by Stephanie Bruneau in Bee Culture Magazine; April, 2017

Did anyone ever tell you ‘you are what you eat’? There is no creature for which this is more true than the honey bee. Amazingly, queen bees are genetically exactly identical to worker bees. But they’re fed a different diet from worker bees their whole lives, from the time they are tiny larvae, until the day they die. This different meal plan causes their physiology and behavior to develop completely differently from worker bees, despite the same genetic foundation. What is this magic food? It’s not broccoli! It’s the aptly named substance, royal jelly.

Read the full article here on Bee Culture’s website or here as a PDF: BeeCulture-Article-Royal-Jelly-4-17

By Len Lear, 11/20/2015.

A bad pun: Why did the bee get married?

Answer: Because he found his honey!

Chestnut Hill resident Stephanie Elson Bruneau, 37, is “the bee’s knees,” to quote a popular expression from the 1920s. She could probably wax poetic and come up with a pun that has more sting to it. A native of Mt. Airy, Stephanie went to the Miquon School as a child, which inspired in her a true love of nature. She went to Friends Select High School, Wesleyan University (2000) and Brown University (2006) for a masters degree in Environmental Planning and Policy.

She and her husband, Emile, who works at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School, moved back to Chestnut Hill to raise their family — daughter Clara, 4 years old, who goes to Miquon and “loves the Miquon mud as much as I did,” and son Atticus, 1.

“For us,” said Stephanie last week, “Philly is the perfect place. We love exploring in the Wissahickon, romping in the streams and woods, getting lost on mountain bike trails, and we are truly enjoying the city’s ever-growing awareness of and appreciation for all that is local and sustainable. We love the strong sense of community in Northwest Philly, the diversity and all that the city has to offer in the way of music, art, food and more.”

But the real passion for Stephanie and Emile is beekeeping, which started when they lived in Boston. It was a hobby at first; they had one hive, then two, then three in the backyard of their rented apartment. “Our landlord became skeptical,” said Stephanie, “and we moved our hives to the Boston Nature Center, where we started a ‘Teaching Apiary’ with a few beekeeper friends. In Boston, we co-founded the Boston Area Beekeepers Association, and in 2012 started selling our honey, handcrafted beeswax candles and herb-infused beeswax-based body care products.”

When the family moved back to Philadelphia, they rented a truck, loaded up the kids and the bees and relocated everyone at once. Their bees now live at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd. “We couldn’t have found a more wonderful or willing partner. West Laurel Hill is truly a green oasis, and the folks there are truly committed to sustainability. They even ‘hire’ goats to control their invasive plants so that they don’t have to use pesticides. Really! This past season we had five hives there. Each hive has between 20,000 to 60,000 bees.”

Bees have smaller colonies in the winter and larger colonies in the summer when there is more work to do — collecting pollen and nectar from flowering plants. Bees live for 3-5 weeks in the summer when they are working very hard and 3-5 months in the winter when they are not flying so much and just clustering together, trying to keep the queen and themselves warm.

Stephanie has started a business called The Benevolent Bee. “My ultimate goal,” she explained, “is to share my passion for bees with others.” In addition to selling raw local honey and beeswax products, she also teach classes to all ages about bees, beekeeping and bee products. She sells her products — raw honey, beeswax candles, balms and salves and ceramics — at Weavers Way, Across the Way in Mt. Airy Village and at local fairs and markets, like the Mt. Airy Makers Markets.

“Bees are so important to humans; one-third of all of our food depends on their pollination. And as you know, bees are having a tough time, in large part as a result of commercial agriculture — a loss of biodiversity due to monocultures and the widespread use of pesticides. We see our small-scale, treatment-free, family-run apiary along with our work spreading the good word about the wonderful world of bees, as our small action towards a healthier world for bees.”

Stephanie has also organized the Mt. Airy Makers Markets for local craftspeople with Meg Hagele, owner of the High Point Cafe. “Meg immediately agreed to open up her cafes to local makers, staff the cafes for extra hours and help with publicity, all because she is a true believer in creating community, regardless of whether it makes sense for her bottom line. The markets will be the perfect place to do holiday shopping. You will be able to buy unique, handmade gifts made by artists in your neighborhood!”

The Dec. 4 Market will be at the Allens Lane Train Station, and the Dec. 10 Market will be across several businesses in Mt. Airy Village including High Point Cafe and The Big Blue Marble Bookstore. Both from 5 to 8 p.m. There will be music and singing in the street, and Mt. Airy Village businesses will stay open late!


A sweet time to start raising honeybees

December 6, 2013

By Rebeca Olivera

HYDE SQ.—If you love honey and have considered keeping your own beehives, this is the season to get started, according to JP resident and Boston Beekeepers Club co-founder Stephanie Elson.

The time of the year is perfect, and so is the political climate, since the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) approved new beekeeping regulations earlier this month.

“Bees are amazing creatures. They are so fun to work with, and, of course, honey is delicious and healthful,” Elson said.

Elson said this is the time for first-time beekeepers to learn about the hobby because materials for a new spring hive—including the bees—are usually ordered very early in the year, and that takes research.

“Setting up a hive is a little like planning and planting a garden,” Elson told the Gazette, explaining that it takes time to plan the location, build or order the equipment, and choose which bees will populate the hive.

“It’s good to get your learning done over the winter, so that you can be all ready to set up a new hive in the spring,” she said, suggesting that “newbees” contact the Beekeepers Club for book recommendations or bee schools.

Beekeeping doesn’t require a lot of space, Elson said, and the hives can be installed almost anywhere—“like the three hives on top of the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel!”

In her own Hyde Square back yard, she has one hive that she purchased new, one she purchased used, and one she built herself. As for the bees themselves, she said they can be likewise ordered—a “starter” colony retails for $80 to $120, Elson said—or captured from the wild.

She also has an observation hive made of Plexiglas in her living room. The bees go in and out through a tube that runs through the window. Elson said that most of the time, her “Bee TV” is “more interesting than actual TV, except for Red Sox games.”

What about stings?

“Bees get a bad reputation from yellowjackets and other wasps that people think are bees,” Elson said, explaining that honeybees only sting when threatened. “Honeybees are quite gentle. I have gotten stung probably five or six times in the five years we’ve been keeping bees. Most of these instances are from when I accidentally squashed a bee and it stung my hand.”

However, many beekeepers wear protective gloves and clothing because bees can feel threatened when the hive is directly handled.

As for the benefits, Elson said they are as varied as the beekeepers. Some do it for the honey and wax. Some do it to boost garden production. Others do it to boost bee populations.

Bee colonies have been collapsing at increasing rates in the last decade throughout the U.S. and Europe. The exact cause is unknown, but research suggests it involves various factors, including pesticides, diseases and industrial beekeeping practices.

And “some just love the creature of the bee and want to host them in their yard, kind of like owning a fish tank,” she said.

Elson said there some up-front costs to the hobby, namely hives and protective gear.

“But just like anything else, there are used bee suits and other items available for sale,” she said. Other equipment, like wooden hive boxes, is also buildable at home.

The BRA’s Article 89—a new zoning code chapter governing urban agriculture—creates new maintenance requirements for urban beekeeping. Many community partners, including the Boston Beekeepers Club, were involved in developing the regulations.

The new regulations will allow two hives per residential location. They will also need to be registered with the City. And the City will consider additional permitting that would create more specific guidelines regarding the number of hives at any given location, BRA spokesperson Melina Schuler told the Gazette last week.

“I think the regulations are a good thing. It means that the city condones and explicitly allows beekeeping. This will be comforting for folks looking to get into the hobby, and also, I’d imagine, for their neighbors and landlords,” Elson said.

The Boston Beekeepers Club was started by a group of local beekeepers who got together for a bicycle tour of urban apiaries, or beehives, in summer 2011, dubbed the “Tour de Hives.” It visited hives in JP, Dorchester and Mattapan. About 35 people participated in 2011.

In 2012, there were 75 attendees. This summer, the tour also visited Cambridge, Somerville and the South End. There were over 140 participants, Elson said. Now the group has almost 500 members through Facebook and Google.

Aside from the yearly tour, the Boston Beekeepers Club also holds educational events throughout the year, including the upcoming Organic Bee School, to be held at Agricultural Hall on Amory Street in January and February.

“Interest in bees and beekeeping in Boston is skyrocketing. Part of this may be due to a growing interest in urban agriculture in general, and part of it is a growing awareness of the importance of bees to our food system, and the fact that they are threatened,” Elson said.