Kelli holds a honey frame from a honey super. Photos by Melissa Donald 

By Alissa Hicks
Three years ago, Kelli McAllister Bailey decided she wanted to embark on a new adventure. While she never booked a plane ticket or hopped in the car to drive across the country, she took on a new life right in her small, urban backyard. “I decided I wanted to be a beekeeper.”

With that, Kelli got to work doing her research. She first attended the Kentuckiana Beekeeping Association’s field day and was even more sure she wanted to make this happen. “It takes a lot of research. For about six months I read books, talked to other beekeepers, and even had someone out to assess my yard. Of course, making connections with others in the community took a while as well.”

Kelli stands behind a beehive. The top box is the honey super, the middle box is the second deep super for brood, and the bottom box is the first deep super for brood.  The bees land on the rocks in the tray which also contains water for them to drink. These rocks prevent them from drowning while drinking the water. 

Kelli, who lives in the Clifton neighborhood, says she has a tiny backyard but that beekeeping doesn’t always take a lot of space. “You can pretty much keep them anywhere. It’s called urban beekeeping.” As she was first starting out, Kelli relied on the help of Beth Wagner, the treasurer of the Kentuckiana Beekeeping Association. “Beth gave me a whole hive of bees to start. It was in December and we had to transport the bees from Lexington Road to the Portland area. Unfortunately, the bees didn’t make it. By this time though, I had a new mentor and we looked more closely into why the bees didn’t survive.” Beekeeping can be tough in the winter, although the bees can usually stay warm in the hive.

Smoke from a smoker is used to block the bees’ alarm pheromone. The smoke also keeps the bees calm
which protects the beekeeper.

“The next spring I got a new “package” of bees.” If you are wondering — yes, Kelli ordered the bees and received them via mail. Kelli purchased her set of field bees — equipped with a queen bee —from Kelley Beekeeping Company in Clarkson, Kentucky. “There are about 10,000 bees in the package. The queen is held separately within the same package. The queen bee is completely unrelated to the rest of the bees so they have to get used to her pheromones first.”

Kelli explains in detail the process of the bees and how the hive survives — which is quite extensive. I guess we know now where the term “busy bee” comes from. Most beekeepers like to obtain the honey their hive(s) make but Kelli says her honey is “bastard honey.” Because she is in an urban setting, this means that her bees get nectar from all sorts of plants such as clover, dandelion, etc. It is true, though, that honey is a good natural remedy for many things. “Honey can help with hangovers, wounds, allergies, and has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties,” says Kelli. “It’s different for everyone. I don’t do it for the honey, I’m more of a hobbyist beekeeper. I did get honey from my hive last year but it was a newer hive so I was only able to get about 11 pounds. Most hives you can get about 60 pounds of honey.” Kelli adds that it takes about one million flowers to get one teaspoon of honey!

Top left: Inside of the second deep super for brood; Bottom left: Kelli lifts a brood frame. 

Though Kelli finds time to take care of her bees, she also works for the Food Literacy Project where she teaches kids about vegetables and harvesting, as well as cooking with fresh produce using simple healthy recipes. As if she isn’t busy enough, she recently has started making her own soap which she sells at the St. Matthews Farmers Market.

Before this urban, organic life Kelli leads, she was in what she calls “a mental focus.” “I wasn’t hands on at all in the first half of my life. I wasn’t serving the world in the way I wanted to. Now, my partner and I both beekeep together and I know for sure beekeeping is something I want to do for the rest of my life. It’s a great service to the environment.” Kelli adds, “Bees are in trouble, mostly due to pesticides, and their numbers have been decreasing since 1947.”

Kelli, who is a mom of two, is also involved with Louisville Grows, enjoys knitting and yoga, and has a family dog named Franny.

What do you think about Kelli’s hobby? Do you have a similar interest or do you know someone who does?