The beekeeper behind Neil Gaiman’s bees
Ok, I admit that Minnesota is out of Sunset’s coverage range of the Western United States (although Minnesota—correction:a part of Minnesota— is west of the Mississippi). But when I found that one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman (Coraline, Anansi Boys, and the Sandman series), kept bees on his rural property outside the Twin Cities, I had to find out more.
It turns out that although he is a supreme weaver of tales, and while he does attend to the hives when he has time, Neil is not the Big Bee Boss. Sharon Stiteler, birder and beekeeper, is the lady in charge.
Sharon says she always wanted to keep bees, but until very recently, beehives weren’t allowed in Minneapolis.
“One day we were visiting with Neil, and he mentioned he was thinking about getting bees to pollinate his fruit trees. I said, ‘I always wanted to keep bees. But my husband said ‘Oh no you’re not.’ ”
Her husband mentioned that she was busy. Neil was busy. And if Neil was away at a book signing and Sharon away a birding event, who would be stuck taking care of the bees? The husband.
Neil’s assistant chimed in saying keeping bees wasn’t in her job description.
Sharon laughs when she finishes this story. “Now they’re my biggest helpers.” She finds that people love to visit the hives. “When they’re in a bee suit, it’s like they’re in their own little fortress of solitude.”
Sharon’s been a beekeeper for 3 years. “When I first started bee keeping, I realized that if you ask 5 beekeepers a question, you’d get 5 answers.” One day she was having a discussion with Neil about the hives, and she suddenly realized, “We must be real beekeepers now. We’re arguing about methods.”
The Gaiman beeyard is planned to grow to 7 Langstroth hives strong this year, with 4 hives of Minnesota hyegenic Italians and 3 hives of Russians. Why Russians? “We read that Russians have varroa mite resistance. And they also do better in long, cold winters.”
Sharon has a very cool video on her blog, Birdchick.com of hiving their bees. You can see how the bees pour out of the box. Having just hived a package of bees, I can attest to how easily the bees flow into their new home.
I’m curious. Any readers from cold places like Alaska been trying Russians?