On August 16, 2023

The secret lives of Killington’s honeybees


By Brooke Geery

 Tucked into a wildflower-filled field just off lower Killington Resort’s Great Eastern trail, several hundred thousand bees are hard at work. They’re in various stages of life, from hatching to metamorphosis to learning the ropes around the hives. The adults are busily collecting pollen and nectar, carrying it back to the boxes where it will be converted into fresh, delicious Vermont honey. The bee’s work is integral in maintaining a healthy natural environment and they are actively involved in the resort’s  mission to “Play Forever.”

For the past 12 or so years, Matt Meservey has been tending to the swarms. He currently keeps five total bee yards, each with several hives around the town of Killington. The four boxes near the Skyeship base are adorned with designs honoring the different departments at the ski resort such as a gondola and ski patrol symbol. Meservey’s former careers include working in lifts and snowmaking at the resort, and he plans to add even more recognition for additional departments over time.

Each box in the apiary houses a unique swarm with its own queen. She spends her time laying eggs—laying up to a million over her three-year lifespan—while the workers not assigned to be part of her protective entourage do the collection and production of honey. Their aim is to produce enough honey to burn and keep the swarm warm throughout the winter.

“The irony is the bees that are collecting the pollen and nectar now won’t survive to actually use the honey,” he said.

Each apiary is surrounded by an electric fence, necessary to protect them from the many bears in the area. While bears do like honey, it’s actually the bee larvae they enjoy the most and are more than willing to knock over a hive to get to the good stuff.

“Last fall I had a bear get in here and tip everything over,” Meservey recalled. “I don’t begrudge them; they’re just being bears. I never lost a whole yard, but I’ve seen those pictures and it’s heartbreaking. I look and see 800 hours’ worth of hard work constructing and building these boxes and the frames and a bear can reduce it to nothing in no time at all.”

In late July, Meservey does what he can to keep the hives healthy and thriving. Many of the currently blooming flowers don’t produce nectar, so he supplements it with a manmade syrup for the time being. He also drops off medicine to prevent mites, which are the bees’ number one natural enemy. An infested swarm will not survive, especially once winter hits. He’s happy with the health of the hives at this check.

The bright flowers that dot the mountainside are always changing, and soon the fall flowers that are rich with nectar will begin to bloom.

“When those fall plants, starting with the goldenrod, asters, Joe Pye weed and ironweed start to flower, then it comes in buckets,” he said.

Meservey likes to check on the hives every five days if he can. He says he keeps regular tabs, “to interrupt something that I don’t like or help recover from something that I didn’t expect. You can overmanage them for sure. If you examine your bees too much they’ll leave.” 

He keeps a notebook to remind himself what’s happening at each hive.

Guests can get up close and personal with a beehive at the Grand Hotel, but that one doesn’t produce honey, he explained. However, honey from the Skyeship hives and the others can be purchased in the Grand Cafe. The different tones of the honey, which also have slightly different flavors, are due to something called flower constancy. Bees will stick  with the same flower for their entire productive lives. Meservey likes to keep these different combs separate to truly appreciate the uniqueness of the product.

“I enjoy it. It’s like skiing. It’s one of those things that’s a personal challenge. It has depth to it that defies words. The more you do it, the more you understand, the more you’re capable, the more you want to do it,” he said.

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