About a decade ago, Bonnie Davis’ husband, Carl, asked her what she wanted for Christmas.
Her answer: A bee hive.
“I don’t think so,” he said.
Though Carl Davis has now come around to the hobby, he was hesitant in the beginning.
“The biggest problem is, I don’t like bees,” he said. “I didn’t like being stung as a youngster and I didn’t want to be stung as an elder.”
He finally gave in and bought his wife a small hive with the idea that she could lift and handle it on her own.
“I would support her but had no intention of getting involved,” he said.
The hive ended up weighing 64 pounds when full of honey, and Carl Davis ultimately did exactly what he had no intention of doing — he got involved.
The couple is now active in beekeeping with five hives. They run a successful honey business called Bonnie’s Apie Bees. The hives are located within a 16-foot-by-16-foot electric fenced enclosure, which helps keep animals away.
“I found honeybees fascinating,” Bonnie Davis said. “They act as an organism all by themselves. They have to have the entire group doing a job. They are a community.”
Off U.S. 60 in Amherst County, the Davises work every day on their small honeybee farm, supporting the bees while they make their honey.
“We serve as their protectors from bears and skunks and try to help them by keeping the hives healthy,” Bonnie Davis said. “Bees have been around a long, long time. They know what to do even if we weren’t helping.”
Beekeeping, or apiculture, is a year-round activity, Davis said, but is less active during the winter when the bees stay in their hive. Spring is the busiest when the bees start to swarm.
“You want to catch your swarm, which will start new hives for you,” she said.
Bees reproduce with one queen in the hive. When spring arrives, the hive is overcrowded because eggs begin hatching. The queen is in the center of the hive and all the other worker bees protect her.
Instead of having an average of 30,000 bees, there are around 40,000 during the summer, Carl Davis said.
“They can sense there’s too many bees, so they raise another queen and one will leave the hive with around 20,000 bees and they find a new place to live,” he said.
The bees will find the hollow of an old tree or maybe an attic to create a new hive.
“They’re amazing,” Carl Davis said. “The way they’re self-sustaining. They know what to do and when to do it between gathering honey to the reproduction of a new queen. It’s just amazing that little bitty insects have such a community and are so brilliant in what they’re doing on their own.”
The Davises have always enjoyed their hobbies.
Carl Davis has raced motorcycles, is a Baptist minister and has raised chickens.
“That’s the definition of a healthy marriage,” Bonnie Davis said. “Supporting each other in our endeavors.”
Carl Davis has been a good sport about helping his wife with her beloved hobby but once, when he was stung on the ear by a bee, he almost called it quits.
“He dropped everything and said, ‘I’m done,’” Bonnie Davis laughed. “I looked around and thought, ‘I can’t lift all this mess.’ So he got his ear straightened out and came back. I cannot do it without him.”
Beekeeping is pretty labor intensive, Carl Davis said, which is why local honey is usually more expensive than that sold in grocery stores.
“We have to keep an eye on them to make sure the bees have enough honey so you can take some from the hive, process it, separate the honey from the frames, spin the honey out, strain it and make sure all impurities are out and put it in into little bitty jars,” he said.
The Davises made 16 gallons of honey last year and for the past three years, it’s been sold at the Second Stage Farmers Market.
According to Bonnie Davis, Amherst County resident Liz Paull is one of the best honey-buyers she has.
Paull, who prefers fall honey, has always enjoyed the natural sweetener as a healthy alternative to refined sugar.
She said she enjoys the locally produced honey because bees metabolize it from local plants.
“If you buy big corporate honey, you don’t know where it comes from,” she said. “And a lot of the good stuff you see in local honey gets filtered out. You’re getting sugar water and not all the properties local honey has.”
Though Davis’ honey is not as cheap as grocery store honey, it is worth it to Paull to have it stocked in her kitchen all year.
“I like to support the local people and she’s a wonderful person,” Paull said. “Local vendors go out of their way to accommodate you and you’re getting a great product. You form a relationship with them, get to chat with them … it’s more of a community.”