Bee Buddies

Bee Buddies

Maestro conducts life on the land in New York


Editor’s Note: Inspired by the creation of a YouTube cooking show by two area actors, this summer series of stories looks at hobbies people have undertaken — or continued to work at — while quarantined at home by covid-19. During July and August, we’re going to learn about bird watching, bicycling, dog training, fine art painting and who knows what else! This week, find out what Paul Haas, conductor of the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas, is buzzing about.


As the old saying goes, Paul Haas cleans up well.

To most people in Northwest Arkansas — and in cities across the nation — Haas is the “maestro” in a tuxedo, guiding an orchestra through an intricate dance of sound that fills halls like the Walton Arts Center with glorious music and delighted patrons. Trained as a conductor at The Juilliard School in New York and the Hochschule für Musik in Dresden, Germany, he has been a guest conductor with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, San Antonio Symphony, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, and the New World Symphony, among others, as well as making scores of festival appearances.

Paul Haas, conductor and music director of the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas, and his daughter suit up to go tend their bee hives in upstate New York.
(Courtesy Photo)

But fans know there’s another side to the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas’ music director. He is, after all, the conductor who chose the Razorback Fight Song as the encore at his introductory SoNA concert in 2010. He’s the same conductor who became involved in a hilarious relocation of poinsettia plants at last year’s Christmas concert. He’s funny, he’s unassuming, he’s charming and approachable. He’s a proud family man, too, surrounded by music made by his wife, a violinist, two young daughters and a toddling boy.

Here’s what you might not know about Paul Haas. Home for his family is 13 acres east of the Hudson River and just south of Hudson, N.Y., and he has gone back to the land to a degree that would have made any Arkansas hippie proud in the 1960s and ’70s.

“Suzette and I were inspired to move to the country to be able to pursue a life that corresponded to our ideals — which was emphatically not possible in the New York City suburbs, where we were before,” Haas says. “And so we pulled up our roots yet again and moved here. It turns out to have been the best possible thing we could have done for our family.”

Haas has a fruit orchard and a nut orchard — for a total, he says, of about 200 trees so far — and he’s altered the contour of the land to retain more water when it rains. “We have two 1,000-square-foot food-producing gardens, and we keep about 50 chickens,” he says happily. “I have about a million other projects in the queue, so it’s just a matter of time before we’ll have to redo this interview!”

For the purposes of this story — part of a series about things one can do to entertain, educate or enlighten oneself in quarantine — Haas talked about his adventures in bee keeping, which he says was actually an undertaking born in Northwest Arkansas.

“I’m lucky enough to be good friends with Judi Neal and Ralph Ellis, Fayetteville magnets for amazing people and ideas,” he explains. “Ellis has kept bees for years, and he asked me nonchalantly one day in 2017 whether I’d be interested in putting on a bee suit and helping him check in on the bees. I of course said ‘yes,’ and I was immediately hooked.

“That very spring, when we were closing on our new property, I got an email from the local bee club (in New York) saying that a member was selling his equipment — as in, a total beginner’s dream setup — for cheap and was anyone interested,” he continues the tale. “Needless to say, I was, and I bought it immediately.

“The two hives I bought were empty, which was OK with me — I’d figure that part out later,” says Haas with his signature enthusiasm. “However, a swarm entered one of the hives the night before I picked them up, which meant that I was starting out with a fully functioning hive. That very hive produced enough honey in my first summer to give us 3 gallons of honey! I’ve never had to buy bees, as I’ve always caught swarms to replace and expand my hives under operation.”

Haas says he had hoped to simply have enough honey for his family.

“With eight functioning hives, I’ve well surpassed that goal, and I’m moving on towards the Haas family primary goal, which is to do as well for the land and its inhabitants as we possibly can while providing for ourselves.”

Paul Haas says he’s never had to buy bees. “I’ve always caught swarms to replace and expand my hives under operation.” He’s up to a total of eight hives right now.
(Courtesy Photo)

Haas says he learned most of what he knows about bee keeping online.

“I’m not much of a book reader about keeping bees, for whatever reason,” he admits. “I scour YouTube and read blogs, and I’ve made friends with local beekeepers, who can help me out with whatever problems/opportunities I’m faced with.”

Most of the time, he says, the secret to bee keeping is to stay out of your bees’ business.

“Honestly, I try to leave them alone as much as I can,” he says. “It can be very damaging to open up a hive, so I try to minimize that. I’ll only open them up if I notice non-performance — as in, not a lot of bees flying in and out with nectar and pollen. Then it’s all about sleuthing, which can be really fun, but which is also a matter of life and death for the hive. Figuring out whether they have lost their queen, whether they’re infested with hive beetles, varroa mites or ants or worse. And that was BEFORE they started reporting on these new Asian wasps which can devastate entire bee colonies!”

Clearly, his hands-off approach to bee keeping is working so far, but he loves being hands on with everything else in his life.

“It’s the feeling of being a part of something beautiful and constantly evolving,” he says of living on the land. “It’s the knowledge that we’re actually doing something to make this world a better place, and that we’re teaching our kids that anything is possible. I’m not sure if they really get that yet, but you can see the lightbulbs of recognition in their eyes every now and then. Even on my worst day here, I feel more fulfilled than I ever did before — and I was already pretty fulfilled!”


Learn More

• Bee City USA

• Eureka Springs Pollinator Alliance Springs Pollinator Alliance


Begin by being friends with bees

Obviously, not everyone wants to build hives and keep bees. But Ken Trimble, a Eureka Springs resident and one of the driving forces behind the community’s 2016 designation as the 17th Bee City USA in the nation and the first in Arkansas, has some simple steps anyone can take to keep bees thriving in Northwest Arkansas.

“There are several problems facing all pollinators today, but perhaps the greatest is a lack of healthy foraging and habitat,” Trimble says. “By everyone doing a little to create a nurturing area in their yard or on their back porch, we can make a huge difference in the well-being of our bees, butterflies and beetles.

“Looking at bees, we have more than 4,000 species in North America and somewhere between 400 and 650 species in Arkansas,” he goes on. “All require a reliable source of flowers as their food source and also clean water.

“It’s a good idea to keep a few main themes in mind when planting for bees,” Trimble continues. “Meadows of wildflowers were once the buffets for bees. Choose native plants over cultivars. Simple open flowers provide available pollen and nectar, but complex blooms ‘hide’ their resources from bees.

“Planting flowers in groups rather than spreading them around allows bees to forage more efficiently.

“Plan a continual blooming cycle throughout the growing season. (Groups such as Xerces can provide valuable information.)

“Perhaps most importantly, do not use pesticides on your garden.

“Also, make certain you purchase only pesticide-free plants. Ask your provider before you buy.

“And lastly, provide a clean source of water. Keep in mind, bees are very bad swimmers, so provide pebbles or sticks for them to prevent drowning!”

— Becca Martin-Brown

Categories: Cover Story