Plan Bee

I've ordered the bees (a three-pound package containing 11,000 honey bees and a queen), I'm almost done painting the hive (just one coat to go), I've prepped the site (over by the raspberry bushes), and now I just wait for a call from Tom, down at the post office, saying, “I have a package for you, and it's buzzing.” That's supposed to happen next week, which would probably be too late if I were a real farmer (such a late start will mean a low honey harvest). But since I'm a Wannabe Farmer it really doesn't matter when I start the hive.

Yes, I've come late to beekeeping, in more ways than one. Actually, this was my wife's idea, not mine. She's been talking up the benefits of honey bees in the garden for some time now. Part of my reluctance was that basic wariness hardwired from childhood: “Bee bad, bee sting!!!” And, okay, the fact that it wasn't my idea to begin with also prejudiced me against it. But most of all it was the source from which my wife was getting all her beekeeping information. Martha. For Wannabe Farmers like me, who insist on maintaining the fiction that—at least on some level—we're real farmers, nothing destroys that illusion faster than the long shadow of Martha Stewart. Any association with that woman means instant death to your credibility.

So I dragged my feet for a year or so but secretly combed the pages of Small Farm Today for beekeeping info. Trouble is, while it's not Martha Stewart Living Small Farm Today is still written for real farmers (it's not called Microscopic Wannabe Farm Today , after all) and even the smallest farmer who's interested in the bee biz is looking for information about “annual honey weights,” profits-per-hive, and all that practical stuff that I couldn't care less about because, hey, I'm just looking for another hobby, folks. There, I said it, the dreaded H-word.

Okay, so once I disabused myself—yet again—of the notion that I'm a real farmer and shook off my aversion to the Queen of Connecticut, I logged onto where I discovered lots of good links to beekeeping supplies and information. Before I knew it I was ordering my “Deluxe Hive Starter Kit” (, my “Beekeeping for Dummies” book (, and talking hive management like an old hand. Turning around and co-opting an idea that I've been fighting up to that point has been my modus operandi for as long as anyone can remember. Just ask my wife.

Now in full co-option mode, I called the local cooperative extension for the names of beekeepers in my area who I could call on for advice (remember, always find a mentor). The first thing I asked them was, What breed of honey bee do you recommend? Italian? Russian? Caucasian? (There are lots of different kinds and they all have different strengths and liabilities depending on where you live and how much honey you're hoping to produce.)

Bees and beekeepers, like dogs and dog-owners, apparently mirror one another. Sven, a sweet, spacey sort of beekeeper, told me he keeps Italians because, though their honey production isn't the highest and they have some trouble surviving mites and harsh winters, he likes how gentle they are to work with. Pete, who keeps 150 hives, is making the switch to Russians because, though they're a little more aggressive than the Italians, they're better at toughing out the winters (look at a map, it makes sense). Nick, whom I can only describe as an angry, aggressive beekeeper, has taken the radical approach that Africanized honey bees (the so-called killer bees ) are the wave of the future and that “all this killer bee nonsense is a crock cooked up by the media!!!” Nick says any beekeeper who's afraid to handle these (presently illegal) Brazilian imports is “a wimp who ought to get the hell out of the business!!!”

I opted for Italians (Wilbanks Apiaries, 912-739-4820).

So now I just have to give my hive one last coat of paint and wait for the bees to arrive. I've decided to eschew the usual white (too typical) and paint the hive a pale coffee color called “Shaker Beige.” Thank you, Martha!

Paul Spencer
The Wannabe Farmer

You can contact Paul at

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