Getting hives: local beekeeper keeps pollinators going

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SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Adriana Compagnoni’s backyard turned apiary has been literally buzzing this summer, as Compagnoni’s been maintaining five beehives that are set up in one corner of her South Orange yard. Compagnoni has been a beekeeper for eight years now, after taking a class at the Essex County Environmental Center in 2012.

“I had a vegetable garden, and I would read about the bee population,” Compagnoni said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Aug. 29. “I thought it would be a good thing to do. It’s complementary; there are a lot of pollinators.”

Having the bees around her garden has worked — in the last few years, there have been more plants growing and more flowers around the neighborhood.

“It’s hard to know for sure, but I think there are more flowers on our street,” Compagnoni said. “You get honey and beeswax, which is another byproduct. I make lip balm and soap, which is nice for your skin because it’s moisturizing. And I’m offering free pollination to a 3-mile radius.”

“Save the bees” has become a common phrase, as certain species of bees have been placed on the endangered species list and the honey bee population has declined. Compagnoni said taking care of them herself has made her more aware of the environment in general. She can’t use pesticides or insect spray, because it will kill her hives.

“There’s awareness that comes with the bees,” she said. “I can’t use gardening practices that are toxic. It keeps you more honest. There are indirect benefits.”

About 60,000 to 70,000 bees are in the hives per year, peaking in July, though Compagnoni said it’s hard to be sure of exactly how many there are. She checked them every week in the beginning. Once they were settled she began checking them every two weeks, making sure they have enough pollen and space. If they have a disease or the queen bee isn’t doing her job, she has to intervene.

“You want to catch them when they swarm,” Compagnoni said. “The magic number is nine. On day nine they go from eggs to a hexagon. But if you wait too long you’ll miss it.”

There are beekeepers all over the county and state; Compagnoni is part of the Essex County Beekeepers Society and the New Jersey Beekeepers Association. In 2020, she won Best in Show at the New Jersey Honey Show and first place in two other categories as well. She’s also won awards for her soap and lip balm.

Compagnoni’s products, and a blog about her beekeeping exploits, can be found at www.southmountainbees.com.

“Beginners are required to take a course,” Compagnoni said about the class she took at the ECEC eight years ago, suggesting that those who are interested in beekeeping do the same. “You have to be prepared. The best thing to do is sign up for one of them. This is a good time to start planning, because by December there won’t be as many hives. In the spring you’ll get to see what they look like.”

Photos Courtesy of Adriana Compagnoni

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