When you first meet Mary, you can’t help but be entranced by her grace. She’s petite yet undeniably strong, both physically, and as we will learn, emotionally. She captivates you by her stride and her extremely knowledgeable mind. Mary Woltz is the founder, owner and operator of Bees’ Needs, an artisanal honey company based in Sag Harbor. The honey is raw, unheated and unfiltered, seasonally extracted, bottled on demand and available in three seasonal varieties. And, did we mention that it tastes delicious? It might just be the best honey you’ll ever have.
This honey is amazing. Not only because it’s delicious, but because it helps us sleep better at night, makes our hair and nails oh so shiny, and we relish the love and care that goes into each bottle. There is something really magical about honey when you learn about what it takes to actually produce one teaspoon, let alone an entire jar. We could get into the numbers — the staggering numbers that will make you literally eat every last drop of honey in that bottle of yours. But, for now let’s talk about Mary’s small-scale beekeeping process that uses sensitive and non-invasive care to promote the bee’s survival. Because that’s how we first really learned and became captivated by Mary and her honey.
We met Mary and her artist husband, Rob on a balmy afternoon in August at Bruce Spruce Farm. The sun was shining and the breeze was barely there. We sat with her on some idle buckets in the barn and interviewed her to learn about her background, to understand her business and to (selfishly) spend some quality time with someone who is so deeply inspiring. After we finished interviewing her, she showed us around the property and explained the staggering process of collecting the honey, extracting it, bottling it, labeling it and distributing it so it ends up on your kitchen counter. When we were finished with our interview, she and Rob showed us to a piece of land where she had some hives. She showed us how she first enters the area by lighting a smoker infused with lavender to let the bees know she is there. Then as gently as possible, she enters their space. No guards, no hats, no mesh. Just her and her bees. She talks to them sweetly as if she knows them on a first name basis.
The manual labor she endures all day is remarkable. If you want to get in great shape, we recommend beekeeping! Lifting 40 pound boxes, digging the hives out of snow, carrying boxes of honey… there is nothing easy about this job. Her hours are long. She tells us she’s not much of a morning person, but that her days start as soon as she wakes up and then usually end around 10 or 11 pm when she comes home to have a warm meal prepared by her “dear, amazing husband” Rob. Throughout the day, she snacks on the honey drenched bees wax. She says it gives her the energy she needs to keep up with the work.
We knew it was time to take our footage and go home when the sun was setting and Mary was looking longingly at her hives. She wanted to get back to work after all. Spending the day with Mary, Rob and the bees, we couldn’t help but fall in love with the way they not only love and respect each other, but how much they respect her business of honey and taking care of the bees. It’s almost an understatement to label our experience with Mary as simply inspirational. It feels a bit more apropos to label Mary the Mother Teresa of bees. We can’t but bee a bit speechless when it comes to Mary. So we’ll let her do the talking:
Because Mary is filled with life-enriching quotes, we pulled a few of our favorites below :: be sure to check out the video as well!
On finding her passion…
“I spent the better part of my life looking for my passion. I’ve sought it in any number of different directions. I’ve lived in Australia. I’ve lived in France. I’ve lived In New York. I’ve done any number of professions and it was when I went to the Pfeiffer Center in New York, and learned of the difficulty of the honey bee’s from Gunther Hauk (author of Towards Saving the Honey Bee) and he described to me how we had lost over half of our honey bee population in the late 80’s due to the inadvertent introduction to two parasite mites. And as I learned of the importance of honey bees for not only producing honey and pollination, but for the health of our earth, I decided that was about as good as a thing to devote my life to as anything.”
On not taking shortcuts…
“I don’t take any shortcuts. And I don’t think they do either. I just feel such a responsibility towards them and I can’t do it well enough for them basically. Because they spare nothing themselves, like I said it’s hard to have bosses who work themselves to death. It’s not a good model! (laughs)”’
On the importance of patience and hard work…
“I can tell you the day it was extracted, The day it was bottled. And I can tell you the hive it came from because I do it that hands on, and slowly. I can’t imagine doing it any other way. It’s such a miraculous product, honey, that the less you do, the better, but you have to do it with love, care and attention. And you can’t do that with 1000 colonies. 60 is running me ragged. But, they are doing a great job. I have a hive right now, it’s the middle of August and she’s produced over 200 pounds of honey and she’s not done yet!”
On just being so grateful to do this…
“I sell honey to support my bee habit. And my responsibility to them, because I mean, let’s face it. Every time I open a hive I am entering into a sacred space and I am introducing myself and the world into this very protected enclosed space and they allow that and that is just wow, you can’t take that for granted. By accepting me, so to say, my responsibility to them is sharing their generosity, the difficulties, the challenges.”
On those numbers…
– it takes 12 bees to make a teaspoon of honey
– stopping at hundreds of flowers each time, one bee takes between 1-29 outings a day
– honey bees must tap 2 million flowers to make a pound of honey
– it takes 50,000 flight miles to produce one pound of honey
– most bees have a 500 mile life span to their wings
– queen bees lay between 12-1500 eggs a day
– honey bees are involved in 1 out of every 3 bites of food
– Since 2006, 30% of our nation’s beehives die every year (this is what is called colony collapse)
On how she stays in the moment….
“I stay in the moment because if I am not, my bees will sting me. They keep me in the moment. If I start wandering they sting me and bring me right back and they are great helpers.”
Purchase a jar for yourself here…
Special thanks to Mary of Bees’ Needs!
Video by Tara Sgroi