BEEKEEPER & LOVE ME ORGANICS
New York City to Ancram, New York
Sha-Na Dahl’s interest in beekeeping began when she started taking herbalism classes in New York City. During her studies, she learned the healing, restorative and holistic qualities of beeswax and honey. Sha-Na began experimenting with beeswax and other ingredients to develop her own line of all-natural body care products, Love Me Organics. She sells her products online and directly to friends and family. When Sha-Na’s friends and coworkers, Evan and Luloo, were asked by their boss, New York City restaurateur Antonio Gomez, to move upstate to run his farm, she figured it would be the perfect location and opportunity to start her first apiary. Sha-Na is a delicate and attentive beekeeper, she talks to her bees, or ‘ladies’ as she calls them, and she burns sage to calm her colonies when she does her routine feedings and checkups. Sha-Na lives half of her time in the country caring for her hives and the other half in New York City making her body care products and working as a waitress. Although Sha-Na Dahl’s journey to the country is still a work in progress her time at Midwinter Farms is spent building a foundation and business that can support her when she is ready to make her permanent move away from the city. (Click here to jump to her interview)
Did you grow up around bees or was it something that you came to on your own?
It was something that I came to on my own. I was stung ten times once while camping in the Sequoias when I was a 12-year-old, so maybe subconsciously I knew bees would circle back into my life somehow. I have always been the outdoorsy type and connected with nature in one way or another, but it wasn’t until about five years ago, when I moved to New York from California, when I began learning about the world of herbalism and the DIY approach to my day-to-day life and how important it was.
What inspired you to bring farming, beekeeping and gardening to your city existence?
During my studies of herbalism I came across a few courses about beekeeping and a class on how to make homemade body care products. From that my body care line, Love Me Organics, was born. I launched in 2011 and have been sourcing beeswax from another supplier, but I was determined to have my own hives one day. I use the beeswax as a base for most of my skincare products and to make candles. Beeswax is actually very beneficial to the skin. It has an irritation potential of zero, it doesn’t clog pores or cause problems and it brings a host of very positive attributes. Honeybees provide a great deal to our lives and, in turn, I wanted to give them a place where they could just be - free from pesticides and the stress that commercial beekeeping causes.
What has been the most challenging part about bringing elements of country living to your urban environment? What has been the most rewarding part?
Finding a rooftop to house my hives was not easy when I became interested in keeping bees. Urban beekeeping was just beginning to really boom here in New York City and I hadn’t quite met anyone that shared the same affinity at the time. My friends and co-workers Evan and Luloo were asked by our boss Antonio Gomez (owner of six restaurants in the city and one in Brooklyn) to become live in farmers in Ancram, New York on the property he had bought last year to provide a farm to table experience. I knew it would be an opportunity to start my apiary because they were going to need bees to help pollinate the garden! Fifty percent of the honey I collect goes to the restaurants and the rest goes to me to do as I please. I plan to sell some and give some as gifts.
I’ll use any extra beeswax for Love Me Organics to make candles, deodorant and creams. Last year was my first year in beekeeping and I started off with two hives for juxtaposition. The season usually starts at the end of March and my bees arrived in late May which I think may have contributed to the loss of one of my hives. This year I have added two more hives to the apiary that came at the end of April this year, so now I manage three colonies.
All the back and forth is a bit challenging because I have to schedule my time up there so if something goes wrong, or if I feel I need to be there to change their feed/box/equipment, I am not always able to get to it right away.
During the Spring/Summer seasons I am up in Ancram pretty much every week. Sometimes it feels like I am a little all-over-the-place with no real footing but once I’m here, the girl’s (bees) remind me of how it's all worth it. It is really magical seeing them build a comb structure so precise and perfect in the dark. Did I mention the honey?
How have your city friends reacted to your part-time life in the country?
Well, being that I live part time in the city and part time up in the country, the reaction I get from most people is that I am living the dream! To have the best of the city and the country really is a dream come true.
It has also made a lot of my friends become more active and aware of these tiny little creatures, their importance to our lives and the devastating effects big agro has on honeybees.
What do you appreciate most about life in the city?
I appreciate the convenience and accessibility. The energy is very contagious so it's hard not to get caught up in it all. I also love the diversity and how such a small island like Manhattan ends up with people from all over the world, temporary or not. In the country it may take a bit longer to get from here to there – but the energy in the country brings me a sense of peace and belonging. I do appreciate each place a little more now that I get to experience both lives - I take less for granted.
Would you ever consider moving to the country full time?
Of course! I am happy that I get to have both right now, but it does get hard not being able to be at the farm at a moment's notice. Maybe in a couple of years I'll make a decision. Even though city beekeeping is thriving, I prefer tending to bees in wide open spaces.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of growing their own food in the city?
It’s easier than one would think! There are so many classes and internships offered on planting window/rooftop gardens and rooftop beekeeping. I took a beekeeping course at the Brooklyn Grange Farm.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
Nature, of course, and my friends. When a friend tells me about something they may want or need - ranging from extra hydration for the skin or a rash or blemish they are trying to rid of - they count on me to whip something up as a opposed to buying some chemical induced commercial product. There are a variety of organic and natural product lines out there but it’s nice to support local small businesses, and especially your friends!
Have you noticed a change in yourself or your work since starting Love Me Organics?
I believe that life is always changing. I've learned to take things as they come, the good and the bad, and to let the bees teach me. I do really enjoy making Love Me Organics products for my friends, family, and myself. I am looking to secure a simple, and sustainable living. This new reverence as a caretaker and steward of these amazing creatures encourages a deeper understanding and interrelationship that we share with all living beings on the Earth. My interest in what I want to accomplish has shifted since I started my business.
Walk us through a typical day in the city? How does it compare to a day on the farm?
In New York City I work as a waitress at one of the restaurants the farm provides for. I live in Brooklyn - but during the Spring and Summer seasons I live half of the week up at the farm, then the other half making body care product, tending to my cat and trying to enjoy the city life.
When tending to my bees, there are a lot of variables to consider before any inspection is made - but intense observation of the honeybees’ behavior - at the entrance, in the hive and out in the field are most important to maintain a healthy colony. The types of hives I have now are Langstroth hives, which consist of 1 deep box (brood chamber) and 10 frames where the bees’ draw out their comb and the queen lays her eggs. These boxes stack vertically and any additional box added would be called a supersedure box or honey super to help them expand. The basic inspection, with any hive really, consists of removing each frame and checking the Queen’s brood pattern, looking for any disease or pests and monitoring the overall health of the hive. I plan to transition over to top bar hives next year, which is less invasive and no heavy lifting. Bees need but a hollow space and clean forage-Sam Comfort, anarchy apiaries.
Last season I didn’t take any honey from the hives because they needed all they made for the winter and I had to supplement feed with bee tea (a recipe made available on honeybeelives.org). My surviving hive is now thriving and may even be the strongest yet! I plan to harvest a few frames this season to finally taste the fruits of my/their labor, then gradually increase my harvest more each year. The more hives you have, the more honey of course! Once September arrives I’ll begin Fall management to assure my colonies remain healthy throughout the winter so they can build up quickly the following Spring. When I’m not tending to the bees, I help Luloo and Evan in the garden or manage the farm if they are away.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
Every time I’m outside I make it a point to look up at sky, the clouds, and the moon because in the city you are so easily distracted and forget that the sky even exists sometimes. It reminds me how small and important we all are.
I’m inspired by Biodynamic beekeeping techniques as well, to see if my experiences in beekeeping are linked with the Lunar cycle and respect the days that aren’t recommended to go into the hive according to the calendar and cosmic rhythms. Biodynamics is a spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture, gardens, food production and nutrition. The bees are very sensitive and a powerful environmental barometer.