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How Sweet It Is: Examining The Art Of Beekeeping In Weston

WESTON, Conn. – It would be easy to paint a picture of Marina Marchese, owner and founder of Red Bee Honey , as a queen bee of sorts. After all, she is a passionate apiarist, caring for 16 hives and the thousands of Italian honeybees contained in the tranquil gardens behind her Weston home.

But, as it turns out, calling her a queen bee just wouldn’t be right.

During a recent honey tasting event, produced in conjunction with Slow Food Metro North , Marchese conducted a kind of “Honey and Hive 101” crash course for those of us less schooled in the ways of bees. And one of the first things she taught was that, outside of laying eggs, the queen bee doesn’t do very much.

Marchese, on the other hand, is a one-woman powerhouse, raising multiple hives with a commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility. And, she is sweet as honey, to boot.

“It’s not so great to be the queen,” Marchese jokes. “A queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day, but she almost never leaves the hive.” Being a drone isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either, according to Marchese. While the drones aren’t tasked with any of the hive work, they do have the unfortunate distinction of having to mate with the queen. After the bee deed is done, the drone dies.

So much for having it easy.

The facts of life for bees explained, Marchese took guests through the complex art of honey making, from the perspective of the bee. Because, after almost a decade-and-a-half of beekeeping, Marchese is a seasoned expert. But it wasn’t always so.

“I used to be afraid of bees,” she said. “But one of my neighbors used to keep honeybees and he asked me if I wanted to meet them. Back then, this was a pretty offbeat kind of thing to do, keep honeybees. I went over and he opened the hive and stuck in his bare hand. I asked him, ‘Aren’t you afraid they will sting you?’ And he said, ‘My bees are Italian bees, Marina. They are totally calm.’ Then, he scooped out some honey still warm from the sun and fresh from the hive. I tasted it and I thought I had never, ever tasted anything so delicious.”

After that encounter, Marchese described falling hard and fast for the world of beekeeping. “It was like a wonderful ride down an “Alice in Wonderland” hole,” she said.

That tumble down into the world of hives and pollen and sweet flavors too good not to eat led her to begin raising her own bees, and, ultimately, to start Red Bee Honey, an artisanal honey label produced entirely in Weston. In the process, Marchese has become an expert in honeys from around the world, which she said are not dissimilar to olive oil or wine in both the manner in which they are produced and the gourmet varietals available.

“We should all be a little more aware of the balance of nature and how important bees are to that balance,” said Marchese. “Without bees, we wouldn’t have most of the foods we eat. There would be no coffee, no chocolate, no cotton to make blue jeans even if the bees weren’t here to do their work and pollenate the plants. Once I learned about bees, it changed my whole perspective on life.”

So while it wouldn’t be right to call Marchese a queen bee, it is probably fair to say she is the reigning queen of local artisanal honey. And that is sweet, indeed.

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