By Holly Tower, Ph.D.

Longtime Sandbridge resident Marjorie Thompson first became interested in beekeeping after visiting her aunt’s hives that were placed in a field of blackberries. “When you opened the jars of honey,” said Thompson, “the smell of blackberries just wafted out of the jar. It was lovely. I wondered to myself, if I had hives at my house, would the honey smell like the ocean?”

As it turns out, it does not. Bees will travel as far as two and a half miles to forage for flowers for their honey, though, so there really is a lot of Sandbridge in every jar. Thompson joined the Tidewater Bee Guild to get information and mentoring before starting beekeeping on her Bay front property, and finds the bees and their behavior fascinating. “I’m learning as I go,” she said, “and finding out that bees are very smart.”

Every 21 days, new eggs hatch, doing what Thompson calls the “GPS dance.” The bees swarm in front of the entrance, the young bees learning from the older ones the local “map” that tells them where to forage. Bees will also form a “tornado of bees” if they get overcrowded or if they decide that there is a new queen. Typically the bees do not get aggressive, though this behavior depends on the queen. If a hive is upset, however, bees will be so busy protecting the queen and the honey that they won’t swarm.

“If you see a bee they are so busy pollinating and if you go by them they won’t bother you,” reassured Thompson.

Bees are especially important in the Back Bay area. As they travel from plant to plant they carry the genetic material vital to reproduction. This helps support the biodiversity that contributes so much to the natural beauty and recreation opportunities Sandbridge is known for. So although the honey from her hives don’t smell like the ocean, the devotion of Thompson and her bees helps to keep Sandbridge beautiful.