Through a soft Parisian accent, Beatrice “Bea” Tassot delivers bad news: “We’re in trouble. Human beings are killing bees.”
Bea (who, yes, knows her name is a funny coincidence) knows it’s not new news. Nor is she generally a buzzkill. If anything, Bea is distinctly pro-buzz. With her husband, Jean-Claude, she founded Tassot Apiaries in Milford in 2002. Selling raw, chemical free honey for 16 years has also given Bea a front-row seat to a frustrating truth: honeybees are always in peril.
Being a guardian of Garden State honeybees is an unlikely role for the former corporate-world Parisian. Bea and Jean-Claude moved to the states back in 1997. “[My job] moved us for two or three years. We never went back,” she says. What kept them here is the same thing that drives some of us, screaming, from a picnic: bees. They found space first in Berkeley Heights, then Long Valley. For Jean-Claude, a beekeeper since childhood, space has always meant one thing.
“Beekeeping is Jean-Claude’s passion,” Bea explains. “He’s been beekeeping since he was five years old in Burgundy. His great uncle taught him everything he knows.”
In his first year of keeping just one colony, Jean-Claude harvested 75 pounds of honey. “Huge for a first year,” says Bea. Selling through a Long Valley farm stand wasn’t enough, so the couple moved to Milford, established 30 colonies of their own and in 2013, erected a barn that serves as both a store and production space for Jean-Claude.
Bea even became president of the New Jersey Beekeeper’s Association for a time, while Jean-Claude continued to showcase his honey and honey products at state fairs. “He won a lot of ribbons, ‘Best in Show’ for his honey, candles, soaps,” Bea says. “We grew very fast.”
Timing helped. 2007 was the year a name was finally given to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the phenomenon wherein worker bees abandon queen and colony for no apparent reason. An ecological crisis—but an effective call to attention. “Very quickly, we realized there’s a huge demand for local products,” Bea remembers. “All the loss of the bees with CCD, there were just a lot more people paying attention, wanting to help.”
Helping isn’t just about honey. About 85 percent of state agriculture, or $200 million annually, relies on pollinators like honeybees. (A popular stat: every third bite, you owe to bees.) ”Farmers need to pollinate their crops,” Bea explains, which is why Tassot keeps 250 other colonies on farms like Melick’s Town Farm in Oldwick. “Peter [Melick] does pumpkins, peaches, apples,” Bea says. “We pollinate all of these.” In exchange, “the farmer hosts us all year round,” rent-free.
Those relationships help, but threats persist. Beyond parasites (the Varroa mite thrives in New Jersey), there’s less pollen due, in part, to statewide development. And pesticides remain a threat—Tassot won’t put their bees anywhere near Jersey corn, which is often planted with pesticide-coated seeds. When farmers spray pesticides, “they would give us a call and say ‘I’m gonna spray,’” says Bea. But with pesticide-coated seeds, that option is gone. Worse yet, says Bea, some of the farmers are not honest about using them.
Other news is sweeter. There hasn’t been a reported case of CCD in years. And Bea says Tassot has only had to raise prices a little over 16 years due to scarcity.
Tassot Apiaries, Inc. is located at 54 Rick Road in Milford. Tassot products are sold at farmers markets in Princeton (Thursdays), Philadelphia, Montclair, Scotch Plains (Saturdays) and Summit (Sundays). You can also order their products online.