Photo by Charle Neuenschwander
If you’re ever looking to buy a nuc of bees, I know a guy. Justin Scott is the man behind Sweet Stingers Honey and Apiary, which offers not only bees, hives and beekeeping services, but also a trove of fragrant, tasty and therapeutic products. Backed by his wife Melissa (who doesn’t go near the hives) and children Lexi and Lucas (who gladly do), Scott manages 350 hives in 50 residential backyards statewide. Here, he shares more about his family’s company and passion for all-things-honeybee.
How did you enter the world of beekeeping?
My grandfather was a backyard beekeeper; he had them for his garden. I was working in his garden,
and he needed help putting a box of bees in the truck. Back then, you didn’t tell your grandparents “No,” so I got forced into it. I was terrified and amazed at the same time. He taught me how to raise them and harvest honey. When I got married and we bought a house, I turned the entire backyard into a garden. The bees just came with the garden.
In addition to creating and selling products, Sweet Stingers manages backyard hives. How did that start?
It really developed when COVID hit. I was on track to become a traditional migratory beekeeper, where you load bees on pallets and ship them out to California for almond pollination. About 90 percent of all hives in the U.S. go to California.
We were on track to go that route, but COVID shut down one of my large yards. At that time, I didn’t have another big yard—because we were just starting—but I had about 60 hives that I needed to place. So, we divided up into backyards, and we became what we are now: We manage bees for people who want bees around without doing the work.
There’s a lot to bees. People think you get bees, you put them in a box, and they make honey. It doesn’t work that way. Bees are very hands-on. There’s a lot to know about them and a lot to manage with them.
What does beekeeping involve?
Hives will start brooding up and raising babies, and if you don’t make a split [to provide more space], they will swarm. If a hive swarms, you will lose 70 percent of your bee population. They leave and go into a tree or a person’s house; they are no longer your bees. We make the split for them, so we don’t lose them. And when the honey flow happens, we have to make sure they have room. So, we add boxes to the hive where they can store their nectar from the plants. If they don’t have enough room, then they say, “Hey, we’re too cramped in here,” and, again, they will swarm.
Tell me about your “Kids with Bees” classes.
They will come out to one of the hives that we have. We will go over bees. We will discuss what’s in the hive. They get to see the wax, and they get to taste the honey. Then we put them all in the suits and gloves and we go to a live working hive and take pictures, and we show them the inner workings of the hive.
Why are bees important?
Bees have been declared the most important living species in the world. Bees are responsible for one in every three bites of food that we take. Without our pollinators, the food shortage crisis would be a lot harsher than it is today. Most people think of bees as responsible for our fruits and veggies—and
they are—but they’re also responsible for coffee, chocolate and cotton for our clothes. Entire ecosystems revolve around them.