Todd and Monica of The Carolina Bee Company have been keeping bees for nearly ten years now. They started with just 2 hives in 2004 and now they have up to 65-85 hives scattered throughout Franklin County, North Carolina. Todd and Monica tend the bees together, and Monica handcrafts beeswax candles, bath and body products and CNG honey. Yum!
[Photo by Woodland Willow Photography]
What was your most positive beekeeping experience? We will never forget inspecting our first hive just teaming with workers. That first time gently working with thousands and thousands of little creatures that accept your presence was just magical.
Walking through a beeyard where a hive has just split is so enchanting. Imagine the air thick with insects - 20,000 or more! - swirling and whirling, sunlight glinting like gems from their wings, right before they begin to collect in mass on a tree limb to wait for scouts to bring news where the next home will be. Again... magical!
But our absolute, most positive experiences are when we participate in pollination. Helping a farmer produce a field of cucumbers or blackberries and knowing that your bees helped bring food to the table...there just isn't anything more rewarding than that.
What are your markets? We appeal to the folks who appreciate our value added products, to "foodies" who love our honey, to folks who appreciate that we take the "no chem" route. We also supply a lot of queens to other beekeepers. They appreciate that they are getting high quality CarolinaBee Queens that have been bred and raised without chemicals.
Talk about the biggest challenge you’ve encountered as a beekeeper. The biggest challenge is the same that all other beekeepers run into: Keeping the bees alive. Chemical-free or not, beekeepers are struggling. There are so many stressors on honey bees now, not least of which is the heavy exposure to pesticides in the environment.
What tricks and solutions have you invented to address challenges or improve operations? We think our queen-line is pretty special. We cooperatively work with another chemical-free bee breeder and focus on breeding survivor queens. Those queens are a mix of varieties, predominantly Italian and Carniolan, but we focus mainly on behavior and health without applying chemicals of any sort. So far, our bees have survived where those of others have struggled, even when they have resorted to using chemicals.
We do cull heavily and absorb some loss. The objective is to produce honey bees that are more resilient to stressors. We still suffer losses, but so far, losses have been acceptable compared to today's standards.
How do you further your beekeeping learning? We are invovled in local and state bee organizations and have achieved our Master Beekeeper status with the NC State Beekeepers Association. We "pay it forward" by conducting classes and mentoring other beekeepers. In fact, as of this writing, we are preparing to teach a bunch of beekeepers this weekend thus increasing our “swarm.”
Why did you get involved with CNG?
When we heard about the program, we took a workshop conducted by Dr. Buddy Marterre, a prominent regional beekeeper who was instrumental in bringing CNG to beekeeping. Our practices already matched the requirements, so getting certified was a natural next step for us and we loved that we were getting in on the ground floor. In that workshop, we even got to make suggestions that helped shape the program a little bit. That was exciting to us.
Favorite beekeeping product Honey, of course! Honey is so particular to the area and season it was produced. We also love what we can do with honey and beeswax. Is there anything better than the lovely subtle scent of a burning beeswax candle? Maybe not. We are also particularly proud of our queens. We work hard to improve our line of bees and our customers appreciate it and come back time and again.
What’s your favorite dish to cook at home? Monica has made award-winning Honey Fudge (blue ribbon at the NC State Fair). It's amazingly good. Also... Honey Caramelized Onions and Herbs over Warmed Brie or Goat Cheese -- sinfully good. But our absolute favorite has to be Blueberry Pie sweetened with Honey with an Oatmeal Crust -- we could live on that.
Most useful piece of clothing? A hat! That sun gets hot and will burn you. :) Monica rarely wears protective gear, and Todd will only wear a face net for convenience. We have gentle bees.
Do you have any guilty pleasures? Sitting outside in the beeyard on a hot day on a lawn chair... just towards evening drinking a cold beer after a very long day. We love to watch the foragers calling it a day as well, all coming in for the night.
What would you be if you weren’t a beekeeper? That's a good question since we sort of stumbled into it. We'd probably be chicken and sheep ranchers... and we may still be some day in the future! But with bees too, of course!
What do you think is the future of beekeeping in the U.S.? The future is going to be challenging. We're optimistic, but keeping bees is harder than ever, and more expensive. Hobbyists keep the passion alive, but we need the bigger players as well. Eventually, we'll get over this hump of high mortality that the beekeeping world is facing, but not before a long hardship. We see new, and even young! beekeepers come into the field every day and that brings hope. The local food movement, a renewed focus on sustainable agriculture, and programs like Certified Naturally Grown gives us hope that mankind can turn herself around. Honey bees will be here probably long after we are. In the meantime, we'll continue to keep bees and the bees will continue to keep us.
All photos are copyright Carolina Bee Co.