Local beekeeper responds to vandalism with donations

Longtime Mattituck beekeeper Chris Kelly discovered late last month that eight hive stands at his bee yards in Aquebogue had been knocked over, likely by vandals, splitting up bee clusters, exposing them to winter elements and killing them. He was stunned to silence and wondered, “What should I do?”

Rather than reacting with hate or revenge, Mr. Kelly, of Promised Land Apiaries, decided instead to put a little good back into the world.

He salvaged what he could of the damaged hives and tossed out what was broken. He knew he was within his rights to file a police report, but he hadn’t been by that particular yard — one of about 14 he manages — in about a month. He said he thought it’d be tough to pinpoint when the hive boxes had been knocked over.

Mr. Kelly spoke to his wife, Lesaya, a pastor at Crossover Christian Church in Mount Sinai, who offered a scripture verse as guidance: “Bless those that spitefully use you.” That got him thinking about how to overcome bad news with good.

“I thought maybe there could be a different response,” said Mr. Kelly, who has been keeping bees for 47 years.

He decided to donate starter bee colonies, known as “nucs,” to people interested in trying beekeeping and to other keepers whose colonies had been lost in the cold season.

Although Mr. Kelly runs about 100 hives, losing eight of them is not a minor setback. Each hive holds approximately 12,000 to 15,000 bees — and it costs $1,000 to replace the ones lost. In addition to harvesting local honey and teaching beekeeping at Talmage Farm Agway in Riverhead, Mr. Kelly is a supplier of bee colonies as part of his business.

Ten people will get their starter colonies in May, Mr. Kelly said.

“It’s a nice cross-section of people,” he said, including a woman whose grandfather was a beekeeper, a 15-year-old boy who wants to learn more and Stephanie Mincieli of Laurel, who’s been wanting to get into beekeeping for a while.

For Ms. Mincieli, who has worked at Sang Lee Farms in past summers and teaches AP environmental science at Southold High School, beekeeping will be about sustainability and giving back to the environment.

“My family has had a small garden ever since I can remember,” she said. “I remember being about two feet tall and running through the garden to get the sweet cherry tomatoes that had ripened and plopping down and eating as many as I could right then and there. Two years ago, I decided to add chickens and ducks to my own little ‘backyard farm’ and I love going out every morning and checking on them and collecting eggs in the afternoons. For me, bees are just the next step.”

Ms. Mincieli said she saw firsthand at Sang Lee Farms how beneficial bees are in terms of agriculture. Plus, she said, “fresh honey straight from the hive is one of the best tasting things on earth. Period.”

It will also allow her to pass on firsthand knowledge about conservation and sustainability — key themes in her AP classes — to her students.

“I am extremely grateful to Chris Kelly for donating bees to interested individuals in the wake of losing so many of his bees,” Ms. Mincieli said.

Beekeeping is personal, Mr. Kelly said.

“When you start to keep bees, you see how they really help to put you in touch with the environment around you because they collect the pollen and the nectar from the flowers in your area,” he said. “It is such a great way to become really in touch with what’s happening right in your own community. The bee yards are magic in the spring.”

Photo caption: Longtime beekeeper Chris Kelly with some of his bee boxes behind his Mattituck home. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)

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