Angry bees and sweet stuff at East Falls’ own apiary
An apiary called Wicked Bee Hollow? That’s got to be a marketing trick, right? How wicked can bees get? We’re not talking Africanized bees here, but Tanya Veitch, owner of Wicked Bee Hollow, didn’t have to make anything up when she named her apiary.
When she acquired her first hive in 2010, she didn’t have any experience with bees, only a beekeeping book and an idea that she might make a nice hobby/side business out of tending bees. The book made it sound simple, but there weren’t any chapters for the kind of bees she received from a New Jersey provider.
It didn’t take long after she installed the first nuc (short for nuclear hive) to realize that the bees were really nasty. They didn’t calm down despite prodigious amount of smoke, repeatedly bouncing angrily off of her beekeeping suit.
They even chased her after she closed the hive and backed away. For a while in those early months, she had to retreat to a shed in her back yard, get out of her suit, and wait inside until the bees gave up chasing her.
Thinking she might have been doing something wrong, she called in members of the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild to give her some pointers. They told her the bees were the angriest they’d ever worked with. What were they? How did they get so mean?
Turns out that the bees she received from the New Jersey provider weren’t exactly Russian honeybees (known for relatively good temperament and hardiness, especially in winter — surprise right?) but a hybrid instead. The provider had bred the Russians with feral bees he’d cut out of a local home. Feral Russians? Sounds wicked to us too.
She no longer had to hide in her shed and her kids could even play around the new hives, catching drones in containers after the female worker bees kicked them out. (these male bees are too much of a drain on hive resources after the foraging season is over and quickly wear out their welcome). The original hive still remains on the grounds of Wicked Bee, just in a special location away from the main walking paths.
Despite the kinder, gentler disposition of the new bees, they aren’t always in the best mood, especially in the summer. The decrease in flowering plants leaves the hive feeling a bit protective of what they gathered in the spring.
Just a few months ago when they had their choice of flowers, they would’ve been far more agreeable but when we visited Wicked Bee on a hot July day, the buzzing of guard bees close by our ears was enough to make me twitch, even though Tanya assured us this was normal. And even when guard bees spot a threat, their first reaction is not to sting. “They’ll fly right at you and bounce off your head. That’s how you know you’re too close.”
Although the bees couldn’t have been too happy to have their honey taken, but we’re glad they gave it up so we could taste this fascinating treat. Light and free-flowing, this spring honey has a “lawn-y,” floral aroma. It’s hard to describe the taste, but Carolyn put it best when she said it tastes like spring smells. Which is no surprise given the bees probably gathered pollen from clover, wildflowers, raspberry bushes, and trees such as Tulip Poplar and Black Locust.
It’s like a season of East Falls in a jar!
Wicked Bee has come a long way since Tanya first got those nasty bees, but the hive has been extremely productive and are tough enough to “keep a honey badger at bay” (and survive some bad winters too). They’ve even helped her expand her product line to include body butter, balms, as well as soaps and scrubs.
If you’d like to visit Wicked Bee, make sure you call ahead. And ya might wanna give the bees some space when you get there.
SPEAKING OF: If you happen to encounter your own colony of bees (or hornets, ground wasps, or other highly-prized pollinators), DO NOT KILL THEM! Specialists like Philadelphia Bee Company will happily relocate them far, far away from your home so they can continue their very important job of keeping our farms healthy.
Our own Curtis Jones supports training Philly exterminators on how to safely relocate bee colonies — and why it’s so important to save our pollinators, who have been dying off at an alarming rate.
Support local beekeeping! Check out Wicked Bee Hollow, East Falls’ own apiary/urban farm.