WEATHERFORD, TX — Most of us run from them. We swat at them. We spray harsh chemicals at them in the hope they will fly far away from us, never to return. But this isn’t the case with Jason Smith. Jason keeps bees on his property.
For Jason, it’s a family tradition. His grandfather kept bees during the Great Depression, and his father followed him in that vocation. Back then, you could buy a hive for just $5. “They didn’t have any gear,” Jason said, speaking of the traditional hat, gloves and mosquito nettings. “Somebody would call and spot a hive up in a tree. They would cut down the tree to get to the hive. They would put the bees from the hive in their lunchboxes or in large water coolers and take them home.” Those days spent with his father and grandfather bring back happy memories for Jason.
“Extraction day — getting the honey from the hive — was awesome!” he said. “I learned a lot about bees back then. Basically, bees are a lot like people. They have their own way of doing things and their own system of organization. They have a hierarchy in place.” When a hurricane hit the family’s area in Beaumont, Texas, and wiped out the bee hives, Jason said his father never really picked up the hobby again. In 2000, Jason got married to Christina and settled with his family just west of Weatherford. The family planted a garden and some fruit trees. Before too long, Jason found himself thinking about his family’s old hobby. “I started thinking to myself that maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start up doing bees again,” he shared.
Shortly thereafter, his wife called him while he was at work. A swarm of bees was in one of the family’s peach trees. “She told me she had called an exterminator, and it would cost around $400 to kill them,” Jason remembered with a smile. “I told her to leave them alone!”
Jason called a neighbor of his who constructed some boxes to be used for hives. That was four years ago. Today, there are 70 hives on the Smith property. When Jason begins talking about bees, he waxes eloquent and provides a vast load of information he has acquired over the years. “Bees were here before us,” Jason stated. “They know what to do better than we know how to manipulate them.”
Ancient cave drawings have been found, which record men practicing the art of beekeeping. Historical documentation shows beekeeping being practiced in France, Spain, ancient Babylon and Egypt. “Containers of honey were found in some of the pyramids,” Jason added.
Jason believes bees are a true democracy. “Everyone has a job to do,” he explained. “And everything is for the benefit of the colony.”
What about queen bees? “The difference between a queen bee and any other type of bee is simply what they are fed,” Jason said. “I am currently working on raising my own queen bees.” He’s lost too many hives in the past, so raising his own queens makes perfect sense.
Jason further explained how bees gather pollen for themselves as a necessary protein source. They gather it on their legs in an amount that would be comparable to an average-sized person carrying a five-gallon bucket full of water on each leg. “They might carry that much pollen for a total of two miles back to their home,” Jason stated. Naturally, some of the grains drop off as bees move from flower to flower, which aids in floral pollination.
The bees communicate in their own language known as the waggle dance. “The bee language is the only language that exists outside of mammals,” Jason explained. By performing this dance, successful bees can share, with other members of the colony, information about the direction and distance to patches of flowers yielding nectar and pollen, to water sources or to new housing locations. “The dance,” Jason said, “is related to the position of the sun.”
With his 70 hives, Jason was able to produce 50 gallons of honey in 2012. “It’s a great hobby!” Jason said. “But it’s not a career. I like not having to worry about my paycheck.” Jason is a full-time paramedic; however, he does admit that he may consider being a beekeeper on a full-time basis after retirement.
Even though beekeeping is not a career for Jason, he’s learned over the years that there is money in honey. Some areas will pay a beekeeper to bring their hives out for a time period in order to pollinate their crops. In California, bees are really in demand. “Almonds can’t pollinate themselves,” Jason explained, “so farmers are willing to do what’s necessary for a bee colony to be put in place to help in the pollination process.”
Jason’s wife thought bees would be a passing phase and has since found out differently. “She realized I wasn’t going to give up!” Jason stated. Soon, Christina found ways to use the hives to make special bee lotion and lip balm. The family enjoys sharing those items, as well as honey, with their family and friends.
Earlier this year, Jason got a call from a lady who had found him on the Web when searching for “bee removal.” She asked him if he would speak to a group of homeschoolers. About 85 children showed up, and Jason remembers how inquisitive they were. He proposed those who were interested could come out to see the hives firsthand. About 60 agreed to the idea. “We had to do it in waves.” Jason admitted. “We took five students at a time.” They had such an enjoyable time that Jason plans to stage similar field trips in the future.
In the meantime, Jason keeps busy with his routine at his regular job, and his spare time is spent with the beehives. He is also an active member of the Metro Beekeepers Association. Once a month, the group meets and hears different speakers relevant to that particular field.
Almost everybody has a hobby. Jason has one many would not understand. However, it’s one that holds his attention and fascination. And it’s also one he loves to share with others at every opportunity.
Written by Rick Hope.