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Beekeeping Tips With McKay Joice

McKay Joice of Favo has loved insects for as long as she can remember. From her first zoology botany class in high school to a recent master’s in beekeeping, it’s not an understatement to say she is obsessed with bugs! Today McKay conducts beekeeping classes and honey tastings in Salt Lake City and continues to share her love of bees.

This National Honey Bee Day, we sat down with McKay Joice to talk about conventional versus natural beekeeping, how to get over your fear of bees and why most of the honey on the market is not even honey.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you grew up, your background etc.

I have loved insects for as long as I can remember. I took a zoology botany class in high school and I used to tell people that’s where I first started loving bugs but my mom said that even as a kid I loved bugs! I went to Utah State to study entomology and worked in the bee lab there and started assisting with hives. I’ve been solo beekeeping by myself for over 10 years now and I recently went to Cornell University to get my master’s in beekeeping.

What is the difference between ‘natural’ beekeeping vs. conventional?

I feel like if you are a commercial beekeeper, your primary goal is honey production or to partake in the mass pollination migration. Your focus is not the health of the hive and the bees environment but rather the honey and money. In natural beekeeping you slow down and you try to learn from the hive rather than enforcing your opinions on bees.

What’s your favorite thing about being a beekeeper?

You’re entering this universe that runs parallel to the world we live in.  We don’t realize how much bees assist us in the things that we do and how much we can learn from them. My favorite thing about being a beekeeper is learning and teaching others about it.

I love learning about how cool it is and then just being like “OK, like take a look at this, this is the most amazing thing. Suit up, open up this hive with me and learn about the art of bees.” So it’s been really awesome to share that.

What is the most difficult thing about being a beekeeper?

 The heat in the day – being all suited up in a sweaty suit can get old. But also to learn firsthand with your own eyes the way pesticides and habitat laws are affecting the insect world. You hear about it all the time but to see it with your own eyes is hard. There are not a lot of people that realize the importance of preserving insects and creating healthy ecosystems in their own yard.

What is your favorite bee product and why?

Propolis, if you can get a good company that is sourcing it ethically to preserve the benefits. Bee Pollen is another one, which is sold at Whole Foods.   

Can you tell us why bees are so important in our ecosystem?

They are the thread that holds together all of our pollinations.

When one thinks of bees, one immediately thinks “oh save the honeybees.” Well, honeybees are one of 20,000 different species of bees. So it’s not about just preserving the honeybees, its about preserving the bumblebees, the mason bees, the leave cutter bees, the fairy bees, the longhorn bees. There are so many different bees in this world and they are all amazing pollinators, and if we don’t have them oh man, we’ll crumble away. 

For those out there who fear bees, what words of advice do you have to clear up this misconception?

This is one of my favorite mindsets to change. There have been so many people who are afraid of bees that I’ve been able to suit up, take to my hive and teach that bees are gentle and kind. You can do the “hippie” approach and not open the hive but just be close to them and feel the energy of the bee.

Wasps give bees a bad name, they look very similar to bees but are aggressive and eat other insects. Bees source of food is nectar and pollen so if you don’t get in their way, they’re the kindest, gentlest creatures.

What got you into honey tasting?

I’m just obsessed with honey and when I started diving into this terrible world of pesticides I realized there’s a lot of honey out there that is not even honey anymore. We’re getting so good at mimicking honey and using substitutes that it’s getting harder and harder to tell. Even honey labelled “raw,”  and“organic,” isn’t necessarily going to be beautiful natural honey. I got into honey tasting because I wanted people to slow down, sit at the table, take a little spoonful of honey and just savor it. I wanted to show them, “hey, this is how good honey is.”

What makes a good honey?

The beekeepers. Place your hives in areas where you know they’re not spraying for mosquitos and crops. Also, don’t overuse your smoke. Smoke contamination is a real thing so ensure that you’re harvesting it in a proper way to preserve the H20 levels in your honey. So a good beekeeper makes good honey but also a good hive.

Do you have any tips for new beekeepers?

My tip is to educate yourself. There are so many reasons that the bees are suffering and one of the main reasons is because of poor beekeeping. New beekeepers think,” I like honey, I have a yard, I’ll get some bees,” and its so much more than that. You owe it to your hive to educate yourself. 

 What’s next for you and your beekeeping endeavors?

I feel like my whole journey has been just leaning into things that I love. I want to teach people to understand the magnitude of bees. I want people to trust me and show them the world of bees and however that manifests itself, I am open!