Best Bees Co., tucked behind an auto body shop in Boston, is a modest operation consisting of four large rooms with a few parking spaces outside. And more than a half-million Italian honeybees.
The beekeeping service provides hives capable of producing honey, along with regular support, to both corporate clients and individual customers across the city. Its client roster includes American Provisions in South Boston, Harvard Business School, and the Cambridge Innovation Center.
Its founder and chief scientific officer, Noah Wilson-Rich, started the urban beekeeping business out of his living room in 2010 and has since expanded to eight US cities, as far away as Denver and San Francisco. A biologist, he created the business primarily to help fund his own research on bees, he said.
Each spring, the company buys millions of bees from apiaries in Eastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Georgia. They are sold to clients throughout the late spring and summer.
Best Bees keeps most of its hives on a few outdoor parking spaces, some on platforms built for car mechanics that can be raised. Inside are a small laboratory, a few desks, and a honey bottling operation.
People working with so many bees know they will be stung regularly. Wilson-Rich said Best Bees has full-body protective equipment available, but he prefers to simply wear a T-shirt.
He shrugs off the stinging reality of working with bees. “To me, getting stung is like getting bitten by a mosquito,” he said.
Best Bees is on Albany Street, a few blocks from Boston Medical Center, which is a surprisingly good environment for beekeeping. The lack of pesticides and an abundance of community gardens within a few miles keep the bees happy, producing honey, and long-lived.
Their hives are boxes containing 10 frames, on which the bees build honeycombs and produce the honey. On average, each box contains 80,000 bees, most of which are female workers.
Bees store the honey in the comb by capping it in wax cells. To remove the honey, the beekeeper cuts the comb and caps off the frame, then strains it. The frames are then replaced in the hive along with a foundation, a sheet imprinted with a honeycomb pattern that the bees can build from.