The Right Kind of Bees

By Mariah Mottley
Tompkins Weekly

 

Photo provided by Mariah Mottley.

Scott Creary has 2,000 pounds of honey in his basement. When complimented on the clarity and richness of the honey’s flavor, Creary shrugs and says, “the bees do good work.”

Creary owns and runs Entomos Apiaries, whose name comes from the Greek word for insects. A life-long fan, Mr. Creary holds a degree in plant science from Cornell and a master’s degree in entomology from the University of Maryland. He was the director of pest management at the Phipps Botanical Garden and Conservatory in Pittsburgh when he first discovered the joys of beekeeping and learned the craft from a pair of Central Ohio beekeepers with a combined 80 years of experience. Now Scott sells honey to friends and co-workers in passing and at Ithacamade in the DeWitt Mall and Bramble in Press Bay Alley.

What does a ton of honey look like? Imagine 50 white three and a half gallon buckets, stacked four high and three deep in rows of five.

Beekeeping is much riskier than it used to be. Thanks to globalization, new and deadly parasites threaten hive health, as climate change has instituted the new norm of irregular weather.

July and August of 2017 were unseasonably cool months, with temperatures too low to ripen honey. Creary worried Entomos Apiaries would produce no inventory. However, the unexpected heat wave during the last week in September, however, put the business back in the black. “The bees made a stupid amount of honey,” Creary said, regarding his late season harvest.

Varroa mites, which Creary describes as one of the most dreaded enemies of bee colonies, can cause a 50-90% hive loss in a single season. For a honey business run on a large scale, such a risk factor can be unsustainable.

Following the spirit of his teachers, Creary tries to do more with less. He buys used equipment and says that his biggest investment is in sweat equity.
In addition to brawn, Creary draws on his master’s degree in entomology and Cornell education in plant science to help him navigate the often unexpected challenges of modern “beeking.” In 2014, he returned to the area to manage a company that sold beneficial insects. When the job didn’t work out, he stayed in the area because “the bees liked it here.”

How does he know bees like a place? By the amount of honey they produce. Creary’s bees produce three to four times the amount of honey in Central New York than they did in Ohio, a testament to the diversity and wealth of flowers available here.

Entomos bees are a special breed of bee, in that they aren’t. Instead of being commercially produced from one or two hives, Creary’s bees are “survivor stock,” the descendants of the first hives he purchased back in Ohio, six years ago. The queen bees, when they head out on their mating flights, go where they want to go and do what they want to do, choosing their own mates, instead of being artificially inseminated. The hives resulting from this genetic diversity display the same hybrid vigor found in friendly, capable and long-lived mutt dogs. “I don’t have poodle bees,” Scott explains.

To lessen the impact on native pollinators in the area, Creary spreads his hives out across seven different apiaries in Enfield, Lansing, Freeville, McLean, and Virgil. Each batch reflects the slight difference in the flora from the area where it has been collected. With that different flora comes different flavors – each tastes a little bit different – similar to the idea of terroir in wine.

Harvesting the honey is no small task. Every day, for months, Creary extracts in small batches, before and after shifts at Viva Taqueria, where he entertains restaurant goers with his endless supply of Dad-jokes. “Shoot me,” he says, smiling, about the extra work during the honey season.

He also doesn’t wear a bee suit while working his hives, often going shirtless in the heat. The only protection he uses is a smoker, which keeps the bees from communicating with one another and makes them want to stay close to home. Less protection, Creary says, makes him more careful. He thinks of insects as extensions of the earth itself, and that working with bees provides an opportunity to interact directly with that power. He respects their industry and organization, noting that they are “making a living off the land better than we could ever hope to.”