In Beekeeping, Honey's Worth A Few Stings

An intrepid producer braves bee stings to tell a story about beekeeping.

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Andrew Coté founded Bees Without Borders and has travelled the world teaching poor communities the art of beekeeping.
Chion Wolf
Coté holds up a panel of bees.
Chion Wolf
Honeybees help produce nearly one-third of the food we eat everyday.
Chion Wolf
Coté maintains dozens of hives, including a number in front of his home in Norwalk, Conn.
Chion Wolf
Coté says beekeepers should always stand to the side of the hive so bees have clear access to the front.
Chion Wolf
Andrew Coté
Andrew Coté founded Bees Without Borders and has travelled the world teaching poor communities the art of beekeeping. Photo:Chion Wolf
In Beekeeping, Honey's Worth A Few Stings
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In Beekeeping, Honey's Worth A Few Stings

[TRANSCRIPT] Host: Honey bees help produce nearly one-third of the food we consume every day ... and beekeepers dedicate their lives to protecting this unsung hero of American agriculture. WNPR's Patrick Skahill visited with a local beekeeper to learn more about the craft.

Here's the thing about beekeeping. Eventually, you're going to get stung.

*Crackle* Oops! Ow! And there's one in the mouth ... spitting ...

OK. That hurt. Beekeepers call that "earning your stripes."

Up the nose is the worst single place to be stung. There is no place worse than up the nose. And I mean no place - pick an area of the body. Let your mind go wild. Up the nose is still the worst.

That's Andrew Coté.

*Sneezing* We're about done here.

That's him getting stung up the nose.

Coté is intense ... and he's super passionate about beekeeping. As the head of "Bees Without Borders," he's traveled around the world with his father, Norman, teaching poor farming communities the economic benefits of bees.

 We've been to many, many places. Moldova, Ukraine, Iraq, Zimbabwe ... 

The group also works locally, maintaining hives that pollinate community gardens in poor neighborhoods.

Coté and his father oversee about 240 hives, including a number in front of his home in Norwalk.

Outside Coté's house, cars drive past ... and some of them stop to gawk as he holds up a frame filled with honey ... and thousands of bees ... to the sun.

Coté is careful with his bees. He says he learned a trick from his dad - to cut up burlap, put it in a smoker, and always keep it burning. It keeps the bees away and he loves the smell.

My father used to come into the house smelling like that when I was a kid. I always liked it. I found it comforting. His truck in the driveway, you could really smell it.

Inside the hive, 60,000 worker bees incubate eggs and make honey comb. Most are female.

They just work until they die - they literally work their wings off.

But a few are male ... called drones. Who live for one purpose - to mate with the queen. But they can only do it once.

They won't be able to do it twice. Their apparatus is left behind, With their heart. And with mixed emotions they fall to the ground. Dead. Dead before they hit the ground. They'd probably do it even if they knew that's what's gonna happen ... Wouldn't you ... I mean ...

At her peak, a queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs per day. And as the queen lays more eggs, a hive can run out of room.

That's when bees swarm ... abandoning their home in search of a bigger place to live. Often, that bigger place ends up being a tree in someone's backyard.

Coté says he loves getting those calls.

An ideal swarm would be on a low-hanging branch and you would just put a bucket or a box underneath that branch and shake it. If the queen is in there, her scent will indicate to the other bees where to go. Close the contraption and you've got your free bees.

You can also find Coté selling his bee brews at Farmer's Markets, but to him, the honey's not about the money.

Around here I would really say - the only way to make a small fortune in beekeeping is to begin with a large fortune and you just whittle it down. It's really a losing proposition. I mean, if you hate money, you should just jump into any agricultural pursuit.

Even so, I still wondered if I had what it took to be a beekeeper.

Like that's a wasp now crawling up your white shirt. (PS) And they're aggressive, right? (AC) Well, she can sting over and over. (PS) Freaking out's not going to help. (AC) No, that's not helping ...

For WNPR, I'm Patrick Skahill