  Occasionally they will dislike the new space and abscond to a new one, though that is rare.

This year Yard Birds will sell produce at two markets, the Milton Farmer’s Market at the Wharf and the Mattapan Farmer’s Market.  Limited quantities of honey this summer and possibly beeswax supplies at the JP Winter Market will also be available.

Diana Mai
Summer 2012 Boston Food Warrior

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One comment on “Yard Birds Gets All the Bees Buzzing

  1. Mom says:

    Nice article, you are an awesome young lady.

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