Anne Yarbrough Photography | Bill the Rooftop Beekeeper

Bill the Rooftop Beekeeper

February 06, 2015  •  1 Comment

     For the past couple of years, I've enjoyed vacationing at Anna Maria Island with Walker at his family's beach house.  We try to escape there anytime we can afford to.  As a honey lover and obsessor, I noticed there were bees on a rooftop beside our favorite restaurant, Duffy's.  We just admired it for a while, but during our most recent October visit I was sick with a cold and remembered those hives.  I asked local Rick Lewis if he'd met the neighbor and he said "yeah that guy is really nice!"  So, Rick took me over and introduced me to Bill the beekeeper and I asked if I could do a blog on him and take some photos.  He gave me a huge jar of delicious honey with bee pollen in it and said yes just to get in touch, and I swear that local honey cured me.  I don't have photos of that honey because it's gone... but I swear by it. Also, with the delicious comb he offered us, I converted 9 year old Bella Watkins to loving honey!

     As I'm inspired about getting into backyard beekeeping because of most importantly... the need for bees, then, my love for the taste and benefits of honey, I know nothing about it besides watching youtube vids and asking around, plus an excellent book Walker bought me for Christmas about it. 

     Let me elaborate a little about my love for honey... I put honey on everything.  I think the 2 of us go through a huge mason jar of honey every two weeks from bulk at the Daily Grocery.  I like honey in my coffee - it is WAY better than sugar.  If a restaurant doesn't have honey, most of the time I silently judge it, especially if they sell coffee.  I was very excited to see it on most restaurant tables out west.  I've always warmed up old mac & cheese with honey, makes it taste like new. I put it on french fries, eggs, chicken, fish, and pork. Apple and cheese sandwiches are excellent with a honey base, then there's peanut butter and honey, bananas and honey, and cheese toast with an underbelly of honey.  My salad dressing is composed of olive oil, honey, and lime. Recalling... I think the first time I fell in love with honey was on fried chicken.  We'd always pick up some KFC or Maryland Fried Chicken on Sundays after church and bring it to Mema Yarbrough's house to eat with the family.  I would be so disappointed if dad forgot to ask for honey packets. I now take a travel vial everywhere I go just in case.

     Well, Bill the rooftop beekeeper let me suit up with him and watch and question him during our most recent trip to Anna Maria Island.  Q & A at the bottom of the photos!


Here's Bill













Lisbeth, Bill's wife, helps "suit" me up for the bees





I realize I look even shorter than I really am in a bee suit... and the suit my mom purchased for me has an extra long crotch for some reason which is pretty hilarious. Forget looking cute... it's all about the honey anyway.  Thanks Marc Mauldin for the photos!





Bill told me once I was on the roof and around the bees with him, that I had the wrong gloves on.  Luckily there were no mishaps.  I realize a suit really isn't needed for most beekeepers but I'll probably suit up... just in case.









And here are a bunch of photos I took watching Bill with his Bees last October...



mmmm delicious honeycomb!











A view from Bill's roof, showing the back of Duffy's restaurant



Bruce, Rick, and Polly of Duffy's waving at us!





A view of the Queen's cell from one of the hives



Looks like a boiled peanut






























Can you find the Royal Queen?



a close up of the capped brood, which is the eggs, larvae and pupae that will become fully-grown bees.





Bill hands us down a delicious plate of honeycomb



Bill's wife Lisbeth


What's your favorite recipe with honey?
I make 'mead'  which is essentially fermented honey, which is about as strong as beer.  I caramelize the honey in batches, and then use it to make 1/2 gallon at a time of mead which we drink up slowly.

What made you get into beekeeping?
My uncle, Woodson, (whose farm is now called "Ashford farm" off of Ashford Rd. off of Flat Rock Rd.) used to keep bees at his farm.  When I went to visit him, I would see his hives, and it was really interesting for me.
(Yes... these are the Ashford Manor Ashfords right over in Watkinsville, small world!)

Where & when did you have your first bees?
My first bees of my own were in France, while I was living in the Alps.

What location had the best tasting honey in your experience?
The honey in the Alps was really good, but my all time favorite has been this crop, this year on Anna Maria Island.  Each season of each year has been VERY DIFFERENT!

Have you always used a suit and how many times have you been stung?
I was given a suit by my mom for Christmas 14 months ago.  Before that I used the homemade veil you saw me use when I put you in the suit from my mom.  Overall, I'd estimate I've been stung 6 or 7 times in all the time I've been a beekeeper.

Have you had to capture your bees after they've swarmed and left one of your hives?
When bees swarm, usually only 1/2 leave, and the others stay home and regrow.  This is how bees reproduce.  They split their colony in two, and 1/2 go to start a new colony.  Yes, I have captured swarms and put them in a new hive, but usually if I want another hive, I simply split a strong hive I have, and let the bees who don't get the queen make a new queen for themselves.

What varietals of blooms do you think your bees are getting from your current location?
I have NO idea!  On a residential island, you get a little bit of everything, in different proportions each season.  This is why I think my honey tastes so different all the time.

Do you make things from the wax?
Yes, I usually make a beeswax, olive oil, and vitamin E hand and lip cream, which I put in Altoids mint tins.  One tin lasts a family member 1-2 years, or until he/she loses it.

Do you have a crazy story or weird phenomena or interesting things you've noticed in your experience with bees?
Only one mildly interesting story.  Once, I spilled some ash from the smoker inside a box, and I bent down to blow the ash off the tops of the frames.  As soon as I blew, the bees went crazy!  I realized that I set off their instinct to attack in case a bear (or other mammal invader) was in their hive huffing and puffing while rooting around and eating honey.  I didn't get stung, but that is the most stingers I've ever had to pull out of my clothes!

What's your favorite meal at Duffy's?  (the awesome restaurant right next door to Bill's house)
My favorite meal at Duffy's has to be one of their world famous burgers!  I'm gonna say a blue cheese hamburger...


Rick Lewis(non-registered)
Awesome Anne! I learned more about my friend Bill!! Can't wait to see you guy's again.
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