The Secret Lives of Bees: They May Be Buzzing Next Door  

July 14, 2016
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Professional beekeeper Gary Parent maintains the Sickles Market’s hives.

Professional beekeeper Gary Parent maintains the Sickles Market’s hives. Photo: Karen J. Irvine

By Karen J. Irvine

While many may doubt the validity of New Jersey’s moniker the “Garden State,” three Jersey Shore professionals are doing their part to keep the “garden” in New Jersey. Pam Albert Devine, Tim Shaheen and Bob Sickles believe they have a responsibility to be good stewards of the land and so they are keeping beehives.

Honeybees are a critical link of the food chain, and without bee pollination, most fruits, vegetables, nuts and plants would simply not grow. Bob Sickles, the son of a farmer and third generation owner of Sickles Market, a century-old specialty food market and garden center, said that it just made sense to establish hives near his market and garden center.

“It is important for my family as business leaders, with an agricultural legacy of over 350 years within the community, to be good stewards of the land and educate the next generation about the importance of pollinators within our food system,” he said. An added benefit is Sickles now sells the honey from the beehives at his market and his customers are gobbling it up, hungry for delicious locally sourced foods with health benefits, such as the claim that a daily dose of local raw honey will relieve pollen allergy symptoms.

Pam Albert Devine of Little Silver finds beekeeping entertaining and educational.

Pam Albert Devine of Little Silver finds beekeeping entertaining and educational. Photo: Courtesy Pam Devine

Sickles Market – award-winning specialty food market and garden center – is located on property that has been in the family since 1665 by way of a King’s Land Grant. The original farm was divided up nearly 20 years ago into an over-55 residential community, a park, the National Historic Parker Homestead and 5 acres where the market is now located. It’s an ideal location for hives near a local community garden and the Sickles garden center stocked with many flowering plants and trees. Three hives were established last year and did exceedingly well.

Gary Parent, a professional beekeeper who maintains the Sickles’ hives, added two more hives this year. He also keeps beehives at his home in Oceanport. Parent finds the tiny powerhouse of a worker often gets a bum rap by uninformed suburbanites.

“The biggest misconception about honeybees is that people lump all stinging pollinators into one group,” he said. “They do not differentiate pollinators from one another. But there are many different types of pollinators that sting like wasps, yellow jacket hornets, bumblebees and honeybees to name a few, but the honeybee by nature is benign.”

Tim Shaheen of Builders’ General Supply Company with his hives on the building’s rooftop.

Tim Shaheen of Builders’ General Supply Company with his hives on the building’s rooftop. Photo: Karen J. Irvine

Yes, honeybees do sting, he agrees, but only if their hive is disturbed or if the bees are threatened. For the most part these helpful insects are benevolent contributors to our well-being and are too busy collecting nectar and pollen to sting, said Parent, who started beekeeping seven years ago.

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“A honeybee literally works itself to death,” he said, citing the constant motion of the bees. In fact, a typical honeybee’s wing strokes 11,400 times per minute, thus making their distinctive buzz. And to make just one pound of honey, the bees in a colony must visit 2 million flowers and fly over 55,000 miles. And honeybees are the only insect that produces food for humans.

It is estimated that each hive harbors 50,000 bees during the peak of summer, so these individuals have helped the Garden State’s production of fruits and vegetables by adding half a million more honeybees. Beekeepers harvest only a portion of the honey from a hive because the bees need honey to survive the winter.

“Pollen is a protein, which the young bees need to survive,” explained Parent. “The nectar is used to make the honey. The worker bees deliver the nectar to the bees inside and then those bees evaporate the liquid into honey by beating their wings.”

Another family-owned business in Little Silver that keeps bees and sells honey is Builders’ General Supply Company, which has been providing construction and home improvement materials since 1931. Tim Shaheen, a member of the family that owns Builders’ General, has established hives on the rooftop of the building across from the Little Silver train station. Rooftop hives are a common approach to beekeeping in urban areas, but the bees have not taken to the location and Shaheen believes it’s because they are sensitive to the vibration from the frequent commuter trains. He also maintains hives at his home in Locust, where he harvests about 75 pounds per hive. Shaheen keeps honey for his family and friends and sells the excess honey at Builders General. Shaheen started beekeeping four years ago.

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Many people find their way to beekeeping by way of being an environmental hobbyist, or who look for rewarding hobbies that constantly demand their attention and continued education. That’s how Pam Albert Devine, a principal for Point Road Elementary School in Little Silver, and her husband, Michael, came to beekeeping a year ago.

“We have always loved nature, plants, animals and being outside,” said Devine. “We became curious about bees and we now know that bees are absolutely fascinating! Not only is beekeeping entertaining it is also educational. It is a hands-on activity that is also intellectually stimulating and you have a sense of giving back as a steward of the environment. It is fascinating to watch the bees go about their work. Each bee has a job in the hive and the hive works so well because each bee does its job,” said Devine.

The Devines do not sell their honey, but enjoy sharing their hobby with their friends and family and are always ready to educate people about the benefits of honeybees. They echo Parent’s frustration about the misconceptions harbored by suburbanites about bees and the overuse of pesticides and its consequences on honeybees.

“People do not like being bothered by insects and now rely on pesticides and exterminators to keep their yards and homes pest free.”

Both Parent and Devine agree that the honeybee managed itself nicely until people started manipulating the environment. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which has led to a national decline in the honeybee population, is not a result of the honeybee not being able to take care of itself, but rather a result of human actions such as:

  • Pesticide poisoning through exposure to pesticides applied to crops.
  • Stress bees experience due to management practices such as transportation to multiple locations across the country for providing pollination services to GMO manipulated crops.
  • Changes to the habitat where bees forage as a result of over development.

While these New Jersey beekeepers may come from very different backgrounds they all share the same viewpoint, honeybees are important to our overall wellbeing and that it is important for them to do their small part to help the honeybees.

For information about beekeeping American Bee Federation


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