A Honeybee Apiary: Am I Helping Them or Are They Helping Me?
by D’Cai Rhodes
At fifty-four years old, I found myself unemployed, living in my travel trailer, and heartbroken. A successful safety professional, firefighter, and paramedic in my younger years, I never felt I’d be in this position. Refusing to allow myself to be down for long, I took a part-time safety position and tried to build momentum from there. Health issues had begun to develop in my early fifties, but I had accepted the foggy brain, diminishing eyesight, random aches and pains, and waning strength as part of the progression of life. The doctor had changed my blood pressure medication and added vitamins, but nothing seemed to change, so now I set my sights on rebuilding my life.
While driving to work one day, I passed by my cousin’s abandoned goat farm, and the wheels started turning. One phone call, a little paperwork, some happy hugs, and I owned a farm! I was already “home” because it previously belonged to my Uncle Bubba, who passed away a few years ago. The property was a kaleidoscope of memories of childhood giggles and hours spent with my cousins, running through the pastures, riding horses, berry picking, or perched on the paddock’s wooden fence watching the cowboys practice roping.
Upon exploring the fifteen-acre farm, I found a stocked catfish pond, loaded dewberry bushes, gorgeous wildflowers, and honeybees galore. Being a conservationist at heart, it was thrilling to see the little fuzzy delights flying everywhere. That’s when the brainstorm hit. Honeybees are on the decline—it’s in the news and on the conservationist’s concern list.
I will be honest, when I purchased the farm I never considered raising bees, but I needed an agricultural exemption for the land and Texas offers one for honeybee conservation. And so began my honeybee apiary!
I set up my woodworking shop, complete with saws, tools and design plans for how to build beehives. While exploring internet sites on raising honeybees, I found the Brazoria County Beekeepers Association and joined to gain mentors and to have a resource for questions as a “newbee.” The research gave me a great foundation to start, and I was ready to build the sanctuary these beautiful creatures need to flourish. Planning began with choosing sites for the hives that were the most beneficial for the bees to forage among the flowers—south facing, north wind block, slight shade, and a water source. The property now offers everything a happy honeybee could need.
Since moving to the property, I had suffered from itchy watery eyes, sneezing and sinus headaches. I had heard that consuming local honey supposedly aids with allergies. Though I wasn’t sure if that was an old wives’ tale or not, I decided to give it a try. Some weeks later, while washing my car and walking barefoot in the beautiful clover, a fire seemed to envelop my foot. I looked down. Sure enough, a honeybee had stung me on the bottom of my foot. My first thought was, “You little traitor! I’m building you a kingdom, and you sting me?” While applying an anti-sting agent, however, I noticed that my eyes were no longer itching, and my nose had dried up. Better still, I haven’t suffered from allergy symptoms since the sting incident, so the old wives’ tale was true. And this is a great anecdote to use when promoting my delicious honey at harvest time!
The most beneficial part of all this is that I’ve felt myself come alive again. I’ve found that the simple exertion of walking the pastures, moving hive material, and occupying my mind with new projects and ideas has me feeling better than I have in years. The brain fog has cleared, my aches and pains have lessened to a tolerable degree, and my strength has increased. My eyesight hasn’t changed, but that is correctable. The real good news is that my blood pressure is back in the normal range, and I feel fabulous. Being in the sunshine, breaking a sweat, hearing the wind blowing through the trees, and feeling my smile again has me wondering if my work is more beneficial for the honeybees or me. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to make a difference for them. And seeing this endeavor through to a thriving honeybee sanctuary as well as a business to build on for retirement is a dream come true for me. I’m appreciative of the disruption in my life that caused me to gain a new purpose in life in a place that gives me such serenity.
Photos by Illinois Partner and ucr.edu
D’Cai Rhodes is a budding “Honeybee Farmer” and freelance writer who takes a humorous approach to life and a decidedly different viewpoint on journalistic freedom. She is a safety manager in the chemical, oil, and gas industry with a background in firefighting, emergency medical services, and high-angle rescue. D’Cai is new to freelance writing but has been a popular storyteller in safety meetings across the Gulf Coast chemical, oil, and gas industries. Keep an eye on her blog page: dcrfreelance.wordpress.com for upcoming articles, blogs, etc. about the antics of a beginning bee farmer and a few safety tales.