Boston-native Dan “The Bee Man” McLean had been suggested for a feature here on HOHP, and I was intrigued to finally meet him after his recent retirement from the Readville Post Office where he was known not only for his service but for his excellent honey. Here’s the story of his beekeeping journey.
Tell me where you grew up in Boston and how you became interested in beekeeping?
I was born in Southie and grew up in Dorchester and have been a beekeeper since 2009. I like to garden and about 10 years ago my daughter signed us up for a beekeeping course together at the Norfolk County Beekeeping Association. I took the class with her, and I was hooked! It was like a father-daughter activity. I got certified with beekeeping and everything took off. I started with my hives in Sharon where I live and working at the Readville Post Office I had an opportunity on my off time to check out the surrounding areas of Hyde Park, Milton and Dedham.
By word of mouth, people started to find out about my honey and people started asking if they could have hives on their properties.I check if their properties are large enough so that we barter the land for the beehive and I also do hive rentals.
Now that you are retired from the post office do you consider yourself a “beekeeping entrepreneur?”
I’m currently selling honey at McCrea’s Candy, BC Bakery [on Como Road], and the Dedham Junior Women’s Club Craft Fair [coming up on November 17, 2018], Chickadee Seed and Feed, the Dedham Women’s Exchange. My coworker Mary, and I didn’t just sell stamps at the post office; we were gatekeepers. People came in to tell us about their lives - we were sounding boards. It was a good place to work that way, and it made me feel good. What I love about this area of Hyde Park and Readville is that I get to see such a crossroads of people.
Will you pass your business on?
At this point I’m not sure, but Norman Shaw was a longtime beekeeper in Hyde Park, and I inherited his bee yards. He was a fantastic mentor! Having him as a mentor kind of infected me with the desire to become a beekeeper, and I’ve been fortunate to keep McCrea’s on as a partner.
If someone wanted to learn about beekeeping what would they need to do? Is there continuing education?
Pay for a course and then get certified through the NCBA. There are monthly meetings that keep beekeepers updated on ongoing issues. We also have speakers that come. Every county in Massachusetts has its own beekeeping association, and there’s even a world apiary congress.
How time consuming is beekeeping?
You can’t step away from it, but I try to check my hives every 2 weeks. If you want to be a beekeeper you don’t want to go down to the Cape for the summer! You have to consider how big you want to get. I’m retired so I have to consider that. Am I going to be here for a few years? We all have family situations. It’s big enough that I’m happy with it now. You can make it as large or small as you want. It’s scalable.
There’s been news about the decrease in the bee population. What is currently happening?
The varroa mite came to us in the ‘80s via Asia and devastated the European honeybee populations. The thing is there’s nothing effective to fight them, but there’s a lot of natural methods to treat them. I don’t use the word “organic” because we manage beehives, they’re wild creatures and go between a 2-3 mile radius so we can’t tell their flower sources. We’re fortunate that here in Hyde Park we don’t get harmful spraying; the closest thing might be mosquito spraying in the spring. The flower source would have to be very isolated to be considered organic. We can never eliminate the varroa mite, but we can reduce their population.
Seasonally what do you have to consider?
At this time we’re into the autumn cycle, and it’s one more honey push that’s standard to the weather. At this time goldenrod and Japanese knotweed are the two flowering plants that are making a richer, darker honey. There are different florals and different flavors. That’s why local honey is so good.
Nominate yourself or someone in the community for a future Humans of Hyde Park story; nominees can remain anonymous in the story or use their first name only if they prefer: https://goo.gl/forms/qgTj1Rh8t2bSbh973.