Charles Wilkin: bee whisperer
Here in the Upper Delaware River region, we love our street festivals—like much of rural America. One of the many things that sets us apart is a unique perspective on subject matter. Communities gather to participate in wonderful fairs, often accompanied by a parade, replete with costumed revelers celebrating everything from tractors to trout. Even a salute to flying saucers soaring over the Hudson Valley attracts thousands annually to Pine Bush, NY, and Narrowsburg is no stranger to presenting distinctive street fairs.
A few years ago, local beekeeper Charles Wilkin heard that Narrowburg’s Joan Santo and Milanville’s Pamela Mayer were planning to launch a new kind of street festival with honeybees as the theme. Both women are actively involved with beautification programs in their respective communities and concerned about the impact of global warming and chemical pesticides and their effect on the bee population, which has become pandemic in recent years.
“Yes, Pamela and Joan came up with this great idea and I instantly wanted to be involved,” Wilkin told me when I asked about the plight of the honey bee. “In our shared interest of involving everyone in the community, I asked if we might be able entertain and educate simultaneously, and the ladies were instantly interested in combining the two. What could have been a simple street fair was suddenly something more: an opportunity to share information with our neighbors, while having a great time in the process.”
Artist/beekeeper Wilkin started 2 Queens Honey in 2008 because he was “looking for danger, and no one wanted to join me in skydiving—so I chose beekeeping instead,” he declared with a chuckle. “I quickly discovered that bees are not dangerous at all, but incredibly gentle creatures that are so important to the world, and this life that we live. To this day, bees and beekeeping continue to inspire my art and resolve that a world without honeybees could not exist.”
What better way then, for Santo, Mayer and Wilkin to accomplish their goal, “along with a slew of worker bees,” all sharing a hive mentality, than the Narrowsburg Honey Bee Fest, to be held from 12 noon to 5 p.m. this Saturday, September 23. Wilkin gave me some background on its inception.
“It all started with a class in New York City that attracted my attention,” he recalled. “At the time, my partner and I were weekenders, and our property in Narrowsburg seemed like a perfect spot to develop as a home for a hive or two—and so it began,” he said with a sigh. “But it wasn’t as easy as I might have originally thought. The first year was a dismal failure, and it was difficult to get past the frustration over keeping the bees alive and thriving. It took several years to master, but I never gave up. It’s my passion.”
At present, Wilkin has 15 hives on the property and has set up “bee yards” scattered around the county, on farms owned by friends and neighbors who expressed interest in having hives. A successful hive location is dependent on a number of things: a good water source, open fields, seasonal varieties of plants for the bees to forage and more.
Naturally, the queen rules, and her work maintaining the hive while controlling her workers is never done. Honeybees have a short life span and at the height of summer only have about six weeks to contribute to the hive, each one supporting nearly 60,000 bees. During the winter months, the hive forms a ball inside and the population dwindles to closer to 10,000, the queen stops laying eggs and concentrates on maintaining the output of honey. At the Narrowsburg Honey Bee Fest, interested parties can attend panel discussions on a variety of topics and all are open to the general public at no charge.
“The entire event is free,” Wilkin said, “and this year we have an incredible array of honey-related vendors, along with a parade, a one-mile ‘Fun Run,’ some very special guests, and a costume contest with cash prizes for adults and children. The festival is a family fun event and while we are not attempting to make it into the Guinness Book of Records this year, we are absolutely encouraging everyone to dress up in their best bee outfits! Be creative,” Wilkin exclaimed “and come on out for what promises to bee a fantastic event!”