Meet H. Peet Foster, beekeeper, choir member, and parishioner at St. Paul’s Riverside. I visited H. Peet and the two beehives at St. Paul’s this past September just before the hives began their process of sealing for the winter.
The community at St. Paul’s gifted their new rector the Rev. Stephanie Johnson with two hives and 7,500 bees at her Celebration of New Ministry. Now, these two hives have over 60,000 bees, each, and H. Peet is their keeper. H. Peet and his wife help to care for the meadow and pollinator garden at St. Paul’s.
“I never been a ‘God and Church’ kind of guy,” H. Peet said. “This is where I find church.”
H. Peet has been keeping bees since the mid 70s when he was living in Virginia. He first bought a book for $0.50 at a flea market about backyard beekeeping. Just after he registered with Washington D.C. as a swarm catcher (yes, this is a real thing), he caught his first swarm on the side of the U.S. Capitol Building and filled his first hive.
Before we went to the hives, H. Peet showed me his beekeeping suit – jeans and a t-shirt that quite literally says “this is my bee suit.” H. Peet prefers to work with only latex gloves ‘bee’cause of the stickiness of the propolis (which we will learn about later). Stephanie and I on the other hand completely suited up with thick bee gloves, jackets, and veils.
Then, we headed to the hives.
H. Peet maintains about 40 hives all throughout the Southwest Region of Connecticut. He visits each hive every week in the spring and summer, and about once a month in the colder months.
To say the hives were buzzing when we approached would be too much of a pun, right? Well that is exactly what they were – buzzing, vibrating with activity. I asked H. Peet what it was like for him to approach the hives each time. “When I need the quiet,” H. Peet said, “the sound and smell [of the hive] is spiritual for me.”
Before H. Peet opened the hive, he instructed us on the exact ways to approach the hive – calmly and not in the bees’ flight path. Bees, like airplanes, have a direct flight path in and out of the hive, and they even dance to instruct other bees where to find pollen.
In late September, the bees are just starting their winter preparations. This includes creating propolis, a dark orange sticky substance that is anti-viral (Egyptians use to use it to embalm mummies), and dries to hard resin to seal the hive.
Again, H. Peet does not use bee gloves, only thin latex gloves. Which, when he started to open up the hive, gave me some anxiety. “You have to move slow,” H. Peet said. Bees have an extreme sense of smell and can sense the anxiety in us, which causes them to become alarmed.
Once the hive was open and he pulled out a frame, the true beauty of the hive community was before us.
Bees – female bees — were everywhere. They are born, they clean, they feed their neighbors, they go get food for the hive, they make food for the hive, they protect the hive, and all in service to their queen.
Watching H. Peet move around the hive was quite beautiful. He was slow, careful, and deeply respectful of the bees. He didn’t over smoke the bees (which calms them), he just moved with ease.
The honey produced from these two hives are sold to parishioners as a way to raise money for the church. H. Peet gave me some honey from another one of his hives, which I am enjoying in my tea as I write this blog.
There is a lesson to be learned about community and relationships when looking at a hive, the importance of being together. And, there is a lesson about the role of an outsider, like a beekeeper. It is essential to move about a community that is not your own with care and consideration.
“The more I keep bees, the more I learn about these amazing creatures,” H. Peet said. “The more meditational it becomes for me.”