It could be said beekeepers are like cowboys. Our “critters” are a bit on the wild side and they don’t have fences. Perhaps that is part of the appeal for me. After all, I was born in Texas. Since the days of fenceless prairies are long gone, beekeeping may just be the next best thing. My wife, Linda, and I began the beekeeping journey together but over time she has taken on many of the duties outside of the apiary. Our daughter, Molly, now assists me in the apiary (a place where bee hives are grouped together). Along with her ability to inspect and assess the management needs of colonies, she has great eyesight which is a big help when it comes time to graft queens. Our biggest apiary is located on land owned by our youngest daughter and her husband; they keep an eye on that apiary and have caught swarms for us. Our son built and maintains our website and assists in removing supers (boxes full of honey) at harvest time.
Beekeeping has been an extension of our self-sufficient lifestyle. Much of our food comes from our organically grown gardens, orchard, and chickens. We have been off-grid for the last 31 years and live in a solar, timber framed house we built from trees cut and milled on our land. So, for example, if we need to build a new bee hive it begins in the woods with a chain saw. The log is transported to our sawmill, cut into boards, dried, and planed to the correct thickness. Once parts are assembled they get three coats of paint before they are ready for bees. We began our operation with two “packages” of bees back in 2011 and have expanded to over 50 colonies today mostly by raising our own bees and queens.
Honey remains the primary product from our colonies. I don’t believe anyone can rightfully claim their honey is organic since bees forage over such a wide area. However, our bees are only treated with products that are naturally found in nature. We strain out particles of wax and other debris but our honey retains all the enzymes and pollen that is present when bees create it. Wax is a precious commodity in the hive, but we do collect some which we make into candles, and other products. For those of you who might be beekeepers, we sell small starter colonies of bees called “nucleus colonies” or “nucs” in the spring. We also produce queens which are usually available starting in May.
Beekeeping offers many opportunities to try new ideas and techniques. This year we are trying a horizontal hive with combs made without frames. With any luck this will be the new basis for raising queens in the future. We also plan to move some hives adjacent to a wilderness area near the Appalachian Trail where sourwood trees grow in abundance. These trees bloom when little else is available for bees in the dry summer months and make one of the most delicious types of honey available. Perhaps our bees will do as well in the “Wild East” as Longhorns did in the “Wild West”.