> 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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