Getting Back to Nature

A passion for beekeeping and being outdoors inspires a new business to take flight.

Written by Kate Sheehan Photography by Kjeld Mahoney

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A Boston firefighter with two decades of service behind him, Colin Doherty is one of those people who embodies the phrase “everything worth doing, is worth doing well.” This unwavering work ethic helped the Cohasset resident launch a flourishing business that combines two of his favorite pastimes: woodworking and beekeeping.

Last spring, before the pandemic hit, Doherty and his wife Allison launched Treespoke Treehouses, a business specializing in the construction of custom treehouses, beehives and other landscape features (the business name is a play on the term “bespoke,” which means custom-made). The journey to launching the business happened rather organically.

“I have always had an interest in gardening and being outdoors,” says Doherty. “My wife and I even had a garden when we lived in the South End of Boston.” About five years ago, he decided to give beekeeping a try and soon found himself hooked on his new hobby. Doherty joined the Plymouth County Beekeepers Association and started doing everything he could to learn how to successfully care for bees. He put his carpentry skills to good use by constructing a special hive stand for his property and before long, friends and neighbors began asking if he could install beehives on their properties. 

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“Colin is such a pleasure to spend time with and work with,” says Kevin Leary, whose family commissioned an apiary for their Scituate property last spring. “He’s friendly, caring and handy. He’s just got a great way about him.”

Drawn to the significant environmental and ecological benefits of honeybees, Leary and his wife Jenna learned about the Dohertys’ own beehives and were intrigued by the impact the pollinators have on the local community as well as the opportunity for their family. “The kids can peek in the window and see the bees building their combs,” says Leary.

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Above: Honey drips down a
handcrafted honey luge into jars.

Working two days a week as a firefighter not only allowed Doherty to start taking on beekeeping clients—it also made it possible for him to spend quality time with his three daughters, now age 11, 10 and 7. He and his wife have enjoyed teaching their children about bees and nurturing their appreciation for nature. “Beekeeping is fun,” says Doherty. “But the main reason we do it is for our kids.”

In addition to building apiaries and installing hives, Doherty is eager to share his knowledge about these fascinating and complex insects. “Honeybees are docile and they are really under assault,” says Doherty. “Some people are terrified of them. Others are curious and want to learn.” 

For those who are interested in having bees on their property but don’t have much time to commit to the process, Doherty offers annual beehive management plans that include regular hive inspections as well as honey harvesting. He is equally happy to mentor budding beekeepers who want to learn the ropes and oversee their own hives and honey production. 

A year into their backyard beekeeping experiment, the Leary family is doubling down. “This year Jenna decided we needed more bees,” Kevin Leary says with a laugh. “Now we have twice as many. The hives look amazing and they’re a great focal point in our yard.”

The actual process of harvesting the honey can be quite time consuming and requires a bit of skill, as each of the frames are placed in a centrifuge to extract the nectar. With that in mind, Doherty provides his apiary clients with a handcrafted countertop “honey luge,” which is an attractive and accessible way for them to enjoy fresh honey straight out of the honeycomb. 

The Doherty family likes to incorporate the fruits of their (or rather the bees’) labor into gifts of honey, soaps and candles for friends, and they have concocted delicious honey recipes. “We make a honey syrup for cocktails using equal parts honey and water and mix it with gin and lemon,” says Doherty. “It’s delicious.”

The Buzz on Beekeeping

If you’re thinking about trying your hand at beekeeping, correct timing is important. Delicate packages containing thousands of honeybees are delivered each spring so plan to make your decision by December at the latest. This allows Doherty time to build and hand-paint the apiary in advance of installing the bees. Throughout the summer months, the bees gather pollen and, by fall, you can expect their hard work to result in a delicious harvest.

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When he’s not busy tending to bees, Doherty enjoys building elaborate treehouse structures for local children to enjoy. These aren’t the basic plywood or prefab structures many people think of when they imagine a treehouse. His creations are multi-level structures with decks, windows and cedar shingles that often have the neighbors coming over to ask for a tour.  

Doherty works with a sawmill in Hanover to source rough-cut heavy timber for his treehouse projects and can cater the designs to be simple or luxurious, depending on the client’s vision. The design of the treehouse is also dictated by the tree’s natural shape. 

“The tree tells you what you can build,” Doherty explains. “One of the most important elements is to build a platform that accounts for the dynamic movement of the trees. There are very few right angles working with trees!” 

Kimberly Welby of Hingham recently hired Doherty to build a two-level, cedar-shingled playhouse for her children. The treehouse features wide-plank, rough-sawn pine and was assembled using hand-cut square nails. The treehouse, which took nearly a year to complete, even has a swing set and tunnel slide. 

“Our favorite thing [about the treehouse] is all of the memories it will create,” says Welby. “It’s a magical place for my kids to just be kids and let their creative minds run free. I’m over the moon that I can give them this place to use their imagination.”

Doherty’s enthusiasm spills over when he talks about the process behind his work. “This is so fulfilling,” he says. Whether it’s beekeeping or building treehouses, everybody is happy when they see me. It just makes you feel good and it’s almost impossible not to smile.”

To find out more about working with Treespoke Treehouses on a custom project, visit treespoketreehouses.com or follow along on Instagram for updates and inspiration @tree.spoke.treehouses. 

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