Germantown woman builds a better beehive

Posted: August 10, 2014

NORTHWEST PHILLY is buzzing - in a very literal sense.

Just ask Anaiis Salles, the Germantown beekeeper who has built the better beehive at her base of operations at the Awbury Arboretum, on Awbury Road near Chew Avenue in East Germantown.

"Philly itself is such a green city," Salles said, "but in Germantown and Mount Airy, we have lots of gardeners, and it creates a very good place for bees, with plenty of foraging."

Last June, Salles, the founder and operator of Awbury's Green Sanctuary Community Apiary, won a $15,000 federal research grant through the University of Vermont.

She used that funding to create a new beehive, one that's both healthier for the bees inside and easier for the beekeepers who have to lug it around.

Salles debuted the Melissa - that's the Greek word for "honey bee" - shortly before last winter, and happily reports that in the months since the polar vortex thawed, her apiary's 540,000 bees are thriving.

"I wanted to design a hive that would be easier for senior beekeepers or people who didn't have time on their hands," she said.

Unlike the more traditional Langstroth hives, which are essentially glorified filing cabinets for bees, the Melissa hives are lightweight and stacked side by side - making them much easier for keepers to pull out and extract honey.

Salles says her invention is also healthier for the bees: The hives are exposed on either side, allowing for better airflow, and are made with natural beeswax, as opposed to the Langstroth's plastic or wax bases.

"What I do as a beekeeper is about the bees first and harvesting honey second," she said. "And this makes that much easier."

Salles was stung by beekeeping a few years ago, a process she calls "the most elegant seduction ever."

After reading about the decline of global honey-bee populations, she was surreptitiously visited by a swarm of the insects in her backyard. She took some beekeeping classes, brought a proposition to the folks at Awbury, and the rest is history.

Now, she teaches classes of her own at the apiary and helps raise awareness for honeybees through the 130-member Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild.

"Anaiis is a member who's doing some pretty fantastic stuff and there are lots of other interesting initiatives going on with other beekeepers," guild president Suzanne Matlock said.

Matlock, a Mount Airy resident, also lives in the city's cradle for active beekeeping, and praised Philly as a welcoming environment for the flying honey factories.

"Bees are a crucial part of our entire food system," she said. "I'm proud to live in an urban area that creates such a fertile ground for keeping them."

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