Beekeeper: Jeremy Ambrose, B.S. '16, Criminal Justice
In honor of National Honeybee Day on August 18, 2018, we checked in with beekeeper Jeremy Ambrose, B.S. '16, who was profiled in the Spring 2015 issue of the
University of Baltimore Magazine.
How long have you been a beekeeper and how did you get interested in becoming one?
I’ve been a beekeeper for a little over three years now. I originally got interested in keeping bees after a friend of mine posted a photo of a honey harvest that he got back in 2015. I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. After that, I got together with him and he mentored me into how to raise bees.
How many bees do you have now?
A full hive of bees can contain well over 50 thousand, but the number of hives that I operate sits at five currently.
What fascinates you most about bees and the way they work?
I love them because they mirror a perfect little society. There is a hierarchy, many jobs that need doing, and every worker bee does each job with age. I always think that opening a beehive is like opening the lid to an entire world. These creatures communicate effectively, delegate resources and jobs, grow and split, repopulate and thrive. We as beekeepers just have the honor of watching it all happen before our eyes.
What does being a beekeeper involve?
It involves a lot of patience, and I mean a lot. I still struggle with that, honestly. You need to roll with the punches because bees will get sick, die, need replacing, equipment needs cleaning, sanitizing and sometimes may even need to be destroyed. You have to learn to take a sting, because you will be stung! But honestly, the hardest thing about the job is waiting. Knowing when it is safe to harvest, knowing when to step in and give the girls a helping hand. A lot of my work revolves around maintaining a clean apiary, but even that is a challenge with a full-time job! Other home jobs include making sugar water to feed the bees, deciding where to set up a harvest work station, harvesting the honey and cleaning up the inevitable mess of honey drips and sprays that come along with the process.
What’s the hardest part and what’s the best part of being a beekeeper?
The hardest part is dealing with loss. I can’t tell you how disheartening it is to find your bees dead after a cold spell, or find that your apiary has been infected with a very deadly and untreatable disease. The best part is being able to know that our hard work, time and efforts have made the environment you live in a better place. Helping a dying population find a stable home, reaping the sweet rewards of your labors, etc. All of these things make me a happy beekeeper.
Do you make your own honey as a beekeeper, and if so, how does the taste differ between locally grown honey and most of the kinds we see in grocery stores?
Ooooooooh yes. I love my bee’s honey! It is primarily goldenrod nectars that make up the majority of the harvest, so it kind of has a tangy, citrusy flavor. Honey fresh from a beehive will make your lips and tongue tingle a little bit because of the natural enzymes found in the unfiltered, unpasteurized honey that is usually found in those cute little bears at the store. Some of the best honey you can find will be at little mom-and-pop shops and farmers markets. That’s the way to go. The best thing about local honey is that it is THE flavor of that little pinpoint of land within a 3- to 5-mile radius. Honey coming from 10 miles away from your apiary can taste totally different!
What’s your favorite way to use honey?
Glazing ham, for starters. I actually received a cookbook from a friend that included a bunch of awesome recipes tailored to the flavors of specific honey types. Clover honey is nice and light in color, vibrant and light in flavor, while tulip poplar honey can be very dark, almost molasses like in flavor, like burnt sugar. As strange as this sounds, my brother-in-law introduced me to putting a spoonful of honey in my milk. Sounds weird, yes, but it is delicious!
How many times have you been stung? Any good remedies?
It’s countless at this point. My first really bad one was in the fatty part of my left upper arm. The venom kind of lingered there for a few days. Another was inside the right ear (OW!), a few across the forehead, the list goes on… The best remedy for me is just scraping the stings out with my hive tool or a credit card or knife. I don’t usually put anything on the sting site, but I might take Benadryl if the itch gets really bad. Protection is key. Don’t go into your apiary without gloves or a veil. A lot of old-time beekeepers make fun of me for wearing a veil, but for me, I’d rather my face remain un-swollen!
What’s the biggest problem bees face today?
Harsh winters without proper prep, insecticide spraying from citizens who are ignorant to the effects of those chemicals, things like that. I saw a news article last year I think where a plane flew and sprayed insecticide down in one of the Carolinas. It completely destroyed a local beekeepers apiary, and this beekeeper had to destroy (literally burn) hive they had due to the poison.
What’s a fact about honeybees you wish more people knew?
I would love for more people to know that they aren’t as dangerous as other bees. Yes, they sting, but if more people could see just how peaceful and docile and happy and healthy hive is, more people may be interested in keeping bees themselves. They work SO hard for the honey they produce, and a lot of people take that for granted. I wish people wouldn’t use insecticides in their gardens. Look for more natural options that are less harsh on the environment. Also, please plant more bee-friendly flowers. Your local honeybees will thank you.
Anything we didn’t ask you want to share?
Beekeeping can be a hard job, and a real labor of love. Getting into this as a hobby is a lot of fun, but don’t overstretch yourself. Keep what you can manage easily, and learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of other beekeepers. Encourage your family and friends to plant more flowers. Finally, thank your local beekeepers, and be sure to keep them on speed-dial for fresh, local honey. Your body will thank you for eating local honey; it does wonders for helping to combat hay fever from local allergens.