Norwich English professor has a sweet hobby on the side

Professor Patricia Ferreira handling her bee hives in Burlington.

Professor Patricia J. Ferreira is a world literature professor at Norwich University, but in her spare time, she has a fascinating second profession, as a beekeeper and a member of the Vermont Beekeepers Association.

Ferreira’s unusual interest in bees came after her education. A native of Boston, Mass., she graduated from Keene State University in New Hampshire and then continued her studies at the University of Vermont and McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

“I went to Keene State University as an undergrad and the University of Vermont as a graduate student and McGill university in Montreal,” said Ferreira. She was working as a journalist when an interview with a beekeeper sparked her interest in the world of bees and how beekeepers maintain hives and sell the honey.

“When I first came out of college I was a journalism major and so I had ended up interviewing a beekeeper, and so I was able to put on the beekeeping suit and all that business and I just find the bees to be so fascinating,” said Ferreira.

Ferreira became a beekeeper after signing up for a beekeeping workshop that lasted for three weeks.

“I quit (the journalist job) but I always had the bees in the back of my head so then eight years ago, there was an advertisement in Burlington where I live, it was to do a co-op there and a class workshop to learn about beekeeping. So I just said okay I’ll take it.”

Bees have been a part of her life ever since.

“My favorite part about beekeeping is that a colony of bees is all women, but everyone has a job in the colony and it doesn’t even matter, it’s not a monarchy and there’s a queen bee. If the queen isn’t doing her job properly the other bees will kill her and make a new queen,” said Ferreira.

Being a beekeeper isn’t always easy when it comes to handling the bees – sometimes it can be really painful if the insects are not handled with proper care.

“The worst part about beekeeping is getting stung; I’ve been stung hundreds of times. It doesn’t hurt as much as it used to. When I first started keeping bees it hurt more but the longer you keep bees,1 the more immune you get to the bees.”

But sometimes, she added, an allergic reaction to the stings can still pop up.

“When you keep bees you have to be really careful with them and be gentle. You can’t go into a hive with any kind of anxiety or aggression because they sense it off of you right away,” said Ferreira.

When handling bees you have to adapt to their culture and be a bee. The bees tend to know the aggression you have and how you feel, she contends after years of working with them.

“You got to move yourself away from your reality and when you’re in their world you have to take on the way they behave, which is pretty calm and methodical, and a honey bee won’t sting you unless they’ve been provoked,” said Ferreira.

She keeps her hives by her house downtown in the Queen City.

“I live in the inner city of Burlington Vermont, so my bees are city bees. I keep them right out in front of my house in their hives,” said Ferreira.

Ask her about her bees and she can tell you a lot about their lives and behaviors. Honey bees can survive in many types of weather and can even survive in the coldest winter weather that Vermont has to offer, she noted.

“Bees do not hibernate during the winter, they stay alive in the hive and what they are doing is flapping their wings and they are keeping the hive (warm) even in the dead of a Vermont winter.”

Adopting penguin tactics, the bees huddle around their leader, Ferreira explained. “Even when it’s twenty-below they keep the hive at about 80 degrees, so their wings are flapping and they all get into one big ball and the queen is in the middle of that ball and all the bees are keeping her warm because she is the one that is going to make more of them.”

Her honey bees normally produce up to 80 pounds of honey a year and Ferreira sells it for about $9 dollars a pound to residents in Vermont and faculty members and staff at Norwich.

English Professor Patricia Ferreira’s bees at work in Burlington.

Ferreira has received many great compliments from her customers. “There are many of Norwich faculty and people from Northfield that swear my Burlington honey is the best they’ve ever had,” she said.

Ferreira prefers her bee made honey over Vermont’s other famous sweet, maple syrup; it’s freshly-made, natural, raw honey with no extra artificial ingredients, she said.

“My honey is pure honey, nothing added; the only people that add stuff to their honey is big corporate honey producers such as SueBee honey or Chinese honey,” said Ferreira, noting commercial honey is adulterated and processed.

“What they’ve done to that honey is that they’ve heated it, and once you heat honey it takes away all the good nutritional value, so you should never heat honey unless you’re using it for cooking,” said Ferreira.

Ferreira’s interactions with her hives leaves her impressed and humbled by how important bee’s lives are and how amazing they are.

“The queen is put into the hive and wherever that is, that’s where the other bees want to be. Queen bees don’t grow in the wild anymore, that’s one of the saddest things about the way that we treat the world,” said Ferreira.

Wild bees are harder to come by these days, so beekeepers rely on buying them from bee breeders.

“It’s really hard to find wild bees, so there’s people that breed bees so what you would do is order a package or colony and it usually has about 10,000 bees in the colony and then you put them into their hive.” In just a few months’ time, that number can grow to 60,000-80,000, she said.

The honeybees collect nectar and pollen which they turn into honey to maintain the hive in winter.

“The bees feed on their own honey. Nectar is protein to them, so once they get the nectar deep inside their stomach and regurgitate it the honey is actually puke. In the winter the bees need 80 pounds of honey to survive on during the winter since there are no flowers to get pollen from,” said Ferreira.

Over the past eight years of bee-keeping, Ferreira has gained experience and confidence in handling and taking care of her bees.

“I think I’m a lot more comfortable with them over the years. When I first had them I had some anxiety about them like what I was going to do once I got them, but the longer I’ve had them the more I see about how they live and how they are.”

Her hives are currently settled into the long haul of Vermont’s winter, and that is one thing she does worry about.

“I’m a little worried about both of my colonies making it through this winter,” said Ferreira.

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