Last year, Bowdoin’s David Israel hit the annual Eastern Apiculture Society conference as a fledgling beekeeper. Last week, the associate director of communications for new media walked away with the society’s 2010 First Prize for his ambrosial dark amber honey. “It was shock and delight,” says Israel, of Brunswick. He said he got the impetus to become an apiculturist, or beekeeper, at the urging of his father-in-law, William Fletcher ’66, who runs a small CSA farm in southern Maine.
“The agricultural yield in the area wasn’t what it should have been,” says Israel. “There weren’t enough pollinators for the crops.”
He armed himself with books on the subject, joined a local bee club, and drew inspiration from the example of his late father, Yale’s Rabbi Richard Israel, who was a lifelong beekeeper.
Two hives soon multiplied into seven, including two in his Brunswick backyard. Israel’s two young sons often help him with hive maintenance and honey bottling, replete with mini beekeeper suits and veils.
In spite of a few initial stings, Israel says he no longer wears gloves: “You learn how to handle them more gently with time.”
More challenging, he says, are the somewhat intangible aspects of beekeeping including managing their instinct to swarm, ensuring that the whole hive has proper nutrition (“If they hit a dearth you can feed them sugar syrup,” he says.), and developing plain old patience.
“The things you do to the bees sometimes take weeks or months to play themselves out,” notes Israel. “They’re not domesticated animals. It’s more of a process of applied biology.”
Israel’s patience seems to be having a big payout — not only in honey. Bill Fletcher’s cucumber crop “went berserk” this season, says Israel. “That is certainly attributable to the bees,” he boasts. “They are very important to agriculture. One third of the food you eat wouldn’t exist unless honeybees were around to pollinate.”
Israel is a member of the board of directors of the Maine State Beekeepers Association. He plans to make his honey available for sale in the future.