Twenty years ago, Allen Lindahl rented a beehive to pollenate his pick-your-own blueberry crop at his home.
“It was the most expensive $40 I've ever spent,” Lindahl said sitting in his showroom at Hillside Apiaries and Beekeeping Supplies on Hillside Terrace.
What started as dabbling in beekeeping to help him produce a more fruitful farm, became a full-blown professional business, where Lindahl educates others on the ins and outs of beekeeping.
Outside, his showroom and warehouse, 90 hives are home to anywhere between 3.6 million and 5.4 million honeybees.
That's right, one hive is home to between 40,000 and 60,000 bees.
In addition to pollinating crops, these honey bees set to work each spring, summer and fall, producing honey in their hives that Lindahl sells. He also uses beeswax to create candles, soaps and lotions.
For 20 years Lindahl has owned and operated his professional beekeeping and supplies business where he not only supplies amateur and professional beekeepers with the equipment they need, but he raises honeybees himself and rents hives out to local residents and farmers looking to pollinate their fruit trees and bushes.
Lindahl builds and sells hives or sells the parts for people to build them on their own. He also takes orders from beekeepers for packages of bees that he buys from people who raise them in Georgia. Sometime in April he will drive down to Georgia to pick up the packages and bring them back to New Hampshire for his customers.
He is still taking orders for bee packages on his website, hillsidebees.com, and warns that he will sell out.
But Lindahl doesn't just work in the sales side of the business.
He also raises the bees for his own purposes, to pollinate his own pick-your-own berries – blueberries, and raspberries – farm and to sell the fruits of his and his honeybees' labor.
“One third of the food we eat is because of pollinating insects like honeybees,” Lindahl said.
Without honeybees and other pollinating insects, food wouldn't exist the way we know it to. Fruits and vegetables would be scarce, and meat, too, as animals feed off of food pollinated by honeybees, Lindahl said.
“Without honeybees, it could potentially be devastating,” he said.
A return to roots
Lindahl said in recent years, both he and members of the Merrimack Valley Beekeepers Association and the New Hampshire Beekeepers Association have seen an uptick in interest from every day residents wanting to learn more about beekeeping. Whether to pollinate fruit trees and bushes at home, or to be rewarded with the honey and beeswax produced by a hive, Lindahl said interest has definitely been on the rise.
“People are looking to get back to the earth a little more, to live a little more green and do something self-sustaining,” Lindahl said.
Starting on Tuesday, Lindahl and the MVBA are presenting a five-week Bee School that has become so popular, this year they had to find a bigger location to hold it as they outgrew their meeting space at the public library in Hudson.
Lindahl, a past president of both the MVBA and NHBA, found a new space for them and starting March 5, the class, which has room for up to 125 students, will be held in the meeting space at St. James United Methodist Church at 646 Daniel Webster Highway.
The school teaches students about the art of beekeeping – how to keep them alive, what the break down of the year is to raise honeybees, what to do with the materials they produce and more.
There are more than 80 people already signed up for the class and seats are still available. It is open to anyone whether you are considering beekeeping as a hobby or just want to learn more about the creatures, what they do and how they help us.
The class is $35 for an individual, $45 for a family and includes a year membership with the MVBA.
ABCs of Bees
Fun fact. “It takes 20,000 honeybees to fly over 55,000 air miles and tap 2 million flowers to make one pound of honey,” Lindahl said. “It's a lot of work.”
One honeybee, in it's lifetime, can produce a 12th of a teaspoon of honey – that's right, not a lot – but with 40,000 to 60,000 bees in a hive, one hive can produce 40 to 100 pounds of honey.
But there are very real challenges that beekeepers face in keeping their workers alive. It's a short season in New Hampshire, as bees generally won't fly in temperatures colder than 50 degrees. To keep a hive alive through the winter, the bees must have enough honey in the hive to sustain themselves through the colder months.
Like fruit and vegetable or flower gardeners, weather is extremely important to the life cycle of bees. A wet and cold spring could spell a really bad season for bees as they won't leave their hives until it warms up. The later they leave the hives, the later pollination begins and the more detrimental it is to food supplies not only for people, but for bees trying to produce the honey they need for their hive.
These little critters, which are native to Europe and were brought to the United States in 1620, also face some real dangers. Back around 2006, farmers started seeing what is called colony collapse disorder – where an entire colony of bees just suddenly disappears.
That year, Lindahl had 42 bee colonies and he lost 41 of them to colony collapse disorder. It was a detrimental blow to his business, but he has rebounded and with 90 colonies right now, he's even looking to downsize so he can focus more on the other aspects of his business.
Lindahl said though he hasn't had anything like that happen since, it's still something that beekeepers struggle with, but it shouldn't be a factor that turns people away from the hobby.
Anyone interested in learning more about beekeeping can contact Lindahl at 429-0808, connect with him on Facebook and Twitter, or visit his website at hillsidebees.com to shop for supplies, honey or beeswax products. Hillside Apiaries and Beekeeping Supplies is as 31 Hillside Terrace.
You can also visit mvbee.org to learn more about the Merrimack Valley Beekeepers Association and the upcoming Bee School.