Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Out in the Field with Honey Bees

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

I didn't get to visit Tasmania or even go to Bakersfield. I passed on visiting honey shops state by state, across America, as one individual suggested I do. Nor did I fly, from bee farm to bee farm, around the world to meet beekeepers and their honey bees. Still, I did go out into the field like a forager bee, and it was my day to meet Italian and Russian honey bees face-to-face…

By 10 a.m., both Seth and Simon, my Brittanys, are dropped off at my vet's kennel for the day while I and my sibling set out on our way to Reno for a day of honey delights. My brother Bruce and I are driving from South Lake Tahoe. There aren't any beekeepers around the lake, probably due to the snow. I don't think the high altitude bothers honey bees.

Hidden Valley Honey
Like two disoriented honey bees, my sibling Bruce and I get lost in rural Reno. It is windy. My sinuses are pesky, complete with a headache and sniffles. At last, we arrive at beekeeper Chris Foster's home away from the feel of the city, and I feel a calm of country.

I am greeted by Chris Foster, one nature-friendly man who is a former director of molecular biology at a small firm. Nowadays, the scientist gone beekeeper and his wife, Karen, are busy living working with their prized possessions: honey bees. In the house, I am also welcomed by a German wirehair, a sporting dog that puts me at ease. Everywhere I look there are reminders
that I'm visiting a beekeeper. Bee books, fresh fruit, and jars of honey are all over. Chris tells me that his alfalfa from the Nevadan desert area produces a thick honey that doesn't spoil.

The beekeeper on a mission to expand his 60 colonies to more than 200 explains to me that he usually extracts honey twice a year. Fascinated by the bee-to-honey process, I cannot help but be distracted by the living room window. Outdoors I see a large backyard with bees warming freely around supers (the white boxes bees live in). A constant movement and buzzing outside in the one-acre backyard has grabbed my attention.

I see bees flying hither and thither. I thought they'd all be tucked away in a hive. Funny, though, the dog isn't bothered by the insects-and neither am I. Chris insists honey bees are gentle creatures. I believe him. I'm beginning to sense that this day is not going to be a chilling Killer Bees! Or Swarmed sci-fi film sequel. Instead, I'm feeling a sense of calm like Lily Owens, a character who finds solace in the world of beekeeping in the film The Secret Life of Bees.

The night before, I watched the movie Outbreak (Kevin Spacey's protective gear tears and he's infected with a deadly virus). So, I figure, Why wear a bee veil? A bee could crawl up my jeans and sting me if it wanted to do it. I think, I didn't wear flowery perfume or bright colors like a flower. They'll ignore me. My brother passes on going outside. (He doesn't like scary movies or honey bees.)

I follow Chris outside. I walk amid the bees. I have entered Beeworld. I secretly wish that I, too, could nurture workers and drones-and queens. That's when he asked me to come face-to-face with his 25 new queens … but hey, I think, I am doing fine. No stings yet. Why push the envelope? I do not peek inside the containers of buzzing honey bees.

Back inside the house, we chat about local beekeepers. I am given taper candles, lip balm, and a jar of fresh local honey-with promise for helping my sinuses and allergies. Chris tells me that a lot of the honey he sells at the farmers' market is to people who buy the alfalfa honey to stave off allergies. I want to believe the honey bees that didn't sting me will be my saviors.

Bruce and I pick up the Brittanys, and by six o clock we are back home in South Lake Tahoe. When I walk up to the doorstep I see a big cardboard box with the label “Magnolia Honey.” I feel like a bee entering her hive. Outside my kitchen window I admire the splash of yellow wildflowers. And like a preserving worker bee I find the perfect wildflower honey recipe to take me abroad.

UPDATE: The Healing Powers of Honey (Kensington/Tantor) will be available in audiobook format June 28 and found at your favorite online bookstore, including Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and more!

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