One of NYC Honey Fest's founding Beeks, Farmer Meg Paska is well known amongst the apiarist circles of NYC. From her fiery red hair, which she rarely hides under a veil, preferring instead to tend her hives without protection, to her fiery passion for responsible stewardship, Farmer Meg is a force of nature. Somehow, between building Seven Arrows East Farm in Monmouth, NJ, and launching a line of handcrafted soaps made from her own homegrown herbs and goat's milk, Meg found time to author the book, The Rooftop Beekeeper: A Scrappy Guide to Keeping Urban Honeybees. To hear more of her honest and thoughtful insight on farming, keeping bees and homesteading, follow her on twitter and Instagram or check out her website.
Did you learn the art of beekeeping from someone?
I took a beekeeping short course in 2004 in Baltimore with the intention of keeping bees in my backyard there. I visited some hives during that time but never had bees of my own. After a bad breakup I abandoned my life in Baltimore for a new one in Brooklyn. I was only there for about 6 months before I found out people were skirting The Man to keep bees on rooftops and in community gardens. It was serendipity. I had bees on my roof by Spring of 2006, I believe.
You were keeping bees in Greenpoint, Brooklyn; now you're on a big piece of land in NJ. How has that changed the game for you?
I’ve never had more success as a beekeeper than when I kept bees in the city. I just had a blast. The bees were healthy and busy and made loads of great honey. Now, I’m in an affluent neighborhood on the Jersey Shore and all of my neighbors mow their lawns weekly and have low-maintenance, non-flowering landscaping that does pretty much nothing for the bees. It’s all up to me to make sure that I’ve got lots of stuff growing on the 20 acres my farm sits on or my bees won’t put enough food away to make it through the winter. I’d climb up a hundred rickety ladders again to have a beekeeping experience like the one I had in New York City.
What part of the hive's operations do you find most fascinating, brutal, and/or beautiful?
I always get a bit of schadenfreude when I tell people about how drones get tossed from the hive when a colony heads into the lean part of the season. I love that the honeybee’s society is “owned and operated” almost entirely by females. As a woman, I live vicariously through my bees. All of the most impressive people I know are women and they don’t get nearly the respect they deserve. If we were bees, they’d be running shit. (Pardon my French.)
Give us your craziest bee-related story?
I don’t have a specific crazy story, but I spent two seasons climbing two stories up a shaky ladder for two different bee sites with no health or liability insurance once upon a time. That was pretty crazy and unbelievably stupid.
If you were a bee, what caste of bee would you want to be?
Worker bee, without a doubt. The Gemini in me gets bored easily. Worker bees get to do a variety of different jobs and they get to go out a lot and check out the sights.
What protective gear do you wear? What is your favorite protective garment, and why?
I generally feel that, in our region, with European honeybees, that good technique is your best protection. I don’t really wear any protective gear. I just dress in light breathable clothing and do my best not to smell bad. I find that protective gear as a default can make a beekeeper clumsy. That being said, I do always keep a hat and veil with me in case my bees are in a foul mood. I’ve been stung in the face many times and it’s a bad, bad look.
I think other people should just wear what makes them feel comfortable when they are working with bees. An at ease beekeeper is a better beekeeper.
What's your favorite kind of honey and what do you do with it?
Honey from my bees is my favorite because I have a deep personal connection to it. What I’d like to do with it is hoard it for myself, but I tend to give away or sell a lot of it, leaving me with far too little. My favorite thing to do it mix it in our homemade chevre with herbs from the garden and eat it on baguette.
What do you think is the greatest threat facing our bees?
Commercial landscaping businesses, Big Ag, and insensitive beekeeping.
What can people do to promote a healthy beecosystem?
Grow a weedy, diverse lawn and mow it a little less often. Plant a garden and add some flowers and flowering herbs to the mix. Buy from diversified, small and local farms that leave some habitat in tact for the rest of the critters out there and go beyond organic-approved practices. Feed your soil, too! Plants that get good nutrition from the soil make good nutrition for the bees.