Next Gen Beekeeper: Shay Willette

Posted 08/26/2020 BY Chelsea Bretal

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Our Next Gen Beekeeper is a series of profiles and features on the lives of the next generation of beekeepers emerging in the field. This month’s #NextGenBeekeeper is featuring our Head Beekeeper, Shay Willette! Shay has been with The Best Bees Company for 4 years and we wouldn’t be where we are today without their expertise, patience, and cool demeanor.

Name: Shay

Age: 26

Pronouns: They/Them

Hometown: Ossipee, NH

How long have you been at Best Bees?: 4 years going on 5!

Position/title: Head Beekeeper

Shay in front of the beehives at Iggy’s Bread in Cambridge, MA

What is your favorite part of beekeeping?: I really enjoy how grounded you feel going through a beehive. The process is very therapeutic, bees feel your energy so it’s important to slow your heart rate, take it slow, and breathe. It’s a wonderful reminder of how connected we are to nature and how important it is that we cultivate a healthy, sustainable relationship with our environment.

What is your least favorite part of beekeeping?: Hot sweaty days! If my glasses aren’t secured on a hot day they will slip off my nose and fall into my hood. It then takes 10 minutes to close up the hive, move away, remove my hood, and fix my glasses, and then I have to go back into the hive and start again.

How did you get into beekeeping?: With a little bit of luck. I had never considered beekeeping as an occupation before, but in college I had an academic advisor who found The Best Bees Company and recommended I applied as an Intern for my Senior year. I immediately jumped at that opportunity and was hired full time after my internship.

Why do you think it is important to keep bees or do the work you’re doing?: I think the ultimate goal with beekeeping is to assist in food security, but for me it goes a little beyond the bees. So many people have a fear of bees and insects in general, and understanding the important ecological role they play in everything from food production to waste management, is the start to eliminating that fear and hopefully will lead to a more sustainable coexistence. Honey bees are a great blueprint for that kind of future because they set a very clear example of a give and receive relationship between insects and humans.  Not only are they highly efficient pollinators, they are a fantastic educational tool as well.

What is your favorite cool bee fact?: You have probably heard the term “hive mind”. Well it stems from eusocial bees and how they think as a colony rather than as an individual. A newly hatched virgin Queen will make a noise called “piping” to locate unhatched Queens, and because the hive mind behavior is so strong in honey bees the unhatched Queens will “pipe” back and reveal their location so the hatched Queen can then destroy them. They will sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the colony.

Honesty time: are you afraid of bees?: I have rarely been afraid of bees. The majority of the time the hives I visit are really calm and even the grumpier hives can be calmed with some patience. Sometimes I come across a colony that is extra protective of its hive and is a little sting happy, the adrenaline keeps the stings from hurting but it can be anxiety inducing as well. During these times I often just close up the hive and blow smoke around the hive and myself to confuse the warrior bees.

Shay checking the frame sides of the beehive

Would you rather be a queen bee or a worker bee?: A worker bee! Worker bees get to have multiple jobs within the hive throughout their lifetime and end with the job of Forager. I get restless if I am doing the same thing for too long and I love working outdoors so this would be the perfect setup for me.

Favorite place to keep bees?: Anywhere near the ocean. I don’t know why but the bees seem to do really well on the coast, and I love the ocean breeze when checking on the hives.

What are you up to when you’re not beekeeping?: I am usually hiking or trying to learn a new craft (stamp making was my last endeavor), but I am currently dreaming about building a tiny house and I don’t know the first thing about electrical work or carpentry, so I’ll be taking the winter months to study up.

Is there anything that you’ve been working on or that you’re excited about that you’d like to promote?: We are working on expanding our queen rearing and apiary program which will allow us to be more self sustainable and conduct more research projects in a controlled setting.

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