Column: Local beekeeper is part of a global mission to save bees

Normally, it would never cross my mind to write about World Bee Day. But that was before I spoke to Hilary Kearney, a beekeeper from National City.

To clarify, she’s not an accountant, as some mistakenly thought at first mention. She is a beekeeper, and she gives the profession a certain panache.

After creating her Instagram page using her business name – @girlnextdoorhoney – Kearney became an Insta hit and her popularity soared to over 100,000 followers in a fairly short time. You see, in addition to beekeeper education, she shares fun facts about bees.

Did you know that: bees fly up to five kilometers from their hive to collect pollen; prefer flowering trees to garden flowers; devote each trip to a single type of bloom and are able to recognize patterns and colors. Scientists have taught bees to choose a Picasso work from among Monet’s paintings, Kearney explains.

Amazingly, a worker bee only lives six weeks and produces seven drops of honey in its lifetime.

She is about to publish her third book – strictly about bees, not birds. She blogs. She teaches (before the pandemic shutdown, she taught beekeeping, and more, through the UC San Diego extension).

It supervises beginner beekeepers. She removes unwanted hives from the properties of distressed residents. She manages people’s backyard hives and larger colonies at corporate sites and public institutions, including the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Museum of Natural History.

Kearney compares himself to a traveling pool cleaner. But instead of checking pools, she drives around the county checking more than 60 bee colonies and visiting them at least once a month.

Don’t expect to see her always in the traditional white beekeeper’s astronaut-like costume. She’s a bit of a bee fashionista.

She changes it up, wearing beekeeper clothes created with colorful fabrics and whimsical patterns of flowers and bees, just as medical workers brightened up their drab hospital scrubs.

To keep up with demand, she recently had to build a shipping shed in her backyard where she could handle orders for books, clothing and other beekeeping accessories that she sells online.

But I digress. May 20 was officially World Bee Day. This may not resonate with everyone, but it’s sacred to Comvita, a company that bottles New Zealand’s highly prized Manuka honey. Bees make honey from the pollen of manuka trees, known for their medicinal properties.

Comvita has set a goal of saving 10 million bees worldwide this year, double the number it pledged to save in 2021 when the campaign launched. He again enlisted Kearney this year, along with seven other professional beekeepers, to help him in his rescue mission.

“Climate problems have been killing bees at a staggering rate for several years. A 50% decline in bee colonies in the United States has negatively impacted our ecosystem and the global food supply,” according to a statement from Comvita’s North American base in Santa Barbara.

This decline is fueled by several factors: climate change, loss of food due to weather and habitat changes, viruses, parasites, pesticides and forest fires. Comvita therefore targets wild hives at risk and relocates them to places where they can thrive.

Kearney is a pro at removing and moving hives. She averages 60 to 90 colony relocations a year, but plans 20 more this year for the Comvita rescue project.

She doesn’t just move the hives to a more hospitable location. She transfers them to the properties of her colleagues, friends and students, and monitors them for at least a year to ensure that each hive and its queen bee thrives.

Over the years, Kearney has been called upon to move beehives under sheds and roofs. She has also been tasked with removing them from hollow garden statues, the inside of a boat hull, a jet ski, outdoor furniture and compost bins. In October, she pulled one out of a ceramic Halloween pumpkin. She also removed bees about to colonize in the tower of the Museum of Man in Balboa Park.

Was she bitten? Hundreds of times. In fact, she says her body is now nearly immune to bee stings. She wears protective gear but opts for less protective latex gloves that allow her greater dexterity in opening hives in search of the elusive queen bee – the key to relocation.

If the queen is dead or dying, Kearney replaces her with a healthy queen of the same species purchased from a queen breeding specialist. The displaced queen is then immortalized in resin and transformed into a pendant or a pin by a jeweler friend.

In honor of World Bee Day, Comvita, the suppliers of Manuka honey, is offering 25% off all of its products throughout May at

Kearney doesn’t have a special celebration, though: “To me, every day is bee day.”

About Sherri Flowers

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