Step one: Jennifer Burrus slips on the honey-stained body suit and pulls the thick gloves over her hands. Step two: substitute teacher plops on her beekeeper’s hat and folds down the veil. Step three: she hefts up her wheelbarrow full of equipment and heads to the hives.
Burrus heaves the top of the hive off and around 20 discombobulated bees instantly fly out. But within two or three seconds, hundreds of bees are flying all around her.
They sporadically fly in and out of the hive carrying globs of pollen on either sides of their bodies. Five land on the netting of the veil just a few inches from her eyes. While six other bees settle on her gloved hands. Burrus doesn’t flinch or pull her hands away from the hive. She’s enjoying herself.
Just six years from when she came across a ‘Beekeeping For Dummies’ book at her brother-in-law’s farm, Burrus comfortably tends to two hives in the corner of her backyard. This is where she spends many spring evenings working the hives, anticipating the honey harvests for her friends and neighbors.
Hundreds of them may seem daunting to the non-beekeepers of the world, but Burrus’ bees are just beginning to prepare more eggs and hit their peak of tens of thousands of bees by July. During July, Burrus cannot even visit for a checkup. The hot season causes the bees to be protective of their gold inside the hive.
Burrus continues on and eases one frame out of the hive. The pitch in her voice raises as if she was talking to her dog.
“Hellooo bees,” Burrus said.
Although her heart still beats faster when she is with them, she works in harmony with the honey bees, making sure the queen bee is still laying eggs and the honey comb is building up.
“Bees will do what they do without us, but it’s fun to see how we directly benefit,” Burrus said.
She picks up her sharp scraper and wedges it between two more frames to pry them apart. Burrus continues to separate spots of propolis, otherwise known as bee glue, that the bees have created all around the hive to seal up their home.
A few scattered bees cling onto her shoulders and back before she shoos them off. Burrus puffs small wisps of smoke between each frame to calm them, yet another pack of bees linger in between her knees.
The buzz continuously growing louder. Five…ten…fifteen minutes go by, and the bees become temperamental with the prolonged invasion of space, and are more likely to sting.
When she first began beekeeping, her hands were stung so many times that she went to the hospital. But now, Burrus knows the stingers well. She spends this essential ten to fifteen minutes with her bees only one to two times a month.
In the beginning, Burrus started the hives out of pure interest in the process and she joined a number of Facebook groups for beekeepers to find new resources and read more about it. But as she collected the honey in harvesting seasons for the past five years, the sweet treat grew on her too. Having the extra bees around helps the neighborhood plant life and creates honey.
Burrus initially shared her hobby with others three years ago when her husband reached out to get help extracting because the honey production had grown so much. Last year, between the June and November harvest, Burrus produced about 13 gallons of honey. Since then, from spreading the word of beekeeping, four other families have started their own hive. Burrus even started an extracting party once a year to expose her friends to the world of beekeeping.
“You wouldn’t believe the different people that mark their calendar and collect in my kitchen to extract honey for a few hours,” Burrus said.
She truly becomes the queen of bees on the extracting day. As she shows off the wonderful work her bees do every day, curious kids and parents prod her with questions about the process. It’s a full day of chatting, snacks and a heap of honey.
“By the end of the party our kitchen is so sticky you can’t walk around without having to peel your feet off the ground,” Burrus’ husband David said.
Junior Isaac Schmidt began his own hive after helping Burrus and her sophomore son, Will, extract honey this past November.
“We cranked [the extractor] for four or five hours and I found it super interesting,” Schmidt said. “As she was telling me about how it works, I thought it would be cool to have my own, so she helped get me started.”
Schmidt’s hive was jump-started by Burrus’ frames that had already developed comb so that his bees could adapt quicker. The Schmidts are on their third week of working with their hives and already love it. Burrus loves the fact that other people can enjoy the same hobby she does.
“I love the bees because there is always something new to learn,” Burrus said. “Beekeeping is a whole new way to look at nature, it’s just a different view.”
As she packs up her tools, Burrus removes the veil, picks up an older frame covered in a layer of wax. She pops off a piece of wax and sticks her finger in for a glob of honey and eats it. Fresh, natural and sweet.