In the Garden

One Honey of a Hobby

Backyard beekeepers Laura and Kevin Graham have formed a sweet partnership.

Laura Graham heard that bees were in trouble. She decided to help them. Her husband, Kevin, saw a perfect opportunity to provide that hard-to-find gift, so he built her a beehive for Christmas.

Thus began this East Dallas couples’ journey into backyard beekeeping, one of the fastest-growing hobbies in the United States.

Bees are among the most beneficial creatures on earth. As pollinators, they help plants in gardens the world over bear fruit.

If it were not for bees, 30 percent of the world’s food would have trouble growing.

Honeybees also have captivating habits and complex societies. Tending to these hard-working insects can be a calming and peaceful experience.

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The queen bee is the largest in the hive.

“They are just fascinating — a whole little universe inside one box,” Laura said. “There is a very structured hierarchy between the queen, the workers, and the attendants. The bees have taught me so much about helping one another collectively.”

Longtime gardeners, the Grahams also raise and tend a flock of hens. Laura figured keeping bees couldn’t be too much different.

“Bees are a lot more work than chickens are,” Kevin said. “But beekeeping is just like anything else in life: There are frustrations and joys that go along with it.”

But, Kevin added, “once you figure out the cycle of how the bees are working, it’s exciting to watch them in action.”

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A very useful tool: A journal to track the journey of the hives.

Laura started by reaching out to a friend’s husband who kept bees. He introduced the Grahams to the local beekeeping association, and Laura began attending meetings. She was hooked. Laura created a garden for the bees and started a journal to write and illustrate her daily interactions.

Unfortunately, the first two seasons were unsuccessful. She suspected the use of pesticides in her neighborhood had harmed the bees in some way.
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So Laura talked to her neighbors and told them she was beginning to keep bees. She provided them with information about the effects of pesticides on bees and — to sweeten the conversation — gave them a gift of local honey.

Her neighbors enthusiastically partnered with the Grahams to create an environment where bees could thrive. When Laura began a new hive the following spring, the bees flourished.

Now her bees are the talk of the town.

“My morning neighborhood running group just can’t wait to hear what new story I have to share about the bees,” Laura said. “They are very entertaining conversation starters.”

Finding a mentor

While equipment and bees may be your first thought when becoming a beekeeper, finding a welcoming community for both consultation and camaraderie is a major first step in any new endeavor.

The Trinity Valley Beekeepers Association (TVBA) is that community. It offers monthly meetings that bring together old, new, and aspiring beekeepers in the Dallas area.

Laura said one of the most valuable aspects of being a part of the group is the social interactions following the meetings. Members can sit and chat with individual beekeepers, asking questions and learning best practices.

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Laura and Kevin working with their mentor, Bruce Bonnett.

Enter Bruce Bonnett, a Dallas beekeeper with years of experience and hundreds of hives. He lived close by and was eager to help the Grahams foster their burgeoning hives.

“I found when I was opening the hive, I didn’t know what I was looking for,” Laura said.

“There were many clues Bruce helped us recognize.”

Mentor Bonnett has since become a critical part of their renewed efforts.

“Learning from someone with more experience made all the difference,” Laura said. “It’s helpful to talk through what we see when we open the hive and problem-solve together.”

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A bee transferring pollen to the hive.

Ryan Giesecke, the President of TVBA, said people join for many reasons.

“People are very interested in honey production,” he said. “[They want] to experience what the flowers from their neighborhood taste like when they transform into honey in their backyard, even if on a small scale.”

Giesecke continued: “Beekeeping requires an investment in time and money, and there is a learning curve. I tell people that getting a beehive, especially in a backyard or urban setting, is a lot more like getting a chicken coop than it is like getting a birdhouse. Managing the bees is an important part.”

But that kind of management is in fact a hobby for backyard beekeepers near and far.

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Kevin pulls a frame out of the hive.

A sweet and satisfying hobby

“We enjoy having a hobby that we share,” Kevin said. Beekeeping “gives us an activity we enjoy together.”

Kevin added: “I probably wouldn’t have done it if Laura wouldn’t have dragged me into it. As with most things in our 30-plus years of marriage, Laura drags me into something, and then I realize that I actually enjoy it.”

The Grahams have advice for anyone who wants to pursue beekeeping. Pre-planning is a good thing, as is a lot of research.

Bees need a dependable water source and plants that flower in different seasons for the bees to forage. They need space with room for a clear flight path from the hives out into the neighborhood. The best thing you can do for bees is to plant a garden and not use pesticides — key first steps in creating a lovely and hospitable environment for them.

“It is satisfying to raise the bees and make sure they are happy,” Kevin said. “Last season we collected more than 60 pounds of honey from our hives. It’s very rewarding harvesting the honey and sharing the story. Plus, our friends and family are delighted to be gifted a jar.”

Laura couldn’t agree more.

“I started out thinking I just want one or maybe two hives,” she said with a laugh. “Look at us now. This hobby does have a way of drawing you in. A funny thing we say at the meetings is, ‘What does a beekeeper want? ‘We want more bees.’”

More than just a sweet partnership for the Grahams, this honey of a hobby was simply meant to bee.


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Backyard Beekeeping
Learn More About How to Become a Backyard Beekeeper!

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Christi Baughman teaches
beekeeping classes
https://www.beegirl.biz

Trinity Valley Beekeepers Association
for support and education
https://www.tvbees.org

Bee Bonnett Apiaries for local honey
https://www.beebonnetthoney.com

Local beekeeping supplies
http://www.trinityhaymarket.com/content/supplies

 

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Sharon Kurtz

Sharon Kurtz is a freelance writer and photographer. Her passion is travel, telling stories, and tussling with her four-legged friends. As a baby boomer who loves adventure, she welcomes opportunities to share stories of people, places, food, and flavors around the corner or around the world. A regular contributor to fyi50+ Magazine, she's published 200 articles in various digital and print publications. Austin, Texas, is home with her husband and three spoiled dogs when not searching out new adventures. You can follow her travels on Instagram and Facebook.

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