‘It’s like therapy for me’: Somerville farmer teaches beekeeping

As spring arrives and the flowers start to bloom, Somerville farmer Larry Johnson is hoping to share his passion for beekeeping with others.

From March 27 to Oct. 9, Johnson will be hosting a bi-weekly class on Mondays that aims to teach others the skills needed for beekeeping. Topics discussed in Johnson’s classes include safety protocols, gaining comfort in handling bees, swarm collecting, honey extraction, and even candle and lip balm making among others.

“Our main focus is just getting everybody’s comfort level of having a plan in order to keep the bees alive,” Johnson said. “I do everything that I can to try to help build everybody’s comfort level up and educate them with what I know.”

Johnson’s students come for a variety of reasons and have a wide range of skill levels. Some are looking to sell honey and wax, others want to use bees as natural pollinators or have an interest in re-growing the depleted bee population, and some like Johnson do it for a little of everything.

“It’s like therapy for me to go out and kind of get away from things and just listen to the bees buzz and see what they’re doing,” Johnson said.

A two-year beekeeping teacher and a lifelong learner, Johnson said he’s been working with bees since he was a kid on his family farm. Growing up, Johnson helped his father’s 45 colonies of bees by collecting swarms, extracting honey and wax, and helping with carpentry among his daily tasks.

As natural pollinators, bees were welcome additions to the Johnson farm, however, as the bees needed more and more maintenance, keeping them was a struggle, and they soon fell out of favor at Johnson’s farm.

It wasn’t until two years ago when Johnson was talking to a fellow farmer with his son at a fairgrounds event that the topic of beekeeping came up again. By the time it was over, Johnson found himself the owner of a colony of bees once more.

“I was like ‘Well, I’ve kind of wanted to get into beekeeping as well,” Johnson said. “And lo and behold, this guy offered to give us a free colony of bees to give us started.”

After learning how to catch bees using a swarm trap, Johnson said he added four more colonies within a matter of days.

After becoming familiar with beekeeping, Johnson said he’s become somewhat of a local beehive nest removal expert. Anytime a friend or a neighbor needs help, he’s more than willing to oblige.

His price for removal? A donation of any amount that goes towards taking care of his own bees. He’s received anywhere from nothing to $1,000 for his efforts.

“I really don’t have a set rate, I just take donations, to help go toward getting the bees taken care of,” Johnson said. “There’s an issue with honeybees, and they’re very important to the human race.”

As an added bonus, after some time and effort, Johnson is able to integrate the former unwanted hives into his own colonies. Today, he’s the proud owner of 30 colonies.

“The main thing for me is if anybody’s had that spark of interest, to not be afraid to ask questions,” Johnson said. “Don’t let the fact that these things have stingers hold you back from getting involved with something that’s pretty cool and life-changing.”

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