By Paul Tennant
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — Mary Foley acquired her passion for bees by accident.
As a member of the town’s Sustainability Committee, which promotes recycling and other practices geared toward protecting the environment, she agreed to volunteer at the Green Pavillion at the Topsfield Fair in 2009. During a break in her duties, she visited the exhibit of the Essex County Beekeepers’ Association, a longtime presence at the fair.
She was amazed at the organization and efficiency of the bees,
“It’s fascinating,” she said. A hive of 70,000 bees will have just one queen. If two queens emerge, they’ll fight until one of them dies, she said.
Foley, an avid gardener, spoke to a couple of dozen people about her passion at Stevens Memorial Library Thursday night.
She became so enthralled with honey bees that she enrolled in a course that’s offered by the Essex County Beekeepers’ Association. She then started her own hives at her Chadwick Street property.
“They don’t bother anybody,” Foley said. She also noted that North Andover does not have any bylaws governing the keeping of bees.
A town official, however, advised her not to place her hives near her property line.
Aside from their role in reproduction, the male bees, the drones, “do nothing,” Foley said. The females, the worker bees, do all the work within the hive.
Some act as undertakers, removing dead bees from the hive, she said. Others act as security guards, fending off ants and other insects that might try to invade the hive.
Worker bees acting as scouts do a dance that indicates the location of food as well as how long it takes to get there, she said.
“Bees are so resourceful and so efficient,” said Foley, a nurse at Lawrence General Hospital.
The queen bee, the leader of the pack — wherever she goes, the rest of the swarm will follow — can lay 1,500 to 2,000 eggs per day, she said. The queen is fed and guarded by a “circle of respect” of worker bees, she explained.
Bees make honey from nectar, which they obtain from various flowers. Foley brought an observation hive to her presentation, titled “Bees and Beekeeping in Essex County.”
She helped Leo Mamouni, 8, find the queen among thousands of worker bees. Leo’s mother, Diana Mamouni, said they happened to be at the library that evening when she learned about Foley’s presentation.
She decided to take Leo, she said, because she wants teach him to respect bees and not fear them.
“I haven’t been afraid of them since I was 6,” he said.