A typical workday for Jim Boogaerts, MD doesn’t usually include rescuing homeless animals. But one day last April, he was called upon to round up some strays; thousands, in fact. And furthermore, he provided them with a lovely new home in his own backyard.
A cardiologist with Cardiovascular Associates of the Southeast, Boogaerts is known among his friends and colleagues as a hobbyist beekeeper. So when a nomadic swarm of honeybees showed up at Trinity Medical Center and set up temporary quarters underneath a canvas awning, he seemed the logical person to call for help.
Boogaerts received an early morning text that day informing him of the winged visitors. He first suggested calling the Jefferson County Beekeepers Association (JCBA) and getting an expert in swarm removal involved. But later, though he had never before captured a swarm, he decided to give it a try. Besides helping rid the campus of a perceived threat, he could likely get some more bees for his garden apiary out of the deal.
So he took along his bee suit, and armed with a smoker and a spray bottle filled with sugar water, Boogaerts approached the scene. Despite concerns of hospital personnel to the contrary, he knew the bees would likely be harmless.
“When they swarm, they’re very docile,” he said. “They’ve just left a hive in search of another one, so they don’t have a hive or honey or brood to defend, and they're exposed and not interested in being aggressive. They’re just hanging out, trying to figure where they’re going to go next.”
The relocation process, he said, is fairly simple. A few spritzes of sugar water onto the surface of the swarm cluster keeps the bees occupied licking it off and decreases their flying around. After that, it’s just a matter of preparing the bees for transport.
“Basically what you do is take a box, and then you just prod the bees a bit and they fall into it,” he said. “Put a lid on the box, then you carry them and put them into an empty hive and you’ve got a new colony of bees that sets to work right away, establishing themselves in their new hive structure."
Boogaerts first became interested in beekeeping in 2009. After attending a few JCBA meetings and taking some courses in beginning beekeeping, he purchased his first "nucleus" (10,000 bees with an associated queen) from a local beekeeper. He started out with one hive; he now has three.
“And that’s where I’ll stop,” he said. “I’m into beekeeping for reasons other than just honey production. I'm attracted to the aesthetics of the apiary and the interesting and docile behavior of these small social animals. In addition, I have fitted my hives with removable windows, to allow viewing and photography of the combs inside.”
Boogaerts partially attributes his interest in bees to his scientific bent.
“I work in biology, and I have a PhD in physiology in addition to being an MD cardiologist, so I’m a geek on that side of things,” he said.
He also finds that bees provide fascinating material for practicing macrophotography, another of his hobbies.
“Within a field of view, you can have any number of subjects – bees at work on the wax cells, the geometries of the comb, the ongoing replication,” he said. “You can get many interesting shots from a single hive.”
Boogaerts further incorporates his love of bees into writing essays, emulating the style of Lewis Thomas, a prominent physician-scientist who for nine years, starting in 1971, published a column titled "Notes of a Biology Watcher” in the New England Journal of Medicine. Thomas’s essays were later compiled into a number of books.
“There are so many interesting facets of honeybees, they’re pretty easy to write about,” Boogaerts said. “I try to make the essays interesting and informative, while still focusing on a particular aspect of honeybee biology.”
Boogaerts’s essays appear in JCBA’s monthly newsletter, often accompanied by one of his photos. Samples of his photography and writing are also published on his imagessays.com website.
With all he knows now, would Boogaerts recommend beekeeping as a hobby?
“If you’ve got the time and the interest, it’s easy and inexpensive to do,” he said. “It can be less than a hundred dollars for a hive. I don’t spend as much time as I would if I were trying to maximize honey production. To do that, you have to inspect the hives more frequently and pay closer attention to details, to have everything ready for the timing of the spring and summer blooming season. So for me, maintenance is not really a big deal.”
But, he cautioned, if harvesting honey is your motivation for beekeeping, knowing what you're getting into is key.
“There's a saying that people get into beekeeping because of the bees, and get out of beekeeping because of the honey,” he said. “Working large numbers of hives for honey yield can be hot, heavy, sticky work. Amateur backyard beekeepers can end up with more honey than they can give away.”
Photo Boogaerts headshot: Jim Boogaerts, MD
Boogaerts, PierrePierre Boogaerts, photographer (b at Brussels, Belgium 30 Oct 1946). He moved to Canada in 1972, and established himself in Montréal the following year with extended stays in New York City. Working initially as a painter, he started using photography in his art in 1971. Generally structured according to methods of conceptual art, Boogaerts's photographic work has been concerned with the opposition of nature (the organic) and culture (the synthetic), and with the camera as a subjective tool for recording reality. Series include Références: plantation et jaun bananier (1972-75), "Synthétisation" du ciel (1973-75), New York NY (artist's book published by Éditions Parachute, Montréal, 1977) and Série écran (1976-78), where the blue sky acts as a 2-dimensional, abstract "screen" of colour between urban architectural masses. Coins de rules (Pyramides) - N Y 1978/79 - Street Corners (Pyramids) (also published as a book in collaboration with MUSÉE D'ART CONTEMPORAIN DE MONTRÉAL) is an extensive documentation of approximately 300 photographs (presented individually or as montages) of Manhattan's street corners, obtained by flattening the cityscape around the dark, pyramidal shape of a building's summit photographed against the light.
Aside from exhibiting his work internationally, Boogaerts has written several essays on photography and visual perception. His last body of work (1984-90) was based on slide montages attempting a visual "reconstruction" of the subject (plant or landscape) through a number of partial views and photographic fragments. Having ceased his photographic practice in 1990, Boogaerts donated his whole oeuvre, negatives and related documents to the CANADIAN MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY PHOTOGRAPHY in Ottawa. In 2002, the CMCP mounted an exhibition of the artist's work entitled "Pierre Boogaerts: Reality, Vision, Image."