Honey (and so much more) makes her world go ’round
by Megg Crook, Wicked Local Woburn, May 10, 2007
Slightly eccentric and full of energy, Nancy Mangion buzzes around her store like the bees she keeps every year. May is bee season, and Mangion is getting ready to bring her little friends home.
“When you get the bees, they’re in a box,” Mangion explained. “And you just take it and shake it up and down over the hive, and the bees just come out in globs.”
Mangion, owner of Beekeeper’s Warehouse on Sullivan Street in Woburn, has been beekeeping for 27 years. It started as a hobby, but quickly expanded into something more.
When Mangion studied the Amish lifestyle in Pennsylvania one summer, she was introduced to bees and all their benefits. She learned that by eating local honey, she could eliminate all her allergies, and the honey is also used to cure colds and other illness symptoms.
“I got into beekeeping because I was interested in being a kind of a hippie-ish girl who wanted to be self-sustaining and green,” she said. “I decided that I wanted to be self-sufficient with my little acre, and my natural transportation, and my garden, and my beehive.”
Mangion visited Beekeeper’s Warehouse, then owned by another beekeeper, and bought all her supplies: a hive, gloves, a veil and a smoke machine, to relax the bees.
“At the time, my husband thought I was going to get stung, and he was ready to call the ambulance when he saw me dumping the bees into the bottom of the hive,” she said. “But everything went beautifully … it’s like a religion with me now.”
Bees that are raised in Massachusetts are purchased and brought up from Georgia, because it’s too cold in New England to breed bees, Mangion explained. However, there is a new disease that has experts stunned and beekeepers across the country worried about the future of pollination. Colony Collapse Disorder, recently discovered, is where bees leave to get pollen for the hive, and don’t return.
“Adult bees do not leave their queen and their babies, that’s not in their program,” Mangion said. “The Egyptians were the first people to keep bees, so we have a 3,000-year history of bees coming back to their hives and not abandoning their queen. The ones with the collapse disorder, they’re just not coming home.”
The disorder has been reported in the Southern states, but not in New England yet, though Mangion said it is impossible to know whether Massachusetts bees have the disorder until they are fully active for the spring and summer.
There are several possible reasons why the bees aren’t coming home, Mangion said. Bees have a very weak immune system, so it’s possible they are falling ill and dying without making it home. It’s also possible that there is a new parasite that hasn’t been discovered yet. One other possibility, said Mangion, is that cell phone towers and microwaves might be to blame.
“Last January, I said there might be a problem with them finding their way home,” Mangion said. “Why couldn’t they find their way home? I thought there might be interference. Nobody really knows [the cause], but I have a feeling they’re going to discover it’s something with their homing device and their energy levels.”
Though it costs $300 to start a beehive, Mangion said there are numerous benefits to keeping bees. The bees travel up to three miles from the hive to get pollen, so the whole neighborhood benefits.
“Pollination is the number one benefit,” she said. “We don’t keep bees just because we love the honey. We do have local honey, and we have beeswax that you can make candles and lip balm with.”
Most people balk at bees, let alone the idea of raising them. According to Mangion, a bee has pollinated every fifth bite of fruit. This, she said, is what she would like to educate the public about bees.
“One of my favorite comments was when a schoolteacher came down to my room and said, ‘All your friends are in the dumpster stinging the children!’” she said. “And I went, ‘Those aren’t my friends. Those yellowjackets kill my bees! Those are wasps.’ They don’t have anything to do with pollination.”
This year’s wet and cold spring has not helped the bee population, and keeping them alive can be a challenge, Mangion said.
“The little bees need us now more than ever,” she added. “The biggest challenge is to get people to come back, or be beekeepers for the first time. We need people to have this as a hobby so we can keep bees in our environment.”