B the Keeper: Brandon Reynolds on the Zen of Beekeeping
Written by Chris Pasion, graduate assistant to The Graduate School.
What does it take to be a beekeeper? Brandon Reynolds, a UC alum and local sustainability expert, argues that the key to successful beekeeping is patience. “You have to have patience for the bees to show you their world,” he says. “And also, patience with yourself, because when was the last time you used all five of your senses to do anything?”
Brandon’s first encounter with beekeeping was in 2014 during a co-op experience. He split his days between working at a startup accelerator, finishing his marketing degree, and gardening at Carriage House Farm. At the farm, he worked alongside a beekeeper that tended to the farm’s pollinator habitats. Brandon says, “He’d have on this big old hazmat chemical spill suit and be digging in these boxes. At this time all I knew about bees was that they stung you and that they made honey. I was like ‘Alright, that guy’s weird.’ That chapter closes, I graduate, story is done.”
Brandon spent the next few years post-graduation working in advertising and giving little thought about pollinators. But with the news reporting on the decline of bee populations and the dwindling global food supply, beekeeping came back to the forefront of Brandon’s mind. He says, “In 2017 I left my job in advertising because I knew that I wanted to do something that was sustainable.” He called up Richard Stewart, the farm manager and beekeeper at Carriage House Farm, and asked to learn more about beekeeping.
The Origins of B the Keeper
Brandon’s beekeeping apprenticeship was largely hands-off aside from the core fundamentals, which gave him the opportunity to immerse himself and learn by firsthand experience. Beekeeping engages all of the senses; you have to taste the honey, propolis (a sticky substance that bees use to seal their hive), and wax, smell the pheromones to make sure the bees are content with you being there, and see, touch, and listen to the hive all throughout the act of keeping. “If you’re moving too fast, you’re going to get stung,” he says. “People act like the bees are bad, but it’s your fault because you were rushing.”
Michael Bush’s The Practical Beekeeper: Beekeeping Naturally, a guidebook that some beekeepers consider to be too "hands-off” to have any modern application, became Brandon’s guiding text as he learned. “His book is all about how a lot of beekeepers micromanage their bees because they want to make sure they survive,” he says. “But if you work with their natural biology instead of trying to do everything for them, they experience higher immunity and a greater resistance to disease. They manage their own food stores and populations, and they live longer than when people try to medicate and micromanage.”
Carriage House Farm’s bees were used to being fed and frequently tended to, so Brandon made it an early goal to switch them over to a more natural system that required less human intervention. When he did so, instead of helping the colonies flourish, this switch ended up killing a vast majority of the farm’s bees, causing many of the colonies to collapse.
With the apiaries nearly empty, Brandon spent the next few years rebuilding the population by catching wild swarms out of trees, yards, and public spaces. Now the farm has more bees than they had before he started beekeeping, all of which are sustained on a natural beekeeping system. “I lost a ton of bees,” he says, “but in the process of getting them all back, I’ve learned that those bees dying was probably one of the best things that could’ve happened to me.” Today, Brandon is one of the region's most sustainable beekeepers and his methods tie into his passion for permaculture.
Bringing the Bees Back to Cincinnati
Brandon’s beekeeping journey has since expanded far past his early days of learning on the farm. What was once a hobby has quickly grown into one of the most promising sustainability-focused startups in the city: B the Keeper. “B the Keeper used to just be Brandon keeping bees places,” he says. “It has turned into this urban revitalization company where we work with businesses, municipalities, and residences to plant pollinator habitat on their land.” Rather than spending all of his time beekeeping, Brandon does consultation work to plant pollinator habitats around the city. And the growth has been immense.
Earlier this year, Brandon took home 1st place at Flywheel’s SustainableCincy startup accelerator. The program will allow Brandon to bring the bees to more people and places all over the city, from homeowners to big corporations. He recently installed a pollinator habitat at Hughes High School, and when asked if he has his eyes on anywhere else in Clifton, he says, “Bees at UC is a dream project.” And in addition to planting pollinator habitats around the city, Brandon also collaborated with Rhinegeist on the Sun Hunny ale, a limited batch of 15 kegs that sold out in three days. The beer was made with locally sourced honey and proceeds went to the Civic Garden Center.
While collaborating on a beer with one of the biggest breweries in Ohio is an amazing achievement, Brandon’s main goal with B the Keeper is to show the everyday person that they can make a difference and live more sustainably. So what can we do? We don’t all need to quit our jobs to become beekeepers, but one easy thing to do is plant more flowers (bees are most attracted to blue, yellow, and purple flowers). Not only will this beautify your property, but bees and other pollinators will love it too. From there it’s all about making small changes to your consumption and generating less waste. “That’s been a real key: how do you make this going green movement something where the regular person is like ‘I can do that,’” he says. “That’s what we’re really trying to tackle with B the Keeper.” Bee ready to see big things, because Brandon is just getting started.