Gateway: Living

Business is buzzing for Gig Harbor-based hive adoption service

Backyard beekeeper and Bee Maven founder Jonathan Tuite looks over a panel of Carniolan honey bees at Bee Maven headquarters in Gig Harbor.
Backyard beekeeper and Bee Maven founder Jonathan Tuite looks over a panel of Carniolan honey bees at Bee Maven headquarters in Gig Harbor. Staff photographer

A buzz is beginning to spread about Bee Maven, a new beehive hive adoption service based in Gig Harbor.

The business, founded in November 2014 by backyard beekeeper Jonathan Tuite, provides established beehives and maintenance to customers.

“(Beekeeping) is a profession that’s been around for thousands of years,” Tuite said, adding that one of the goals of his hobby-turned-business is to educate people. “There’s so many misconceptions about bees out there.”

To increase exposure for his business — and for bees — Tuite visited local farmer’s markets over the summer, bringing along an observation hive to allow people the chance to see the bees in action.

The first misconception that he is quick to correct is the idea that a hive nearby increases the chances for getting stung.

Tuite maintains five hives at his home — also known as Bee Maven headquarters — and 10 more in an apiary on a local farm, and he hardly ever sees bees hanging around.

“People think their kids are going to get stung, but that’s just not the case at all.” Tuite explained. “They’re just not aggressive.”

Tamara Kent, one of Bee Maven’s first customers, agrees.

“I can work in my garden and they don’t bother me at all,” she said. “I have (the hive) set up to watch them from my porch.”

A single hive can pollinate a three-mile area. Kent said she can definitely notice the difference the bees have made in her Browns Point garden.

“(The hive) has made my garden last twice as long as in the past. I still have summer flowers blooming and it’s October,” she said.

Kent became attracted to the idea of hosting a hive from a long-held desire to be a “quasi-urban gardener.”

Her experience with Bee Maven and Tuite has been nothing but positive.

“Being brand new to (beekeeping), Jon has been fantastic,” she said.

Tuite stops by about once a month to feed the bees and inspect the hive, providing maintenance as needed. During the visits Kent has the option to participate in an “In-Hive Experience” where she can don a bee suit and join Tuite in an instructional exploration of the hive.

“I’m trying to make it definitely worthwhile to the customers,” said Tuite, who includes the “In-Hive Experiences” as part of the hive adoption package he sells.

Other aspects of the package include the hive and bees, maintenance and, of course, honey.

It takes about a year for the hive to start producing enough honey to harvest. In general, a hive will produce between 50 to 200 pounds of honey in a year, with 200 pounds being a very high production year.

“I’m really looking forward to my first batch of honey next year,” Kent said.

Tuite, who also works as a business intelligence consultant, has another goal for his business.

“We need to change the way we do beekeeping,” he said.

About 40 percent of the hives in the United States were lost last year to Colony Collapse Disorder, Tuite said.

This loss is believed to be caused by a mixture of climate change, the prevalence of Verroa mites, the use of neonicotinoid-based pesticides and the way humans handle the hives.

To better understand the underlying causes for these losses, and hopefully prevent them, Tuite is combining his passion for beekeeping with his experience with software to collect hive data using monitors he’s created. He is working closely on this project with entomologist Daniel Najera, a professor at Green River Community College and trustee of the Puget Sound Beekeepers Association, and a team of scientists from Green River.

Tuite, also a trustee of the association, said they have about 50 other beekeepers on board to participate in hive monitoring.

Bee Maven was founded as a Social Purpose Corporation to reflect Tuite’s dedication to building a company that is mutually beneficial to both his customers and his bees.

“It’s been such an adventure starting my own business,” Tuite said. “I think I’ve picked the perfect place to do this (in Gig Harbor). These are exactly the customers I would have chosen.”

Tuite plans to keep his business centered around the Gig Harbor area, where his wife, Kate, grew up and the couple now live.

Bee Maven has 10 customers, including two businesses, signed up for hive adoptions next year, with hive placement scheduled for March.

Andrea Haffly: 253-358-4125