Lewell Woolridge Sr.’s foray into beekeeping was an unexpected one but one he learned to embrace. In the last 30 years, he and his son Lewell Woolridge Jr. have worked as a team to manage upwards of 150 hives and their business Bee Lovers Beekeeping is today one of Bermuda’s premier beekeeping services.
Their journey began in 1994, when Lewell Sr. was given a number of hives from a former landlord. Needing to do something with them, he took advice from other beekeepers and learned how to take care of them. When his son was about eight years old, Lewell says, “he asked me ‘Daddy, let’s get some more hives so we can work on those bees.’ He said, ‘I’ll help you!’” From there Lewell Jr. would assist his father in beekeeping after school, sometimes reaching places his father was unable to.
“One day I went up to the old White’s on Burnt House Hill,” recalls Lewell Sr. “There’s a church across from there with a very tall cedar tree that had a beautiful swarm hanging onto it. I couldn’t get up there because I had nothing to rest the stepladder on, so he said he’d get them.”
“I told him to put the bucket underneath the bees and shake them in and that’s exactly what he did. He shook them in the bucket and hasn’t looked back ever since.”
Today the father-son team maintain upwards of 150 hives and sell their honey and candle wax in grocery stores such as MarketPlace and Supermart, from their home and occasionally straight from their company van. They also sell the wax to be melted down for other purposes such as lotions and lip gloss. And they routinely remove nuisance hives from public places and relocate them safely.
But it’s not just about harvesting and selling for the Woolridges, they also recognise the importance of what they do for the natural ecosystem and know that their work can make a difference in helping to restore declining bee populations. As Lewell Sr. says, “It’s not about the money that you can make. Without the bees there’s no pollination. No pollination means there’s no food and even the trees that are around will go away.”
“There’s been a decline in the bee population due to several things, development is one. People develop the land more and more. They don’t look at the big picture. You cut down trees and there’s less for the bees.”
Lewell Jr. agrees, “With people developing Bermuda more and more, they’re not replanting trees the way they’re supposed to—look at how many people have fruit trees nowadays.”
“Some people might plant a hedge, but they trim the hedge so it never flowers, or they plant something that won’t flower anyway.”
“You can have 100 bees, but if there’s no food for them to eat then there’s no real point in having another hive.”
Careful consideration is given to the welfare of the bees when it comes time for the once yearly honey extraction, which typically takes place in late November, around the time of American Thanksgiving. “At that time hurricane season is finished, Lewell Sr. explains. “We don’t like to take honey off and then you get a hurricane because that would mean there’s no flowers and there’s no food for the bees. If we take it off after the hurricane, we know how much we can safely take but if we take it off before the hurricane, we can’t put it back.”
The honey and wax are harvested from a honey extractor set up in the basement of their home. The two believe they have the largest honey extractor on the island which can spin up to 60 hive frames at a single time in around 15–30 minutes. Generally, it takes about a week of work to extract all of the year’s honey collection which is around 200–300 boxes. However, year to year the amount of honey collected can vary.
At its core, Bee Lovers is a father-son business and the Lewell Sr. is proud that his son will continue the work. “It’s good to see that your son is picking up something that you started, he says. “It’s not something that’s just going to be thrown away and forgotten. It’s exciting to me that he’s carrying it on.”
When it comes to relocating hives, the Woolridges can tell lots of stories. Once, a BELCO transformer was infested with bees, and they needed a BELCO crew to shut off the power to safely remove the hive. Another time, a bathroom ceiling had over 20 feet of beehives to be removed.
Working together, father and son have come to appreciate the bees they work with and the important role they play in the natural world. As Lewell Jr. observes, “When you look at the bigger picture, bees keep the world turning. If people worked like bees, we wouldn’t have half the problems we have today.”