Across the Triangle in North Carolina, a region that includes Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, at least 55 residents have voluntarily devoted a section of their backyard to bees. These residents aren’t beekeepers themselves, but pay a fee to host the hives for Buddha Bee Apiary, a company that installs the hive, visits monthly to inspect and care for the bees, and harvests the honey.
The honeybee population in the U.S. has been declining; beekeepers here lost 37% of their colonies in 2019, a concerning figure, experts say, because of how crucial these bees are to pollinating crops and wild plants. Beekeeping can help build that population (and even help wild bees) to pollinate your local flora, but can be expensive and time consuming to get into. That’s where Buddha Bee Apiary, founded by Justin Maness, comes in, to bring the benefits of bees to people without them needing all the equipment or any knowledge of beekeeping.
Buddha Bee Apiary also harvests the honey, and the host gets half for their own use. But Maness says that’s not the main draw. “There’s some folks who are interested in the honey and some who are not,” he says. “I think the real big value that people get out of it is the fact that they can get invested in the hive, learn more [about bees], and also know that they’re contributing back to something that’s going to be good for our environment.”
Before you can host a hive, an expert from Buddha Bee Apiary will assess your yard to see if it’s suitable for bees. The biggest needs, Maness says, are enough space for the two-by-three-foot hive and about an eight-foot low-traffic radius around it to give the bees some calm. Sunlight helps, too, because it can keep away a pest called the small hive beetle (it’s important that you don’t use mosquito sprays on your lawn).
Once a yard is hive-approved, Buddha Bee Apiary makes the installation an event—a “welcoming of the bees,” Maness says—telling the host to invite family and friends. Neighbors or friend groups have gone in on the $150-per-month fee for a hive together, too. Some of the hosts eventually want to take over the beekeeping duties, and Buddha Bee Apiary will help with that transition. Others don’t, but want their kids to be involved in the inspection; for those groups, the beekeeper will bring an extra protective jacket so they can get up close.
“Once people get invested into the bees, their health, and the hive as a whole, it’s interesting to see people take on projects of converting their yard,” Maness says. “Taking a green space and completely digging it up and planting wildflowers, or taking a list [of plants] that we send them and removing some of these plants so that they can put in plants that are pollinator-friendly.”
Grass lawns aren’t that environmentally friendly, since they’re a monoculture that requires a lot of care (and grass is pollinated by wind, not bees). A side effect of bringing beehives to backyards, Maness says, is that people have been transforming their grass yards into something more impactful for the environment.
The bees pollinate plants within a 3-mile radius from the home. With 55 installations of 60 hives, and each hive home to about 45,000 bees, Maness estimates the company has helped install more than 2 million bees all over the region.
Buddha Bee Apiary isn’t the only company to do a host-a-hive program. Maness started the company after working with Bee Downtown, which installs and maintains beehives on corporate campuses in North Carolina. “It was amazing to experience this one-on-one interaction with people who have never had this experience with bees, and see their eyes light up and just be absolutely in awe at how beautiful the inner workings of a beehive are,” he says.
He wanted to bring that directly to people at their homes. Other beekeepers have done the same. Best Bees manages hives for both corporations and residential homes in Boston, Houston, Chicago, and other cities. Hive hosting has also been done across Australia and in the U.K.
Maness hopes this model continues to expand, and that more people are open to keeping bees—not just to help the bee population, but to help bees be better understood.
“People have this understanding that bees are threatened from an article they read or news story they saw, but they don’t have that deeper understanding of what exactly the challenges are that bees are facing,” he says. “When we bring this program to your yard we try to unveil that deeper meaning—those things that are happening in the hive and then what’s going on on the world scale, the U.S. scale. We try to bring some insight and light to that, so that people are more educated advocates.”