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On the Job: Meet Beekeeper Hilary Kearney

The gal behind Girl Next Door Honey gets down to bees-ness


Photos by Paul Body

Rule No. 1 is, don’t upset the bees.

“One thing that makes them angry is when you lift and move them,” Hilary Kearney says. Which is too bad, since that’s a big part of her job. Thankfully, she has gear—and eight years of experience—on her side.

Aside from her armor of a bee suit, gloves, and smoker, Kearney’s cool and calm demeanor is her best defense to keep the pollinators happy and reduce stings—though when you’re working with this many, this often, a certain amount is unavoidable, and she’s stopped keeping track of how many she’s received.

The gal behind Girl Next Door Honey has her hands in hives all around the county, from her own backyard in National City to residential rooftops near downtown, answering house calls for removals and delivering the hives (in her Prius) to homes pleased to host them with her management.

Kearney got turned on to the trade in college, when she bought a beekeeping book for her fiancé, who was taking an entomology class at the time. She ended up reading it, and took up beekeeping as a hobby while finishing her degree in studio art; she launched her business in 2012.

She specializes in natural or “foundationless” beekeeping, which means when she rehouses bees into a new hive box, she gives them just the framework to build their own honeycomb, rather than a premade plastic comb to build from.

Honey harvesting is just one part of her business—education being the primary aspect—but it’s one of her favorites. “Eating a chunk of honeycomb is one of the best things in life,” she says.

Because of the drought, she wasn’t able to produce a substantial amount of honey until last year. Now her living room is full of jars. Another reason for reduced production is the recent decline in bee populations, which Kearney blames largely on neonicotinoid-containing pesticides that weaken bees’ immune systems.

To that effect, education and outreach has grown into the real buzz of her business, which hosts classes for adults, kids, and fellow beekeepers.

Then there’s Kearney’s platform of 50,000 Instagram followers, where she’s able to “beek out” (i.e., geek out) with other keepers and educate with fun facts. Like, did you know it takes one worker bee’s entire life to make just seven drops of honey?

She’s even coined the hashtag #queenspotting, a riff on Where’s Waldo, for finding a hive’s queen. She’s adapted the name into a book, slated for release within the next year, that she hopes could inspire other women to enter her trade—because, as her business proves, “You don’t have to be bearded and over 50 to work with bees.”

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