WHITMAN — By his own admission, Richard Rosen may not be the best or the smartest beekeeper, but he is becoming the face of backyard beekeeping for people tuning into their local cable access stations from coast to coast as he learns more about it.
He has already inspired the 5-year-old daughter of Whitman-Hanson Community Access TV Executive Director Eric Dresser, who was captivated by seeing a guy in a bee suit.
Rosen has been fascinated by bees, and the idea of running his own hives, for a long time — and while the real estate developer knew honey production was no money-maker, he also knew it was important to try to save them.
“It’s fascinating is what it is,” he said of the life cycle of bees and their honey production. “It was something that I had thought about for years. I thought, kind of from the fringe, that it was pretty interesting.”
He has turned that fascination into a sideline at McGuiggan’s Pub, selling jarred honey, and now working on a drinks menu on which listed beverages will include his honey as an ingredient.
Rosen has also become something of a celebrity through the syndication of his cable access series “The Buzz Around Bees,” which is now seen in programming markets in 14 states, including California and New York. It is the first show WHCA-TV has ever syndicated.
Rosen has already experienced some face-to-face feedback from fans. While attending the Aug. 8 Whitman Police Night Out Against Crime, he said a person stepped up to talk to him about the show.
“There was passion in the person who was talking to me about what they learned from what we showed them,” Rosen said. “I think that’s really cool and it’s surprising how many people do say something to me that have seen the show. … It’s rewarding when people say things to you about what they have seen on the show.”
WHCA’s Access Operations Coordinator Kevin Tocci, who shares Rosen’s interest in bees, approached him about doing the show.
“The idea of what we do here is, if you see somebody who has a unique hobby —whether it’s bees, or gardening, painting, whatever it may be — to expand upon it,” Tocci said. “We’ve been successful here at getting people to take their hobby and make it into a TV program.”
Tocci noted that Rosen had done various other programs for WHCA over the years and is comfortable in front of the camera.
“When he told me he was getting bees I thought that would be a fantastic show,” Tocci said. “And we experienced some very interesting things … we not only experience that the hive had minted a new queen, we got to experience the marking process and [to] understand that.”
Going in, Rosen thought Tocci was talking about a single program. It’s now in its second season, with Rosen shifting attention from his own hives to those of other area beekeepers.
The show’s six-episode first season was an eventful one.
Rosen and his wife Kathy demonstrated introducing bees to the hive, how a new queen had been created in one hive, and how another was “robbed” of its honey by other bees.
“It’s difficult for me to explain just how crazy it is,” he said of the life of honeybees. “But the whole life of a honeybee — how they’re born and when they’re born, how long they live and what they do — it’s pretty fascinating.”
“The Buzz Around Bees” also seems to bridge different ages, Tocci said, as Dresser noted his daughter was intrigued when Tocci posted a photo on Instagram of himself wearing a beekeepers’ outfit for videotaping.
“What’s he wearing?” Dresser said his daughter asked. “I brought up Episode 1 and I showed her ‘The Buzz Around Bees’ and I had never seen her captivated by anything that’s not cartoons until that moment.”
But long before the TV show was even a suggestion, came the development of Rosen’s hobby beginning with learning more about honeybees.
“I started researching it and I read two books and watched a two-hour-and-20-minute DVD, and I still didn’t have any idea what I was doing when I was done,” he said.
Rosen also knew a couple beekeepers, whose experiences fueled his interest. One of those friends, who lives in Duxbury, finally inspired him to buy a couple hives and give beekeeping a try.
His Danecca Drive backyard now hosts seven hives as he has added to his apiary each year.
He stressed that he is still learning about bees himself — taking the eight-week bee school program offered by the Plymouth County Beekeepers’ Association three times so far.
“I’ve said this many times on the show, they have forgotten more about bees than I’ll ever know,” he said. “The old joke is, if you ask three beekeepers the same question, you’ll get five different answers.”
That old saw did not make him hesitate to bring on, in his role as program host, three beekeepers in his first season on the air” PCBA President Anne Rein of Hanson, as well as Bill Veazie and Glen Cornell of Whitman. The sixth and final show of the first season wrapped things up with a panel discussion of issues facing bee populations between Rosen, Rein and Cornell.
This year’s shows began with the bee pickup day in Plympton — in a garage with 9 million bees in packages of 10,000 bees each —and has included the most recently produced episode about sugar shaking to determine if mites have infested a hive and the different pollinators bees seek out. Last season included a tutorial on setting up oil traps for beetles that can take over a hive.
“Last year was not a good honey year, a lot of beekeepers had a tough time … basically because of the weather,” Rosen said of that season, in which he managed a fair yield despite his challenges.
The damage done to bee populations by weather, mites, beetles and pesticides are a very real concern.
With 85 percent of plant species on earth, and about 52 percent of the food products at your grocery store, requiring bees and other pollinators to exist, a 2013 Whole Foods Markets “Share the Buzz” demonstration of the statistics proved an eye-opener for Rosen. The store showed that one of every three bites of food is produced by honeybees and other pollinators by removing all products requiring pollination from its store shelves — 237 of 453 products including almost the entire produce department.
Between learning of that demonstration and his experience as a beekeeper, everything Rosen now plants in his yard benefits bees. That includes selecting plants that have not been treated with pesticides like neonicotinoid, which kill bees.
“This year, so far, it’s been a great year and six of the seven are doing well. One is doing OK, but I think it’s because of where I have them placed. I have a couple [hives] more in the shade and I’m finding they don’t particularly like the shade.”
A daily tablespoon of local honey, produced within a 25 mile radius of where one lives, is also said to be helpful for allergy sufferers.
“There are a lot of people that live by that,” he said. “I have people who come into McGuiggan’s to buy honey that are not drinkers, they’ve just heard we have true local honey and they want to buy it.”
Stings are the last thing to worry about, he said.
“Honey bees don’t want to sting you because they’re going to die after they sting you,” Rosen said. “They won’t unless you swat them. You tend to be afraid of bumble bees, because they’re so big — bumble bees will not bother you —but yellow jackets are bad guys and will sting.”