Bee there: A honey of a day planned at historic Ogden House
The historic Ogden House will be buzzing Sunday when it shows off its honeybee hives and the jars of honey those hives generate.
The Fairfield Museum and History Center, which owns the 18th-century farm house, will host a “Honey Day” program that day at the Bronson Road property. Jars of the honey for sale in the gift shop at the museum, 370 Beach Road.
Vose said the club has been maintaining the gardens at the Ogden House for about 70 years, and club members were looking for a way to bring a more life to the farm house, which gives visitors a glimpse into the daily routine of a middle class Colonial family.
She had raised sheep on her own Redding Road property, but said have farm animals at the Ogden House would require that someone live there full time. The only form of animal husbandry possible at the site “was bees,” Vose noted, and the Tammy Horn book, “How a Bee Shaped a Nation,” she said, proved how perfect the idea was.
Honeybees aren’t native, having been brought here from England by early colonists to help pollinate apple trees. The colonists “didn’t really drink water, because they knew if it wasn’t clean, they could get sick,” Vose said. Instead, they drank cider, beer and ale, and rum.
“These colonists believed in self-sustainability,” she said, and brought over “little slips the size of pencil” from apple trees and honey bees in skeps — domed baskets that housed the hives.
The bees survived the ocean voyage, Vose said, and once in America, thrived. “The British had cut down all the trees they could to create their navy,” she said. “This was virgin territory.”
The bees not only pollinated the apple trees, but provided honey that could be used as a sweetener and beeswax for candles.
The bee hives need a specific number of hours of sunlight, along with a “landing path,” and there wasn’t enough room at the Ogden House proper. The garden club approached Bronson Hawley, owner of Oaklawn Cemetery about using some space there. An agreement was reached — the garden club got a site it needed for productive beekeeping and Hawley got one-third of the honey produced each year.
Vose was tending the hives along with fellow beekeeper Debbie Kouzoukian on a recent late-summer day. She said the lack of rain has been hard on the bees this year, cutting into honey production. Last year, 400 jars were produced; this year, however, the beekeepers have been able to fill only 85 of the small jars.
Vose and Kouzoukian filled a smoker, used to calm the bees while being tended, and donned white jumpsuits, gloves and that familiar beekeeper headgear. They provided the hives with water and nectar from large glass jugs.
If it had been springtime, Kouzoukian said, the outfits wouldn’t be necessary because the bees are much calmer then. They get a bit “snarkier,” Vose said, as the season winds down and the drones — the males — are kicked out of the hives, and to their deaths, during winter.
Should a bee land on you, Vose warned a visitor, stand still and it won’t sting. Start flailing your arms around, she said, and the honeybee will likely mistake you for a bear looking to destroy its hives and you will pay the price.
Honey Day will be held Sunday, from 1 to 4 p.m., at the Ogden House, 1520 Bronson Road. The event will include family-friendly crafts, and admission is free for members of the Fairfield Museum and History Center. Admission for non-members is $5 for adults, $3 for children and seniors, and free for those under 5. For more information, call 203-259-1598 or visit www.fairfieldhistory.org .