> Barefoot in the clover July 19 2013
"You know, when I was a kid, I was afraid to go barefoot in the clover because I'd get stung," people say. "But now, well, I don't see any bees."
Unfortunately, this dearth of bees in the clover is a result of all the hardships honeybees have faced in the past few years. Diseases have wiped out large populations of honeybees, resulting in lawns flecked with nectar-rich clover ... but no honeybees to forage it!
In our Arrington bee yard, things are a little different. We have tons of clover, and there are honeybees all over it. In fact, during mid-summer in Middle Tennessee, many of the big nectar sources have reached the end of their natural season, so we always look forward to the staple of clover to keep our bees happy and fed.
Clover nectar gives our annual summer vintage (harvested in late July or early August) that familiar richness and tang that folks seem to associate with "grandpa's" honey.
On another note, we also look forward to the clover because it turns into a nice excuse for not mowing. Jeff will come home and say something about the yard looking a little tall. He seems reluctant to start up the tractor, so I say, "Yes, I guess it is, but there's a lot of clover coming up."
"Well, I wouldn't want to cut that down, with the bees and all," he says.
"Yeah, that's true," I say, and we decide that leaving nectar for the bees is more important than having a well-manicured yard (can't exactly call it a lawn).
So, if the front yard of our Arrington apiary starts to look a little wild, don't think for a second we're lazy, or even too busy, because it's neither.
We're leaving it for the bees ... and we're not going barefoot.
> Honey Vanilla Ice Cream recipe July 11 2013
Lots of people have been asking for this, so here it is! Very simple, and no sugar.
Honey Vanilla Ice Cream
2 cups milk (I use 2 percent)
3/4 cup honey (wildflower honey, of course)
dash of salt
2 eggs beaten
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
In saucepan, heat milk but don't burn or "scald" it. Stir in honey and salt. Pour small amount of warm liquid into eggs; return to milk mixture and cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes or less, stirring constantly. Cool thoroughly. Stir in cream and vanilla. Chill. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. Makes about 5 cups and is delicious on a hot summer evening!
> NY Mouth asks all the right questions. May 17 2013
We just did an e-mail interview with one of our newest customers, New York Mouth, which specializes in small-batch foods. They asked some fun questions, so here's a sneak peak:
Where did you grow up? I'm a Carolina girl.
Was food always important to you, or did you develop a passion for food at a particular place and time? The only thing I knew how to make as a child was biscuits, and I always mashed up the Ritz crackers for squash casserole in the summer. Other than that, I never knew how to cook from elemental ingredients until I joined the U.S. Peace Corps. I served in a third-world African country, where I learned to appreciate freshness and simplicity of ingredients. Everything was made from scratch, and I learned to cook there. (Sometimes we had crazy Peace Corps parties where the main event would be to roll out and fry our own corn flour chips and then dip them in our own fresh-made guacamole. Our biggest resource was time, so why not?)
How did you get into beekeeping? My husband, Jeff, grew up near a beekeeper and was fascinated by it. I knew he really wanted to learn how to keep bees but would never take the leap, so I bought him a bee hive for Christmas 10 years ago. He bought me a stand-up bass the same year, for the same reason.
Tell us about deciding to go into business – How did it happen? What made it possible? We've been selling our honey at farmers markets (in North Carolina and Tennessee), and the decision to move from that to a larger market was a result of the reception we've received from these marketplaces. Our customers embrace our commitment to purity, our concern about the fate of the honeybee and our emphasis on the ephemeral nature of honey from year to year. To completely answer the question, our customers make it "possible" every day for us to continue our commitment to sustainable American agriculture.
What do you think makes your product stand out in its category? Our honey is unique in that we celebrate the indigenous plants that produce it and we don't manipulate the harvest and nectar flow to produce a singe-source product. (Single-source varietals are the ones everyone's heard about, like orange blossom, tupelo, etc.). For example, to offer orange blossom honey a beekeeper is likely involved in commercial pollination. While commercial pollination is necessary, especially in these days of big agriculture and bee shortages, trucking bees to an orange (or almond or apple) grove to perform a service, while exposed to pesticides and herbicides, is not healthy for the bees and not a sustainable method of agriculture.
>>> Our bees are "free-range."
While the "free-range" thing started as a joke (because who is really going to stop a honeybee from going where it wants to?), it has come to denote a commitment to healthy, natural nectar sources for our bees. We say that our bees forage everything "under the country sun," and it's true. We're lucky enough to live near a small pick-your-own blueberry farm, but, other than that, our bees forage nectar and pollen from various natural sources, from fruit tree blossoms in the spring to pesky clover and herbs in the summer.
Also, when we do a regional "sampler," we work with beekeepers like us, who have a commitment to healthy bees and the glory of wild, indigenous nectar sources. For example, our Coastal Spring vintage was made by honeybees enjoying the native gallberry plant (in the holly family) that grows wild along the coasts of the Southeast. It's sort of an unsung hero in the bee world — a prolific nectar source that nobody cares enough about to spray for anything! The bees love it, and they're not exposed to harmful pesticides and herbicides while they forage it.
What’s your favorite part about producing honey? Least favorite part? Favorite part of having a bee farm is going out in the bee yard after sunset in the summer, when it's still light, and watching the light reflect off the bees as they return to the hive. Least favorite = being sticky!
What do you see as your biggest challenges? Our biggest challenge right now is combating diseases, such as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), that are affecting honeybees all over the world. Almost everyone has heard of these problems in one way or another, and we're encouraged when we go to markets and festivals and have customers who are sincerely interested in the fate of the honeybee. (We have wonderful, thoughtful customers who are sincerely curious about our trade and how it affects us and our food sources.)
What is the most interesting part of owning a business like this? The nature of the honeybee is endlessly fascinating. It's interesting to observe how they work together, how they communicate, how they are cranky on windy days and how the queen bee dictates the mood of the hive (mean queen = mean colony). I could go on and on.
Do you have a funny story to share? This wasn't funny at the time, but early in my beekeeping days I made the mistake of wearing my beautiful, hand-engraved sapphire wedding ring while in the hives. I got stung on the tip of my ring finger and didn't think about it until I got home, but it was too late. My finger looked like a hot dog with a tight silver band around it. (None of the Google remedies for getting rings off worked.) My doctor said that if there was still circulation in the fingertip I'd "probably be ok," so I toughed it out so I wouldn't have to get the ring cut off. The next day the swelling went down a little, but I couldn't get the ring off for a month. So, the moral of the story is: don't wear rings when you're working in the hives.
Did you have a role model/mentor/inspiration in the small batch field before you got started? If so, who? An old man named Mr. Smith was kind enough to sell us our first bees in NC, then help us get through that first year, which can be overwhelming. (More about that here.) We try to pass his kindness along by helping other beekeepers get started.
When you’re not producing honey, you are most likely . . . . Spending time with our daughter, who just turned 8. Unfortunately, though, the life of a small business owner is pretty seamless when it comes to work and personal time! Business and home life sort of intermingle ... but I do cut out some time to read and to write a little.
Favorite way to use/eat your own product: We couldn't survive without peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and our favorite treat is goat cheese and honey. I take a 4 oz "log" of plain chevre, roll it in chopped pecans, drizzle generously with honey and serve surrounded by thin apple slices (Golden Delicious is my favorite). This is an easy, healthy treat that's also a nice party or cocktail appetizer.
> Call it what you will. April 26 2013
Honey mojito. Derby drink. Honeybee cocktail.
No matter what you call it, it's time for hats, races, drinks, wicker chairs and front porches. (If you're like us, the creaking wicker chairs on the porch dare you to see if they can make it one more year.)
With the upcoming Iroquois Steeplechase on May 11 here in the outskirts of Nashville, we're reminded of a fun, easy drink that can be made one at a time or in a pitcher.
Here's the recipe:
1 oz TruBee Honey simple syrup*
1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
2 to 3 fresh mint leaves
1-1/2 oz light rum
4 oz soda water
Mix honey simple syrup, mint leaves and a splash of soda water in a glass. Use muddler or spoon to lightly press mint leaves and blend the flavors. Squeeze two halves of lime into the glass, leaving one in the mixture. Add rum, stir and fill glass with ice. Top with soda water, garnish with mint … put on your hat and place your bets.
*Honey simple syrup: Four parts TruBee Honey to 1 part hot water in a saucepan. Heat gently and simmer until honey is dissolved. Store in a glass jar or other container at room temperature.
> It's official: we're awesome. April 11 2013
Think about it. There's nobody who hasn't heard the words "honey" and "mustard" together.
Or "honey" and "barbecue."
That's why our honey was included in Bespoke Post's April "Box of Awesome."
Each month Bespoke Post, a monthly subscription service, curates a box of high-end and, well, awesome stuff from all over the world. Each box has a different theme; for example, there's been a "Weekender" box, a "Shave" box and many more.
Our honey is offered in the "'Cue" box. As in barbecue. Click on the photo above to read about the other great products in the box. There are specialty corn chips, cedar grilling planks and other seriously awesome things.
Oh, and don't forget to check out their "Behind the Brands" spotlight. All the products Bespoke Post features have an awesome story too.
> Honey brunch / 'Country Living' and 'InStyle' April 04 2013
Our honey tastes good too, and we love it when our signature jar is used to help stage lovely settings.
The photo at right is part of a multi-page feature in Country Living's April issue about a Martha’s Vineyard home. The designer was Tamara Weiss, of Midnight Farm boutique, who purchases our honey for her store.
This is the second brunch scene in which our honey has appeared this year (the first being InStyle magazine’s February issue, below), so it’s high time we shared one of our favorite brunch recipes — just in time for spring events.
Honey French Toast
2 eggs, well beaten
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup honey
1/4 tsp salt
6-8 slices of bread
butter, for frying
Combine eggs, milk, honey and salt. Dip bread slices into honey mixture. Melt butter in a large skillet; fry bread slices in butter over medium heat until golden brown, turning once or until done.
> 'You are what you eat.' October 16 2012
Sylvia Ganier reminded us of this last Sunday during the second annual Fall Festival at her Green Door Gourmet farm in Nashville.
She was tasting our seasonal honeys, along with our friend and fellow beekeeper Jay Williams, and I told her how folks seem surprised to learn that honey changes with the seasons.
You see, when sampling our spring and summer vintages, I tell customers what the honeybees were foraging when they made each harvest. For example, our spring vintage tastes floral and light because the bees were foraging spring-blooming plants, like apple, pear and black locust trees.
Our summer vintage has a bigger, more herbal flavor, probably because bees were foraging lavender, rosemary and, of course, the ever-present clover.
The store at Green Door CSA (pictured here) features local products ranging from cheese and honey to granola and body care products.
"See?" Sylvia said. "It's true for bees too. You are what you eat."
She has a unique perspective on this, since her farm is dedicated to helping her customers eat healthy, organic, local foods. We are thrilled to work with her, and tickled to learn that our honey makes an occasional appearance in her CSA boxes. (If your shopping for the holidays, we just delivered our limited-edition 2012 Honey Sampler Crates to her farm. Get 'em there and avoid shipping costs!)
She also has a lovely grocery on site, where she offers local foods, from milk and cheese to salsas and skin care products. In addition, her new events barn is already booking vintage-style country weddings. Learn more at greendoorgourmet.com.
> Honeystand June 13 2012
My daughter, who is 7 years old, is a little entrepreneur.
School's out, and she's selling our raw honey by the road, lemonade-stand style, with her trusted customers putting their money in a metal coffee can marked "honey money."
She would love to sit by the stand all day, with her German shepherddog at her side, I've insisted this would be too much for the poor dog, so we rely on honesty.
This honeystand is where we re-use our glass jars — some of them a little scratched — and sometimes you may find a selection of sizes to choose from, all for a flat rate. This near-wholesale price is available only at our TruBee Honey "outlet" and only because we want Lillian to learn the value of hard work and the reward of earning money.
The scene is this: a rolling country highway — a nice, scenic road that's become a bit of a byway. During weekdays, TN 252 is a secret corridor between Murfreesboro and Cool Springs. On the weekends, it's a delightful, curvy ride for cyclists and bikers, with many of the latter on their way to Arrington Vineyards, only two miles away.
This honeystand is an experiment in trust, human nature and marketing — or lack of. We haven't done anything to promote Lillian's honeystand, but when she pulls her red wagon with wood panels out to the road, counts her inventory and arranges the jars, she often has customers pulling in the driveway immediately.
Our country neighbors, folks who have lived here all their lives, are curious. "You ever been ripped off?" they ask in subdued voices. (Our secret's safe with them.)
"No," we say, "but sometimes people leave extra."
That's the truth. We've had an extra dollar here and there, a few IOUs on business cards (which were fulfilled in two or three days) and even a few people have left small stuffed animals for the owner of the honeystand. (Anyone with a little girl knows how these go over.)
If you find yourself in Middle Tennessee, meandering along Wilson Pike (TN 252), then you're welcome to look for the honeystand. It's open on sunny days only, most of the time, because 7-year-old girls are creatures of whimsy and because Lillian doesn't want her chalkboard signs to get wet. Usually the honey is in a red Radio Flyer wagon, and sometimes it's accompanied by Jeff's old Ford 8N tractor (not for sale, boys, not for sale).
Lillian also accepts empty glass jar returns here. Just put them in the grass next to the wagon, and we will sterilize and re-use.
Also, Lillian has expanded her inventory this year. She thinks kids really like honey straws, since she does, so she makes bundles of five straws and sells them for $1 a bundle. Jeff and I think this is an awesome energy burst for all the cyclists we see pedaling up and down the road, but her target market is other kids.
This is her thing, and we're proud that she's thought of a way to reach new customers. So far, she's sold only four bundles.
But you've gotta start somewhere.
> 'Put 'er there.' June 07 2012
That's what Daddy used to say to me.
"Put 'er there."
He'd stride into the room after work with his coat hooked over his shoulder. He'd hold out his hand and wait for me to shake it.
No limp noodle hands allowed, not even from a little girl.
"This is important," he would say, and I went along with it, gradually learning the "right" way to grip a palm, how to squeeze it like I mean it.
This came back a few days ago, on a delivery day. It was a new stop, a restaurant in West Nashville, where I took an order of bulk honey to the back supply room. One of the chefs was there to confirm the order, and he held out his hand.
I shook it, and he reared back a little and smiled.
"Now that's a man-shake!" he said.
I laughed and we talked about the value of a good handshake. He related an experience in Alaska when he offended a burly woman by offering a wimpy handshake.
I told him I also can't stand the little polite clasps some men offer me. I also get a kick out of shaking someone's hand, finding it limp, then feeling it tighten immediately when they realize a "real" handshake was expected.
Of all the lessons my dad taught me, this is one I recall frequently as a small business owner. Handshakes are important. With that immediate contact of skin and pressure, I learn a lot about my customers — and they about me — right off the bat.
So, if a parents' merits are judged by the behaviors they manage to cultivate in their kids, I guess Daddy gets some big credit this Father's Day. He'll be getting a shipment of our spring honey and Beeswax Rub, two of his favorites.
He also might like to know that — every so often — I stride into the living room, corner my daughter and say, "Put 'er there."
Some things are worth passing along.
> Spring harvest ready to eat May 29 2012
Just a three days ago, the honey pictured at right was in a hive.
Colonies of honeybees gathered and tended nectar and pollen, organizing their days by what was in bloom.
We've been doing that too. Throughout this glorious early spring, we've watched what the bees are interested in, what they're foraging here in Middle Tennessee.
We did this because you want to know what's in your wildflower honey. You want to be able to savor, as much as we do, the transitory nature of each drop of nectar — and each grain of pollen — that the bees found to create this unique harvest.
In fact, if you search the tag #2012springhoney on Twitter, you'll find our "bee menu" reports, where we've documented the changes in nectar and pollen flow throughout the spring.
For us, this intimate knowledge seems to make the honey taste even better. We hope you think so too.
> Danger: Live Bees May 20 2012
My favorite time in the bee yard is is late afternoon, from the vantage point of an empty, overturned hive box or bucket. Low, golden light illuminates the little bodies of our honeybees, hurtling themselves to and from the hive, intent on their purpose.
While beekeeping sounds romantic, it's actually a lot of work, and beekeeping wisdom is only learned the hard way.
For example, don't wear rings while beekeeping. This particular lesson, pictured in the making at right, happened last summer. It was a small sting, just on the tip of the finger, but by the time I got home it was too late.
A frantic call to my doctor resulted in taking Benadryl for the allergic reaction and ibuprofen for the inflammation. Another frantic call to a firefighter friend (also a beekeeper) included practical advice too.
"If you need to cut the ring off, come here to the station instead of to the ER," he said. "It won't hurt, but it might be traumatic."
Lucky for you, you don't have to endure this fear-factor nonsense to enjoy pure, raw honey. This is our busiest time of year, as the Southeast comes alive in the sunshine and rain.
In fact, hopefully very soon we'll have a big announcement — that our 2012 Spring Honey is ready to order!
It will be full of light, sweet nectar from early spring fruit trees, rogue blackberry blossoms and country privet. There even will be a touch of the elusive black locust tree.
And, in case you were wondering, I don't wear rings anymore while beekeeping. Last summer, I felt lucky to lose neither my finger nor my ring, so I won't repeat that mistake twice.
It also might help to wear gloves.
> Great balls of bees! March 19 2012
It's that time of year again: Swarm season.
You may have seen this natural phenomenon, which starts as a whirlwind of bees, kinda like on "Winnie-the-Pooh," and ends with a ball of living bees hanging from a tree branch or moving into a wall.
Here's why it happens.
In the spring, honeybee colonies grow quickly, and sometimes they run out of room for the queen to lay eggs. Whether they are living in a hollow tree or in contrived hives, when the queen bee says, "We need more room!" the colony follows. (As it should be.)
This movement is called a swarm, and honeybees tend to swarm in the spring. We often get calls from people who have a swarm in their yard or in a wall of their home.
If you see a swarm, enjoy it! Not many people get to witness this phenomenon. And don't be afraid; honeybees without a home are at their most docile when swarming. Their only thought is to protect the queen, somewhere in that big ball of bees, and they will not attack you as long as you don't attack them.
For beekeepers, preventing swarms involves constant monitoring of the hives to make sure there's enough room for eggs, larvae, honey, etc. If things are looking tight, a beekeeper puts another box on top of the hive. Beekeepers are usually happy to capture swarms; this means free bees (no pun, really) for the apiary and a nuisance removed for the homeowner.
> 1 tsp = work of 12 bees February 07 2012
This tidy package, one teaspoon of honey, contains the life's work of 12 bees.
That's right. Twelve honeybees hurtled under the country sun and over fields of indigenous plants to gather nectar for just one of these straws.
So, you really should savor it!
Stir them into tea, enjoy a burst of natural energy during a workout, or sooth a sore throat with our raw, wildflower honey. We've sold 'em to flight attendants, office workers, workout workers ... and lots and lots of kids.
We offer them in bulk — for retailers to display in our signature jar — or in clear packages of eight.
> Beekeepers hate to waste stuff January 30 2012
And every time we harvest honey, we're left with buckets of beeswax "cappings," the layer of beeswax that honeybees use to seal their honeycomb.
So, our unbleached beeswax is sharing the limelight with our honey now, making its debut in our new Beeswax Rub. We started making it for dry skin, but market customers and friends have come up with all sorts of new uses for it — from conditioning leather belts and butcher blocks to using it on dreadlocks (to condition without too much "slip") and de-squeaking drawers.
We hope you (or your customers) can enjoy it too. It's made of only five all-natural ingredients, and that's including the lavender and rosemary essential oils.
> Look around, Dixieland. January 27 2012
According to Bon Appétit magazine, the South — and its culture of no-holds-barred, we're-not-afraid-of-you food — is hot. If you want fearless, experimental flavor with sentimental devotion to real, tangible ingredients, this is the place to be.
The February issue of Bon Appétit fearlessly takes on the South, in all its bigness, leading the cover with nothing less (or more?) than fried chicken.
In the "New Southern Pantry" feature, what the foods have in common is that they are traditional southern favorites which come from the earth, like pecans, peanuts, cucumbers and sweet potatoes, but with a twist: hell-fire and spice in the pickles and jelly, chili in the chocolate, sweet potatoes turned to hot sauce. Taste, taste, taste!
What's wildflower honey?
While TruBee Honey is thrilled to be on the shelf with these products, we don't feel as innovative. In fact, some might think us simple because we don't haul our hives around on trailers to collect high-dollar nectar from orange, tupelo and sourwood trees.
But, sometimes, simple is good. Traditional, even. Our bees enjoy nectar from indigenous southern plants — like passionflower and those pesky, pokey blackberry brambles creepin' on everybody's fences.
We don't dictate the diet of our "free-range" bees, and our honey changes every season because of it.
Bon Appétit described our honey as "nuanced," because it always changes. We'll see that and raise it: our raw wildflower honey is so unique, so special, that each distinct vintage is a flavor never to be repeated in Nature again.
Come to think of it, that's what Bon Appétit is getting at. Delicious, hip, of-the-moment flavors, but with old-school ingredients — that's what today's southern foods are all about.
> Here's why we're special. November 17 2011
During an interview with a Bon Appétit writer yesterday, it came down to this:
"What makes TruBee Honey unique?"
As I told her, there are two answers.
First, it's about the bees and the type of honey they produce. We joke that our honeybees are "free-range," as if you could tell a bee where to forage for nectar, but in some ways this is true.
We offer wildflower honey, not honey from a single nectar source. (Think orange blossom, tupelo and sourwood, where bee hives are farmed out to "catch" the nectar flow.) There's nothing wrong with these types of honey, but a multi-source diet is healthier for the bees, and we like the unpredictable nature of each vintage harvest.
You see, since the location of our hives rarely changes, the variables affecting TruBee Honey are things like rainfall and heat. Simple forces of nature. Bees don't go out in the rain, so a wet, cold spring will limit their exposure to nectars from spring-blooming trees, like many fruit trees. But then there might be a lush wild clover crop later that summer, or abundant wild aster in the fall. So, each year is different.
The second way our honey is different is how we process it. In a nutshell, we don't process it. Sure, we extract the honey with a centrifuge, which slings the honey from the combs into a stainless steel tank, but we don't do much after that. We don't pasteurize or boil it, and we don't filter it. If you hold our glass honey jar to the light, you can see different-colored bits of pollen suspended in golden honey.
The pollen also seems to rise to the top and stick to the lid of the jar. We encourage you to lick the lid (like the old Yoplait yogurt commercials) so you get to enjoy every bit of pollen packed in your jar!
Of course, there are many other reasons why we're special. I have a knack for finding four-leaf clovers, and Jeff works harder than anyone I know. We also have a wonderful little girl who likes living in the country and an old dog good at finding skunks but not catching them.
While that's not what the Bon Appétit writer wanted to know, those things make our honey special too. We like living simply and providing a simple product that's unpredictable and ephemeral — each year and each vintage a combination never to be repeated.
A few articles about bees and honey:
"Most store-bought honey isn't honey at all, tests show" / source: MSN
"Studio Libertiny's vase made by bees" / source: Inhabitat.com
> What are the chances? August 23 2011
Last week, Jeff took a day off work so we could drive around Middle Tennessee and do some work on some of our hives.
It was a long, hot day, which finally ended on Sneed Road, where we have two hives in separate locations.
After the last one, we went through a gate on a horse paddock, collapsed in the car, drank our last drops of water and got a mile down the road when I saw it.
It was climbing up the side of Jeff's driver's seat, slowly making its way to the top, near his head. I stared for a second or two, wondering (hoping) I was wrong. But I wasn't.
"Um, Jeff, there's a queen bee crawling up your seat."
I don't know if he thought I was kidding or mistaken, but he didn't believe me. I scooped it onto a white coffee filter (doesn't everyone have those lying around their pick-up trucks?) and showed him. She was a beautiful, almost all-yellow Italian queen bee.
So, now the question: Which hive did it come from?
We pulled over and retraced our steps. Sometimes we wear protective suits and sometimes we don't — depending on the hive. Jeff had gotten in the truck once with his suit on, just to move it a little ways, so we figured the bee had gotten in then.
So, we took a guess, and hoped it was right. Back through the gates, into the paddock, with a queen bee wrapped in a coffee filter. I gently lifted the lid, too tired to bother with protective clothing, and dropped her on a top frame. She disappeared inside the darkness of the hive, and I quietly hoped I was putting her back in the right kingdom. If this was the wrong hive, she would be killed by the existing queen, and another of our hives would be queenless.
We've laughed about this a good bit. I mean, what are the chances of that? We struggle sometimes to even find the queen bee, and then for her to wind up crawling around in our truck seemed impossible.
A week later, I checked on all the same hives, and was pleased to find healthy, mature queen bees in all the hives. So, we put her back in the right place. It was really a lucky guess, a stab in the dark motivated by tiredness and the proximity of the last hive we visited.
Still, it was a fascinating look into the odds of something happening, the enigma of chance. There are about 50,000 honeybees in a single, healthy colony in the middle of summer. And the mother of all of them — the one bee needed to lay eggs and lead the hive — ended up in our pick-up truck.
Instead of beekeeping last week, maybe we should have played the lottery.
> 'I am a beekeeper.' July 22 2011
On a flight to Atlanta yesterday, I sat next to a talker.
That's OK, because, even though I took a book, chatting keeps my mind off feeling queasy. After nonsense talk about his dual residency in Kentucky and Florida, and his daughter's harried life as a "traveling RN," he said the inevitable:
"So, what do you do?"
His question stopped me. I haven't been asked that in a while. In fact, I haven't been asked that since Jeff and I decided to go "all in" and give this beekeeping thing a full-time chance.
The weird thing was, I had to choke back the automatic response: "I work in newspapers." This has been my easy answer to such questions — at schmoozy chamber functions, at parties, on planes — since starting at a McClatchy paper in 1997. This answer has cozily covered all the bases, since I've done everything from writing obituaries to laying out and editing page 1A.
When I opened my mouth to respond, I was thinking. Beekeepers don't find themselves at things like chamber functions, so I didn't have a pat response. Also, how would I explain the leap from newspapers to bees? From news and words to bees and honey?
The man on the plane looked at me, waiting for my response, but I was still hesitating. Did I really want to get in to what might be a long and self-centered explanation? I don't like the sound of my own voice, and I didn't want to be That Person — the one whose voice carries over the roar of the jet engines, annoying everyone on the plane.
Still, I owed my new buddy a response, so out with it:
"I am a beekeeper," I said, feeling as if I'd said something like, "I make horseless carriages."
I watched his face change from confusion to recognition ... to something looking like admiration.
"Is that right?" he said. "I think that's neat! You know, my grandfather kept bees."
"Oh, really?" I said.
"Yeah, he had about 40 hives," he said, remembering. "He did it after he retired. He worked all his life in newspapers."
> Don't buy it, make it. June 10 2011
Jeff's mother calls him "The Irate Consumer."
He expects products to do what they're supposed to do, and he's willing to pay more for something that will not only work, but last.
When the claims of a product or service go unrealized, they meet The Irate Consumer. Think David Banner and The Hulk.
Here's an example: We've been plagued by moles this spring. We recently bought two "guaranteed" products, an organic spray for the patio area we're protecting and a device that pokes into the ground and emits a beeping sound every 90 seconds. Well, it seems like the moles are worse. They've even dug tunnels all the way around the beeper — probably throwing their beady-eyed heads back in laughter at our silly ideas.
So, the stuff's going back. Jeff will demand his money back, and — if he's feeling playful — demand that the store replace the batteries wasted in the device. (This is a little like sport to him, second only to hockey.)
While I'm not usually irate about anything, I can be particular. Most recently, my protective beekeeping veil is bothering me. Bees sneak in sometimes, and the hat part wiggles around on my head.
So, I've made my own.
I used a favorite Scala hat I've had for years, then designed a removable veil system to go with it. The veil attaches to the hat with a band of fabric salvaged from one of Jeff's old button-down shirts. I plan to try it today when I open our hives, and our hive-share customers make get a peek too. I also made a kid-size one; I'll press children into being trial subjects.
As I tweak my hat-veil idea, I can't help but think of the Rev. Langstroth, beekeeper and inventor of the Langstroth bee hive. His movable-frame hive system, made in 1851, is now the standard for beekeeping all over the world, making inspection of the hive easier.
So, I guess necessity is the mother of invention. If I don't want to turn into The Irate Consumer — calling beekeeping supply companies, demanding they make a better veil — I'll just have to make my own.
I'll let you know how it goes.
> Leave money, take honey May 25 2011
That's the policy at our little honey stand, where you put your money in a coffee can and take one jar of honey.
Marked by an old Ford 8N tractor and a yellow honey bear sign, we consider our honey stand to be a little bit like the TruBee Honey outlet. It's where we re-use jars — any size, really — that once contained honey, salsa, hot sauce, whatever. If we can sterilize the jars and lids, then we're inclined to recycle them and fill them with honey. We're saving money on packaging, so you're saving money on honey.
The stand is unmanned most of the time, although we watch from the front porch some. There are other times when I'm inside, and the dog lets out a noncommittal "woof" before turning in a circle to resume her nap on the front porch.
This is when I like to look out the window. It's easy to tell a first-time buyer from our seasoned regulars. Folks who aren't used to the set-up stand there a minute, a little incredulous. Then they often holler back to the open window on the passenger side: "I think you just put the money in the can."
Indeed, this honesty policy has served us well. This year marks the third year of the honey stand. The first time we set it up, on our property in Arrington, it was Mother's Day 2009. We had tinkered with the idea for a while, but decided to give it a try and hope not to be ripped off.
As we start our third year, we can report that folks cruising the back roads of Williamson County are pretty honest. I say "pretty" because we've been shortchanged a couple of times. Just the other day a person shorted us $2 and left a small stuffed animal that looked like it came out of a Happy Meal.
Actually, I can't be sure the same person did both things, and that's part of the attraction of this operation. It could be that one person paid full price and decided to leave a little surprise. Or, maybe the person without $2 will come back another day and pay up, something we've seen happen a few times. In fact, we've received personal checks, an IOU on Regions Bank letterhead (they came back and paid), and even some personal notes, thanking us for having the honey stand.
Since our property is along Wilson Pike, and is considered a scenic byway for cyclists, bikers, Sunday drivers and folks on their way to Arrington Vineyards, we get a lot of traffic from folks who are in a good mood.
Also, we only put the stand up on sunny days. But while that's probably the biggest "catch" for our customers (that, and you need exact change), we think the unpredictability of it is part of it's attraction. Part of the novelty.
I often see a vehicle stop and everyone gets out to take a look. Talk about novelty! Phones with cameras are enlisted to document proof that here, in Middle Tennessee, there's still something simple, that somewhere in the world there's a give-and-take based on honesty and trust.
We stick our necks out a little when we set the honey stand up, because we don't want to be ripped off. And I don't think I'm even talking about money. The greater loss certainly would be our faith in human nature, our belief that when you have high expectations from others they are often fulfilled, and vice-versa.
If you can put up with mismatched jars, unpredictable service (sunny days only!) and a cash-only system, we hope you'll visit our honey stand, where you leave money, take honey.
> 'This is my life ...' March 30 2011
That's what my daughter says sometimes. It's her innocent mis-take on "This is the life," which I say during occasional moments of glory and relaxation.
She does it better than I do, though. She's very dramatic, always has been, and she has this way about her. She'll tilt her 6-year-old chin, let her hair fall back over her shoulders, and say the words:
"This is my life!"
I've been thinking about this a lot lately. The rainy weather is bringing me down, but things are blooming outside. Also, we have several new packages of bees coming, which I will install on Friday, and, you know, this isn't a bad set-up.
While I'm a little tired of the marketing, bookkeeping, correspondence, buying stamps, paying bills, hefting packages to UPS and the other drudgery that comes with this business, today is Wednesday.
On Friday, two days from now, my new, fresh little bees will get here, young queen included. I'm hoping for sunshine, but it doesn't really matter. It's spring! My old dog is rolling in the new onion grass ... and it's time to work with the bees.
This is my life.
> Seemed like a fair deal (by Jeff) January 31 2011
As a young boy growing up in Western New York state I had a paper route. Every afternoon and weekend morning I would deliver the Niagara Gazette to my customers in Sanborn. I liked the paper route because it gave me an excuse to see the town and meet my neighbors.
Each week I would knock on every door and collect $1.75 from each of my customers. Some of my customers left the money under the welcome mat, some paid by the month, one even paid me pennies every week. But each spring I would wait for Old Man Reid to hang the sign on the front porch railing of his house next to the Odd Fellows Hall along busy Buffalo Street.
On a small piece of plywood painted white with neat block letters all in black, the sign read "HONEY FOR SALE." When that sign was up I'd ring the bell with my collection book in hand, and it was time to make a deal.
"Got some honey, huh?" I'd say, trying not to seem too excited.
"Yup," he'd respond. Mr. Reid was a tall slender man of few words and on this particular occasion he was being downright talkative.
"Wanna trade for this week's paper?," I'd ask.
"How much is it?"
Now, the price never changed, so it seemed like he was playing coy. The whole time I delivered the paper it was $1.75. Even when my older brother, Paul, delivered it, it was $1.75. Before him, when the entire Trentini family did it for years, it was always $1.75
"Dollar seventy-five. How much is the honey?, " I asked, also knowing the answer already.
"Two," he said. "I guess that's fair." Then, he went and fetched me a pint jar of liquid gold from inside the house.
I tore off the tiny ticket and handed it to him, and we both turned away with a grin — happy with the deal we had struck.
That was my first taste of honey. Now, years later, I still get a kick out of making a trade and meeting my neighbors. In the end, I hope everyone walks away with a smile and a jar of honey.
> Great first day at market! January 14 2011
Is everyone this tired after the first day of market in Atlanta?
We had a great time today at AmericasMart writing orders, meeting new people (even some Nashville folks!) and talking about possibilities with potential retailers.
Our neighboring exhibitors pulled their booths together against all odds, with late freight shipments and crazy weather leaving them at a disadvantage. Still, they were a testament to the tenacity of people who have made a commitment, and believe they have something unique to bring to the marketplace.
We appreciate the time of everyone who gave us a chance to tell what makes us unique. We look forward to another day of sharing our raw honey with a crowd of new faces.
> Farmers market on steroids January 12 2010
We know markets. We've sweltered on blacktops. We've unloaded folding metal tables from the back of our pickup truck. We've even strapped our glass observation bee hive in the passenger seat, only to alarm the drive-through staff handing us a six-'o-clock biscuit.
We also know that AmericasMart, home of the Atlanta International Gift and Home Furnishings Market, will be different.
First of all, today we couldn't just pull up, let down the tailgate, unload and drive away. Secondly, we didn't know what kind of people would be there.
At farmers markets, you get the feeling that everybody is on the same team. While there is competition, you can count on your fellow vendors to watch your back, or even watch your table for a bathroom break.
Imagine our relief, after driving four hours from our Franklin, Tenn., home to find the same sort of folks in downtown Atlanta. While AmericasMart shows are slick, international in reach, high-end and high-dollar, we felt the same in-it-together vibe today from other vendors as we set up our booth.
It started with the woman in the parking deck. We drove around, not even picky about where we found a spot as long as we found one, when a woman said, "Hey, follow me! I'm leaving, and I'm parked right across from the entrance." She wasn't exaggerating, and we were able to unload our "hive table," raw honey, graphics and smoker (what kind of beekeeper leaves home without a smoker, even if it's just a prop?) and literally turn around and walk inside.
It didn't stop there. Our sales contact, Betty Evans, greeted us soon after we found our spot and pointed out where everything was. A neighboring exhibitor who has been to AmericasMart before helped us out with our booth. We observed other vendors unloading boxes, setting up displays, laughing and drinking coffee ... just like at a farmers market.
Of course, this isn't a farmers market. This is "the world's largest collection of product," according to the 658-page event directory. We are in the Gourmet section of the market, where exhibitors sell unique chocolates, coffees and candies alongside new angles on grits, cheese straws and hot sauces.
Still, among this global selection of products, we feel the vibe of a farmers market. We feel comaraderie, the fatigue of hard work and planning, and the anticipation of not knowing what to expect.
The doors don't open for buyers until Friday, and we haven't fine-tuned our hive table yet, but we're looking forward to opening day. We don't have our glass observation hive on this trip, so no big thrills for anyone riding MARTA each morning, but we still hope people will be curious about our honey and what makes it special.
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