HONEY AND VENOM

Confessions of an Urban Beekeeper

By: Andrew Coté

Published: June 9, 2020

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Non-fiction/Memoir

I have long been interested in honey bees. I had a classmate in school whose family raised honey bees. Then that same family chose to put some hives on my parents’ farm. So, our family is blessed with lots of free honey throughout the year as part of the appreciation for hosting their bees. I must say it is the best honey I’ve ever tasted.

I never even considered that honey bees could live in the hustle and bustle of New York City, let alone on the rooftops of some of the city’s buildings. This memoir gives the reader a peek into the life of a beekeeper or “beek” as they are called. Most of the stories center around New England or in the author’s travels with the organization he and his father created, Bees Without Borders. This organization allows them to travel the world to help set up bee colonies in other countries. I wonder if Andrew and his father have done any work with Heifer International. Our family has purchased honey bees for families in other countries through that program.

The book is set up as a year-in-the-life of a beekeeper with every month being a chapter. But, in that month, various stories are shared, both current and past, that give the reader both the background of his family’s beginnings in the bee business and how Coté began his career as the go-to guy for all things honey bees in NYC. He describes a bit of the necessities required during those months of beekeeping and the various phone calls he gets throughout the year about dealing with swarms and abandoned or neglected hives. One such story with a man that was moving and needed to sell his hives made me pretty angry and I wonder how Coté let that one roll as easily as he wrote about it.

The family of bees including Queens, Worker Bees, and Drones is quite the system. It is certainly a fascinating cycle of life to read and learn about. I have to say, I feel a bit bad for the drones, but they have a purpose in the honey bee cycle and then, they are no longer needed. Sorry drones!

I was really surprised to learn that in 1970, the Sears, Roebuck catalog offered honey bees for $7-$12 each and shipped them to customers. Since my mom worked for the postal service for many years, I’ll have to ask her if she ever delivered honey bees.

I also appreciated how Andrew pointed out that there is a huge market for “fake honey”.

Interestingly, this resembles the gap between the global demand for honey and the actual amount of honey produced worldwide. For this very reason, there is a brisk world market of fake honey. In fact, fraudulent honey is a billion-dollar industry; the volume of fake honey sold globally is exceeded only by the volume of fake fish and fake olive oil, also billion-dollar industries.

Andrew Coté – HONEY AND VENOM

So the lesson here is to check the ingredients, check the labels, and buy local! Local honey sourced from honey bees in the area where you live is much better for you anyway, in my opinion.

Honey bees have been around as long as dinosaurs. Their part in the circle of life is critical, especially in the farming community I live in as well as in the big cities. Honey bees are even used to heal ailments like arthritis. Thanks to Coté’s book, I know that the next time I drizzle some honey onto a biscuit or in my favorite tea, I’ll be thinking about those bees a little differently and appreciating all the hard work, perseverance, and numerous stings that the beekeeper had to endure to get me that gorgeous jar of honey.

I have to admit, I was hoping he would share some of their favorite family recipes using their honey or some insider tips on the benefits of honey, but unfortunately, that was not part of this book. Aside from a bit of horn-tooting (which is expected in a memoir) and name dropping, which is easily overlooked, I found this to be a very interesting and enjoyable read.

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