I met Terry Ross a few weeks ago at his farm in Canton.
“We originally started by raising raspberries,” he said. “That’s why it’s called Ross Berry Farm.”
But when Ross found out how quickly raspberries spoil, he “started looking at other things to raise.”
He ended up in the beekeeping business.
“Anyone who farms knows how crucial bees are to their crop success,” said Ross, 57. “Since honeybees only travel three miles in any direction, keeping bees benefits more than the beekeeper, it benefits the surrounding agriculture.”
Dressed in denim overalls, Ross walked me around his farm, which is about 2 acres. The grounds look like a set for a movie. Well-maintained and tidy buildings. Neat rows of peppers, squash and tomatoes. Green on the vine. Not a weed in sight.
In addition to keeping bees, Ross sells honey and beekeeping supplies. He has an observation hive he takes to local schools for education through the .
He and his wife share a passion for educating the public on the important role that bees play in our lives.
“Honeybees,” Ross said, “are vital to agriculture and gardening because they pollinate the plants.”
In 1994, Ross started his business with two hives. By 2009, he had more than 100. He’s been stung too many times to count.
“Beekeepers get stung every once in a while,” he said. “When I get stung, it is usually due to someone else’s stupidity.”
The worst time was when a helper prone to jerky movements (bees don’t like erratic movements) wore new clothes (bees don’t like the smell).
“Once a bee sends out the attack pheromones,” Ross said, “if you are in the way, you’ll get stung. I got 25 stings out of that experience.”
He shook his head. “Women make the best bee keepers; they are gentle, and move quietly.”
He walked me out to a group of hives, which were large boxes on legs. They lined the bank of a small pond, brimmed with grasses, lily pads and the deep voices of frogs. A gentle hum filled the air as we approached. A brick sat atop the lid of each bee box.
“Most people equate bees with yellow jackets and hornets," he said, "but bees are not aggressive."
Ross removed the brick and slowly lifted the lid. He reached in—with his bare hand—and as delicately as an artist applies the final touch to a painting, he lifted a frame that ran the length of the box. It was swarming with bees. They were beautiful.
A couple of summers ago, Ross suddenly lost most of his hives to what is called colony collapse, a disorder of questionable origin where the bees just abandon the hive. Many in the business think it has to do with the wavelength of the frequency of cell phone towers—they are very close to the length of a bee’s antennae. If this were true, the signals would confuse the bees.
“And when they are confused,” Ross said, “they just leave.”
He downloaded a map of cell phone tower coverage and laid it over a map of the areas with the worst colony collapse. The closer to a tower, the more likely the bees were to abandon the hive.
By winter 2009, Ross only had 14 of his more than 100 hives. He simply started over again. He’s up to 45 now.
“This,” Ross said, “is our retirement business.”