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House Calls for Hives
Photo by
Will Kirk
Clad in a white suit that features a five-point star and reads SHERIFF/BEEKEEPER, Jef Boeke puts on a mask made of netting and gets to work. Somewhere near 100,000 members of the species Apis mellifera — that's European honeybees — buzz inside and around two hives on the front patio of his home in north Baltimore. They're the latest batch of nectar-sucking, honey-making creatures Boeke has raised in the past 20 years.

"When I was an undergrad at Bowdoin College, I wanted to do something related to natural history, but I got excited by the young professors who worked on molecules," says Boeke, 54, a professor of molecular biology and genetics at Johns Hopkins' School of Medicine. Years of being sidetracked ended when, as an assistant professor, he took calls from fire and police departments and private citizens about swarms they'd located. From those swarms began a busy-as-a-you-know-what operation that made 185 pounds of honey last year. "It's a great way to pay off jittery neighbors," says Boeke (pronounced BOO-kah) of the jars of sweet goo worker bees create with the aid of nectar from black locust and London plane trees.

Why the suit of white? "You don't want to wear a black wool sweater around bees," Boeke (who gets stung five or 10 times a year) says with utter solemnity, "because they'll think you're a bear."
— Michael Anft

Return to June 2008 Table of Contents

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