August Newsletter: The Blending of Homesteading, Business & Marriage, Beehives Throughout History.
The Blending of Homesteading, Business & Marriage – By Jess Swenson
August is when Alma and Glenn celebrate their wedding anniversary. So, I thought it would be fun to interview Alma about homesteading, business, and marriage. I asked around, and here are some of the questions I put together and how the interview went:
Jess: Hi Alma, So August is when you celebrate your special day with your sweetheart. I thought it would be fun to get your feed back on some questions that I and some of your followers have.
Alma nervously replies, “Yes, it is our special time and I will try to answer the questions the best that I can…”
Jess: You and Glenn have been together for many many years. They say the worst thing you can do, is go into business with your spouse or family. You guys have two businesses! Looking back, do you think going into business with your partner was a bad idea? Have you guys had times when you wanted to call it quits?
Alma chuckles, “Wow, ok… lets jump right in it! I believe this is to be true… but not for everyone.
Glenn runs Coastal Home Photography, a successful real estate photography and videography company. I run Sarasota Honey Company. I joke, I’d rather get stung by bees then deal with a computer. We have been through so much and yes there have been times when one of us at one point questioned staying in the relationship. I’m sure every couple has at some point. But when we step back and see all that we have accomplish together, our adventures, the life we have…it is not something neither of us can walk away from. Compromise and the ability to see what is important for your partner to feel love and heard is key.
Jess: Can you give me an example?
Alma: Sure! An example would be, I agree not to store wintered bee boxes in house and not try to pass them as “bookcases” and “end tables” by placing a lace and a lamp on them until springtime. He agrees to have sick or injured livestock in the guest bathroom and doesn’t question me running errands with a live chicken in my purse that has to be fed or medicate every few hours.
Jess: Some people may describe their relationship as a passionate fire or steady flame…How would you describe your relationship with Glenn?
Alma: I would describe us as two trees that choose to plant ourselves next to each other. We have grown twisting away and towards each other but over time we have intertwined to make one solid tree. Under God’s grace we are each other’s constant: business partners, best friends, collaborators, sparing partners, partners in life and in love.
Jess: Ahh, that’s sweet. The pandemic has made many people reconsider their live choices in career, relationships, where and how they live. I’m sure you agree there has been an increase of interest in homesteading, living off the land, being more self-sufficient, doing what you love as a business. After your weekly Saturday morning tours, I have seen people admire that you have created a business with your honeybees. I can see some that want to do the same, quit their office job and work the land. What do you have to say about that? What advice would you give?
Alma: To that… I would say, it is a calling to work the land or work with God’s creatures. We did not plan this…the love of the bees. It is a love that fills you, that on your part is unconditional. A love you can’t shake off or move on from. You are so in awe of its beauty, the struggle you faced to get to that promise land fades away and is forgotten. It not a job or work, it is a lifestyle.
Jess why is family and friend support important?
Its a lifestyle that you will need your family and friends to support you and be on board for the ride because you WILL have moments that will bring you to your knees. We have lost and have become estrange with many family members and friends. You see, mother nature doesn’t care that it a holiday, your wedding anniversary, your best friend’s birthday, you don’t feel well, you haven’t had a “day off” in 3 months, or that there is a pandemic. If you neglect her or fail to show up when she is calling, months of hard work could be in vain. It truly is…sowing and reaping in its purest form. The good thing is that the family and friends we do have… are gold to us, our angels on earth. They have seen us at our lowest moments and there by our side literally helping us save our hives from flood or the aftermath of hurricanes.
Jess: Do you see yourselves as successful?
Alma: I see us as blessed. All that we have achieve did not come without sacrifice, tears, setbacks, and disappointments. We chose to find the positive in negative experiences as difficult as it may be especially when you’re in the thick of it. I find myself thinking: “Yes, I lost 30 hives due to spraying…at least it wasn’t 300 hives.” “ Yes, that person took advantage of us, at the least I know better and it was a small price to pay to have them out of our circle. It was a good lesson, worth everything I unknowingly paid for at the time” “Shoot, that manipulation on the hive didn’t work out as I thought it would… At least I learned a new way, NOT to keep bees”
Jess what do you think is a misperception people may have of beekeeping as business?
Alma: That it is easy. The bees do all the work, you just collect the honey and you will be swarmed with customers. A beautiful Disney Snow White scene with nature and honeybees. The truth is that it is hot, physically, and mentally labor intensive, dirty, but most of all... lonely. I’m up before my family to beat the hot sun with my morning farm chores or the bees. I head off to work the shop, bees, meetings, public speaking events, or a farmers market during the day. I make it a point to come home to make and have dinner with my family. However, after dinner, I’m back with the bees or at our production facility creating products for our customers. The return for the number of hours you put in is less than minimum wage. My average work week is 80- 90 hours with one day off during the off season…during season “day off” is a foreign word. The sting that hurts more than what you get from a honey bee is with all that work and doing things the right way for our bees and customers...we still get people wanting to compare our honey with the honey you get at the grocery store or roadside. There is a darkside in honey production that so many don't know about.
Jess: "The Darkside of Honey" you just gave me a new topic to research and write about. How and why do you do it then? Most people get crabby with anything over 40 hours.
Alma: Oh I can get crappy. LOL. Truth is I’m used to it. It doesn’t feel like work, but more like me going about my day. I’m just doing what I need to do for creatures I was entrusted with using knowledge that I was blessed with. It’s a calling to bring the best of our honey bees and skills to our customers through our products. When you are a part of something special that is healthy, yummy, and can make the world a better place...it would be a sin not to share it. Our raw honey is truly hive to home. The bees that make our honey, live a pampered honey bee life. They come first, they get the very best of us and in doing so, they give us the very best of them. It is a beautiful relationship. I can literally walk into a bee yard and know each of my hives personalities. One of the things I love is matching a beehive to a hobby beekeeper and their family.
Jess: What are your goals?
Alma: One of my goals is to continue to mentor and encourage women in agriculture. It was not easy for me to enter a male dominated profession. My other goal is to increase the number of hobby beekeepers no matter the gender. I believe what is going to save the bees are the hobby beekeepers. I’d rather see 2,000 people with 2 hives then 2 people with 2,000 hives. This is why I offer beekeeping webinars and classes.
Jess: So, August is around the corner is it too late in the season to start beekeeping in Florida for a hobby?
Alma: Absolutely not! Our largest honey flow is coming soon in September and October. What takes my bees 3 months to do in the Summertime they can do in 10 - 14 days in the fall! So, when the rest of the country is harvesting honey and prepping their bees for the winter…our honey producing party is just getting started!
Jess: Oh wow, that’s great!
Dear readers, I hope you enjoyed my interview with Alma. I like her goal to make more beekeepers to save the bees. If you would like to become a beekeeper don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Moreover, if you have any questions about anything really you can send her a text 941.726.8755 or email: email@example.com with Tuesday Talks in the subject line. She will be having a Facebook live video every Tuesday at noon to answer questions that were sent!
Beehives Throughout History: by Cleo Warn
For every beekeeper, one of the most important thing to have is a hive for their bees. However not all hives are the same. Bee hives have changed over the years as new challenges and flaws forced their inventors to experiment with new styles of hives. Here is a brief history of the evolution of the beehive.
The first beekeepers were really just foragers of honey and not really “keepers.” The Cueva de la Araña (Cave of the Spider) near Valencia, Spain contains an ancient painting from 9,000 B.C.E. depicting a man climbing a tree to stick his hand directly into a beehive. There is even a few honeybees depicted flying around the hive. Domesticating bees was actually very commonplace throughout the ancient world including Egypt and China. On the walls of the Sun Temple of the Egyptian pharaoh Nyuserre Ini, there are depictions of honeypots and beehives and people using smoke to calm the bees. Aristotle wrote about beekeeping and bee behavior and Chinese philosopher and statesman Fan Li wrote about the benefits of a wooden hive box.
Hollowed-out stumps and fallen logs, natural habitats for bees, functioned as the first domestic beehives. Yet around 2,000 years ago, beekeepers started using artificial beehives. The first of these was the skep which looks like an overturned pot and they were usually made from backed clay or woven straw. There is a small hole at the bottom of the skep to allow the bees to come in and out of the hive and the comb was laid inside. Despite the skep being rarely used nowadays, this type of beehive is the one most often depicted in popular culture.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, another type of beehive was being used: the bee gum. A bee gum is a section of a hollow gum tree to be used as a shelter for bees. This is why these kinds of hives are known as bee gums. On some occasions, small sticks were placed over the tops of the hives to give support for honeycomb construction. There was however a drawback to using hives like the skeps and bee gums; the hive still needed to be destroyed to extract the honey and the bees would be killed in the process.
This led to experiments with “bar” hives. Bee gums were one of the hives modified to have removable bars. These bars were placed on the top of the open trunk to allow easy removal of the combs without destroying the colony and their hive. Aside from these modifications to the bee gum, most early experiments with bar hives in the 18th and 19th centuries usually didn’t go very well. The frames would usually require too much effort and result in the combs getting stuck together and destroyed, which ruined the honey.
Due to these failed experiments, hives with frames never really caught on however until Lorenzo Langstroth invented his framed hive design. Langstroth was a minister from Pennsylvania who was also a bee enthusiast. In the 1850’s, based on his observations of bees, he thought that bees wouldn’t build a comb in a space tighter than one centimeter (3/8ths of an inch). Drawing on this hypothesis, he invented a hanging bar hive with removable frames exactly one centimeter apart from each other and one centimeter apart from the box walls. With this new system, frames with honey could be easily removed without the combs sticking to the nearby frames. To this day, the Langstroth hive is the most popular for professional beekeepers and hobbyists