Girl Next Door, Gone Beekeeper
Written By: Matthew J. Black
Photographed By: Josie Gonzales
Expert: Hilary Kearney
Credentials: Owner and Beekeeper at Girl Next Door Honey
The importance of honey bees to our existence is not lost on San Diego beekeeper Hilary Kearney. She’s been hooked on bees since she picked up her first book on the subject, and now she’s educated and entertained tens of thousands of visitors and social media followers. You can find her at “Girl Next Door Honey,” where you can learn the impact of honey bees while suited up in a bee suit. Until then, read about the trials and life’s work of a girl next door, gone beekeeper.
Q: “Girl Next Door Honey” is actually a very literal name to your business. Who are the girls next door?
Hilary Kearney: The bees are the girls next door. Most of them are female and a lot of beekeepers call them their ‘girls.’ I also look like the girl next door. I had a neighbor that got stung and I brought over a jar of honey for him. He thought I made the label just for him.
Q: Would you say “Girl Next Door Honey” is a byproduct of your work?
HK: Yes. Absolutely. I only harvest if I really think they have an excess of honey. I wanted to create a business where I wasn’t relying on my bees, where it could make it hard on them. If I get under financial pressure I don’t want to be hard on them. I only do a harvest if I can.
Q: The buzz is that your Hive Tour is a great activity for a date or family outing. What will visitors experience in the tour?
HK: You get to suit up in a bee suit, which is fun, and people immediately start taking selfies. Then we stand around hives and open them up. We pass around frames of bees and I tell interesting facts, such as that they can recognize people’s faces. Then we do a honey tasting at the end. It’s a really fascinating tour and people realize how interesting honey bees are.
Q: How do you hope that your work, like your Backyard Hives program, impacts San Diego and beyond?
HK: The goal of the Backyard Hives program is to inspire people to care about bees and learn about them. It gives them a connection to the bees. They see them every day, and start paying attention to environmental factors that affect the bees. You connect to the eco system in a way you haven’t before and start thinking about things, like stop using pesticides.
When people share it with their friends and neighbors, maybe give them some of their honey, it has a ripple effect.
Q: What can people plant to help our bees?
HK: Sunflowers are good ones, poppies and they love herbs. It’s best to plant native plants, which are also in need, and the bees love them. We also have a very low percentage of tree canopy, which San Diego is working on. So plant a flowering tree, which gives more flowers than you can plant in your garden.
Q: How is “Girl Next Door Honey” reaching out to larger audiences throughout the country, and the world?
HK: My online class is for beyond San Diego. If you’re in SD you should come by, and focus on San Diego specific information. I created educational products too that other educators can use. There’s an educational poster set that’s meant to aid presentations about bees. I also teach people about bees from my Instagram account. Now people save bees after learning from those videos.
Q: You say you learned a lot by “trial and error” and “doing things myself.” Did any funny stories come out of that?
HK: Yes! A lot. There was a time when an elderly woman in Julian called me. It’s about an hour and a half drive. There were bees in boxes in a giant, old aviary. I thought, ‘They’re already in boxes. I can take them home.’ I wasn’t charging her, so I thought it’d be cool to have the bees.
I showed up with my boyfriend way past dusk. It felt like a horror movie; there was wind, creaking trees, darkness and there were huge nesting boxes made for a giant eagle. They were full of very angry bees.
We went in to try and close the boxes, and they came out and started stinging us in the dark. No one could see, we didn’t have bee suits and I yelled, ‘Get out!’ and we ran.
Somehow we managed to close two of the three boxes. Luckily, we wrapped the boxes in garbage bags. As soon as we start driving the bees got out! It was late in the middle of nowhere, and we were scared they’d get out of the bag.
Finally we got back and it worked out. We put the bees in the yard, but it was a nightmare scenario.
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