I want to be a beekeeper.
Maybe that desire started when I found out that my name, Melissa, comes from the Greek word for honeybee. I turned 38 this year and on my birthday, I impulsively signed up for six months of beekeeping apprenticeship classes at Two Hives Honey. Two Hives was founded by Texas native Tara Chapman, a former member of the CIA who is now a beekeeper and educator.
The ranch itself is about 25 minutes from Austin in Manor. As you turn into the driveway, you pass by hives on both sides busy with the energy of foraging bees. I’ve been spending one Saturday a month out here in my class with other adults, soaking up as much knowledge as I can about how to raise my own hives. Today, though, I have my whole family with me: my two kids, ages 6 and 9, and my husband. We are signed up for the Be a Beekeeper for a Day family hive tour.
The day is warm and the ranch is calm and quiet, the bright light of mid-morning gold and pooling around us like the honey we seek. Thrilled to be here, the kids run out into the open grass, climb up onto the porch to rock in the oversized rocking chairs and jump from tree stump to tree stump in the outdoor classroom. We are soon greeted by our instructor, Gina, energetic and engaging, wearing a shirt that reads, “I’ve got 99 problems but a bee ain’t one.”
We gather with the other families and kids, ranging from our 6-year-old to teenagers. The outdoor classroom is under a grove of trees not far from the main building and honey shop. Gina gives an overview of the super organism of the honey bee hive. Bee behavior is all about the hive as a whole, she says, with each member serving their purpose: the queen to lay eggs, the drones to spread genetic material to other hives and the sisterhood of worker bees to do everything else. The worker bees’ roles change throughout their lifecycle, ending in their final run as foragers gathering pollen and nectar to bring home to the hive. The kids are attentive, fascinated to hold different types of bees preserved in teardrops of resin.
After 30 minutes of class and questions, we are ready to suit up. It takes several minutes to zip up suits, tuck in cuffs and double check veils, then we are headed in slow-moving lines towards the hives at one corner of the property. Gina carries the lit smoker and we follow the scent of campfire. I am still excited every time I get to open a hive. The sensation is one of awe, seeing the ingenuity and intricacy of nature at work.
This is an experience I have always wanted to share with my little people. Our youngest child, LH, is an aspiring entomologist. She is astounded by every part of this day and moved immediately to stand as close as she can to the hive body. She does not take her eyes off the hive as Gina gently cracks free the propolis seal. Propolis is a bee-made resin used to insulate the hive. LH solemnly accepts a turn to hold the smoker and does an impressive job pumping the bellows and expelling curls of smoke over the open hive. Cracking open the top and drawing up a frame of bees, honeycomb, and honey there offers palpable energy and excitement and a rush of adrenaline. The first frame lifted from the hive body today holds a surprise, a view of the queen! We all crowd around to see her elongated body, marked with a white dot. The kids get to view several frames and even to hold them, which they all take very seriously. The amazement and wonder on these young faces makes me smile. A child from another family passionately proclaims, “I want to do this when I grow up!”
We spend about 30 minutes out at the hive with the hum of the bees accompanying our calls to one another: “Look! Look! See this!” I watch LH carefully coax a bee onto her gloved hand and admire the shine of her wings. At the end of our time, Gina uses small wooden spoons to scrape a taste of honey straight from the hive and hand it to each person as they walk back towards the trees and picnic tables. We smell of smoke and, as I unzip the kids from their suits, they are sweaty and smiling. Our honey is a dark, rich amber and tastes sweeter than usual, like liquid summer or the smell of wildflowers. The Honey Bar on property is the perfect place to taste and shop. We load up with glass jars of varying shades and flavors of honey, islands of honeycomb bobbing inside, to take home. The kids are buzzing with excitement, wanting to talk about every moment of their expedition.
Two Hives Honey has hive tours almost every weekend for ages 6 and up. They also offer honey tastings and beekeeping education classes. Whether you are an aspiring beekeeper or not, the opportunity to see hives and learn about bees is a unique and inspiring one. At our house, the day will be remembered every time we drizzle honey over toast or into our tea, with a bit more reverence and a lot more appreciation than before.