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Bee Sweet!

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Since I was a child, my family has kept bees on our little amateur homestead. The hives nestle in the shade of the ancient walnut tree, and if you’re close enough, you can hear the soft buzz of their occupants. Many of us have a healthy fear of honeybees and leave them to the farmers or professionals. But even those of us who have small gardens or flowerbeds can cultivate a friendship with the bees. My family and I aren’t farmers, but we have grown to cherish these dancing insects that love our land as much as we do.

A beehive usually consists of a few boxes; the bottom one is known as the nursery, where bees nurture their brood. The second box is the pantry, holding all the honey the hive needs to thrive through the colder months. Any other boxes are known as supers, excess honey that we can harvest.

When the supers were full, we’d invite friends over to help with the harvest. Laughing and chatting in our bee suits, we’d remove the heavy frames and use a hot knife to scrape the wax caps off the comb. We’d set the frames in a centrifuge, and the honey would filter out through a fine mesh into a bucket, ready for bottling. Each hive and each season seem to produce a different type of honey. Early one season we had a light, floral honey that had hints of minty eucalyptus. At the end of that year, its sister hive produced a dark golden honey from the star thistle flowers, strong, bold and unique. At the end of the harvest, everyone was sticky and covered with the warm, spiced perfume of honey and woodsmoke.

We were also on a swarm call list. If anyone in the neighboring counties saw a swarm of bees, they could give us a call. It was like storm-chasing; we’d hop in our car with our supplies and drive to find a dark, murmuring cloud of bees clinging to a branch or a gutter or a fence post.

Despite their menacing appearance, bees in a swarm are incredibly gentle. They have no honey or brood to protect. We’d scoop the largest clusters of bees with our cupped hands, setting them in front of the hive we’d brought with a few frames of wax inside. In each handful, we’d search for the queen with her regal, elongated frame. Once we were relatively certain the queen had been relocated into the hive, we’d sit and watch and wait. The relocated bees would stand at the edges of the hive and buzz, abdomens high in the air as they sent the pheromone message to their sisters; they’d found a home.

As a child, I imagined our honeybees were fairies, flitting from flower to flower. Because of my family’s beehives, my relationship with bees changed from one of fear to one of wonder. Even if you can’t keep a beehive where you live, you can join our little bee-loving community. Plant native wildflowers and other pollinator-friendly plants. Buy wax candles and honey from your local farms. Set out a birdbath with small stones inside it as a water source for a local hive. If you see a swarm, don’t call pest control; call your local bee store or beekeeper. They will help safely relocate the bees to a new hive, and you’ll most likely make a beekeeper very happy in the process. And above all, encourage those around you to learn more and do more to support these fairies of the insect world.


Rachel Fenton is a writer and mother who homesteads on the family property with her parents and grandparents. When she’s not running after her baby, you can usually find her knitting, reading, writing or gardening. Follow their homesteading journey at