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Nashua engineer is bringing beehives to NH

Union Leader Correspondent

July 08. 2012 6:26PM
Beekeeper Kagen Weeks shows off one of his backyard hives in Nashua. (Simn Rios Photo)

NASHUA - Follow Kagen Weeks under a tangle of vines into his backyard and the buzz of honeybees fills the air.

But Weeks doesn't consider himself a beekeeper.

'I decided I wanted to be a bee-giver, not a beekeeper,' said Weeks, an environmental engineer by trade who turned to bees full-time in the winter.

In his mind resides a hive of knowledge, from the subtlest aspects of the insect's DNA to the environmental ramifications of colony collapse disorder. It revolves around his critique of the way bees are affected by modern agriculture. Farmers across the country, whose plants require the cross-pollination that only bees can do, are forced to rely on pollination services from faraway companies because of a decline in native bees.

Rather than complain about the problems, Weeks decided to do his part in solving the world's bee problems. He formed a company, Hive at Your Home, in Nashua. He aims to bring hives to New Hampshire's towns and cities so they are no longer reliant on foreign bees.

There are several reasons to buy local honey. Not only does it support the local economy, Weeks said, but the consumption of local pollen can also remedy pollen allergies. Consuming honey from Texas or Oregon, much less China or Brazil, will not serve this purpose, he said.

'What I'd love to see is for this to get to the point where it's sustainable beyond me,' he said. 'If we can bring enough local bees that don't need treatments and poisons, that can handle the cold and survive, and enough people locally know how to keep bees,' Weeks said, then local farmers will be able to maintain the bee populations necessary to pollinate their crops.

'If we have a year where there's not enough of these Southern-bred commercial bees, and they don't bring them here, I want the local farms to not even be affected because we have a local population of bees that's disconnected from that Southern breeding.'

As environmental writer Rowan Jacobsen points out in his book 'Fruitless Fall,' Florida hives are trucked from the South to pollinate California almonds in February, Washington apples in March, South Dakota sunflower and canola in May, Maine blueberries in June, and finally Pennsylvania pumpkins in July.

Professional pollination, which began with beekeepers striking up deals with farmers to allow their bees to feast upon their crops in symbiotic agreement, ballooned into a huge industry in the 2000s just for the pollination of almond crops.

This also when colony collapse disorder began to wreak havoc on the country's, and the world's, honeybee populations. Jacobsen writes that the number of hives fell below two million for the first time in memory.

Having started professionally just seven months ago, Weeks will have to wait through the winter to see if his bees will survive the cold. He keeps a hearty Russian species that he thinks stand a good chance in the New England winter.

Through his business, Weeks is building beehives all over the state, from community gardens to farms and restaurant rooftops.

He also does private residences, where he will either maintain the hive or teach someone to do the beekeeping.

'I bring the bees, I bring the hives, I do all the work, and if you just want that to help bees and help pollination and have some honey, then that's it.'

Other people might want to learn how to take the hives over, and in a year or so, Weeks said they will be capable of doing just that.

In the two hives behind Weeks' house, each containing some 30,000 bees, there are few boy bees abuzz.

'The boys' only job is to cruise for chicks,' Weeks smiled, waving a bee smoker he said belonged to his grandfather.

'Girls do all the work. And the girls make all the decisions, mostly by consensus. The boys don't get a vote, and the queen doesn't really get a vote.'

Kagen explained just how bee democracy, superior to human democracy in its efficacy, manages to take form.

'When they're finding a new home or when they're finding food, the bees have to communicate stuff.'

The stuff includes a bee finding, for instance, a field of some really delicious amazing food. 'I mean this stuff is fabulous, and other people should come and check it out,' Weeks said the bees must be be thinking.

Bees operate in the hive in what some writers describe as a consensus-based democracy at work. And the Granite State is of particular relevance because of the town hall meeting.

Cornell University professor Thomas Seeley, author of 'Honeybee Democracy,' recently drew the comparison between New England democracy and the way of the bee. Just think of the New Hampshire town hall meetings.

'But there's some differences,' Weeks specified. 'I go to a town hall meeting and say that we should have a space port because we have a surplus of $2,000 left in our bank account.'

But the next guy shows up with a much better idea, say, to fix potholes or start a rainy day fund. 'At the end of that meeting, what am I still taking about? Space port, space port, space port!'

The bees are different. 'They don't have these outside vested interests. They end up conceding to the more logical decision, and they'll change their mind.'

The difference is that bees are not individually intelligent. Rather, it's the whole hive that carries out the consensus.

Weeks' goal is to share his bee knowledge with as many people as possible, and for the region's farmers to be able to rely on local bee populations.

So far he's supporting his business with savings, as well as some income from giving talks and building hives. He hopes the business will grow in the coming years to be self-sustaining.

Perhaps he'll learn something about that from his bees.

Weeks' website is

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