Buddha Bee Apiary: Saving the Bees, One Hive at a Time

Share This!

Buddha Bee Apiary's Justin Maness
“When I go into a beehive, it’s like everything else blurs out, and I’m in my happy space,” Justin says. “The real value here is seeing the beauty and the wonder on a kid’s face, or seeing someone talk to someone else about how cool bees are and how they are hosting hives.”

By Amanda MacLaren  |  Photography by Mick Schulte

Justin Maness already doubts whether the hive that he’s inspecting is still alive. A few bees buzz about, but there’s not much activity otherwise, and it’s a warm day in early March in the Kirkwood neighborhood. He brings August Bennoune, 5, over to help him with the bee smoker as August’s mom, Alix Bowman, and her friends Beth Bakke and Amy Eller, anxiously look on. “Alright, give it a little test run,” Justin says to August. “Careful. What do you think? Is that smoke cool?” August nods, and runs to get a tool for Justin, so he can take the hive apart. “Thanks, buddy, appreciate the backup,” Justin says, before turning to the group: “Alright, send that good juju out, we’re going to cross our fingers and see what we find.” 

Tense seconds pass … “It’s not looking so good, guys.” He brings a couple frames over. The hive is lost. On one frame in particular, a cluster of bees surround the queen. “You’re normally going to find her in what’s left of the cluster because she’s the most important bee out of all of them,” Justin says. “They stay around her to keep it warm, but eventually they just get too low in population and can’t hold the warmth.”

Justin explains what he thinks might have happened: Bees will stock up resources for the winter, but with a mild winter like we’ve had, it causes them to go out and fly and burn energy. “They go out, they don’t have any food to bring in to replace the stores that they’re eating, so they’re using this energy and eating all their resources. This is heartbreaking to see, but it’s also a reality.”

Buddha Bee Apiary in Mary Dell neighborhood
More than 20 households in the Mary Dell neighborhood all pitch in to host two hives. Unfortunately, both hives were lost over the winter, but Justin will bring in a couple hives to replace those bees when he makes his next round of inspections.

The founder of Buddha Bee Apiary, Justin had just come from another neighborhood, Mary Dell, where two hives were lost over the winter. “Beekeepers on average are losing 35% to 40% of their colonies over the winter,” Justin says. Amy, Beth and Alix, who participate in Buddha Bee’s Host-a-Hive program, were a few of the first hosts to sign on when Justin launched the project last year. Alix found out about it on their neighborhood listserv, but was about to undergo renovations at her Northgate Park home and didn’t want to potentially disturb the bees, so she asked Amy and Beth, her friends and former neighbors, if she could host a hive on their new property, which has an expansive backyard. “We jumped on it,” Amy says. “We were totally happy to,” Beth adds. “And they’re close enough that there’s a chance that these bees would end up at my house anyway, because they can go three miles,” Alix says. They installed their hive in April 2019 and spent the spring, summer and fall learning about bees while Justin helped manage the colony. “I am a gardener and a naturalist and really care a lot about bees, and I was interested in beekeeping but just don’t have the resources or the time to do it,” Alix says. “I thought it was kind of cool that Justin was offering to be the professional, and then you can sponsor it.”

Justin, who initially discovered his appreciation of bees from a beekeeping class he took during his undergrad years at N.C. State University, says he never would have expected it to take him where he is today. He graduated in 2013 and spent a couple years at Eurofins Agroscience Services. “At the time there was a lot of bee research going on primarily because of the rise of colony collapse disorder,” Justin explains. “There were a lot of companies trying to figure out the impacts of pesticide use on honeybee mortality. [Eurofins] was just beginning to build their beekeeping program, and I just dove in headfirst.”

Buddha Bee Apiary
Justin Maness and daughter Azalea prepare to check on a beehive in a North Durham neighborhood.

He helped manage more than 500 colonies along the East Coast but wanted to find a way to integrate beekeeping into his community. He reached out to beekeeping organizations in our area and came across Bee Downtown’s website. “I sent them an online contact form, and was just like, ‘Here are my credentials, if you ever need help, let me know.’” Turns out, the company, which installs and maintains beehives on corporate campuses in urban areas, was looking for a beekeeper. Justin made the switch in 2016 and helped Bee Downtown grow from a couple dozen hives to more than 100 over the next couple of years. During that time, many people approached him about getting a hive for their own home. “We looked at the opportunity for Bee Downtown to do that for residential folks, but we were running really, really lean, and we just didn’t have the manpower or the time or the money, it just didn’t make sense for the business,” he says. In 2018, after receiving more emails from folks interested in hosting hives, he took some of his personal hives and installed them at three different locations. He received excellent feedback, which motivated him to build a program of his own. 

He came up with a Host-a-Hive model, which starts with a property assessment to ensure it can support a beehive and to find an ideal spot for both the bees and the host. If everything checks out, they schedule an install date. “We like to make it really exciting,” Justin says. Family, friends and neighbors are all welcome to come out to the installation. “We do a safety talk – things like making sure that there’s a 5-foot radius around the hive and that we stay out of the hive traffic area – we share what you can plant in your yard to attract the bees, what to do if you get stung, what to do if you meet a bee out in public, and then we release the bees into the neighborhood.”

After the installation, Justin completes monthly inspections, bringing gear for anyone who wants to suit up and get close to the bees. “Some folks who sign up, they eventually take over the beekeeping on their own,” Justin says. “And so, we’ll do a year or so with them, and when they’re ready, let them take over.”

beekeeper and bees
Beekeeper-in-training, 3-year-old Roman Roberts.

“I’m very happy to have Justin come and do this,” Alix says. “This is not a hobby that I want for myself,” Amy adds. “It’s a hobby that I want to happen in my yard.”

Currently, there are 24 hive host locations with roughly 50 hives among them, stretching from Chapel Hill to Apex and Raleigh. To host one hive is $100/month and $150/month to host two hives. “Obviously the price can be a barrier to some folks, but I always like to tell people that group hosting is a really good option if you can get a group of people or people in your neighborhood together,” Justin says. Most group hosting consists of two to four people, but in the Mary Dell neighborhood, more than 20 households all pitch in to support two hives. “Beekeeping is a really expensive hobby if you start from scratch,” Justin adds. “So, we try to do it in a way that is just a little bit at a time, and you don’t have to worry about managing it either. We do all the work and all the honey extraction. Any honey that’s produced, we divide it 50/50.”

“This is pretty much my biggest charitable contribution, is how I think of it,” Alix says. “I don’t think of it in terms of having bees or getting honey or anything like that. I think of it as …” 

“ … a contribution to Mother Earth,” Amy chimes in. “To our future existence on this planet.”

“And August has been very into it and has really enjoyed participating in the beekeeping, feeding them and using the smoker,” Alix says. “That’s been pretty cool, to know that he’s not afraid of bees. And I’ve also heard him tell his friends not to be afraid of bees.”

bees

For Justin, that’s what it’s all about: “In my mind, what seems to be most valuable,” he says, “is when you give these people this education and this experience that they hang on to and be proud of. That’s what helps build effective advocates for honeybees. People who are knowledgeable and have seen how important honeybees are and how they work.”

Down the road from Beth and Amy’s house is another host, Valerie Roberts, who, like her neighbors, found Buddha Bee through a post on her listserv. “We need the bees,” she says. “I don’t know if people realize how important they are to pollination and food production. They’re more concerned about having a green lawn.”

Luckily, upon inspection, Valerie’s hive does, indeed, have bees. The activity that surrounds it is a stark contrast to the last hive Justin looked at, and he’s excited to open it up. Valerie’s son Mike Roberts, and her grandson, Roman, 3, are over at her house and help with the process. Justin puts Roman into a suit that is adorably oversized but offers the protection he needs as he curiously investigates the hive with Justin. “As a grandmother, it really made me concerned about bees and environments,” Valerie says. “So, I just thought this would be a hoot, to see what happens.” 

Share This!

Posted in
Amanda MacLaren

Amanda MacLaren

Amanda MacLaren is the executive editor of Durham Magazine. Born in Mesa, Arizona, she grew up in Charlotte and attended UNC-Chapel Hill, majoring in journalism. She’s lived in Durham for eight years. When she’s not at work, you can usually find her with a beer in hand at Fullsteam, Dain’s Place or Bull City Burger or getting takeout from Guasaca.

Upcoming Events

No event found!
Load More

Tweets

Push the Reset Button this Fall

October 3 + 4, 2020

Before you go…  

Subscribe to The Weekender for local events, restaurant news, special offers and more.  

August 2020 issue

Wait!

Scroll to Top