Queens of the Bees

“Last year I was getting into a hive without smoking it, and realized within seconds that I had a small gap in my veil zipper,” said the Earth Adventures store manager and beekeeper.

“I got stung about 10 times in my face and ended up with a Jay Leno chin for a couple of days. I have learned my lesson.”

McCue is one of several area women beekeepers who regard the activity as a “very rewarding hobby.”

“It’s neat getting into the hives and observing the everyday life of how the bee colony works together. I love to feed the queens right when they hatch. It is fascinating watching the queen eat the drop of honey right off my finger.” - Bridgette McCue, beekeeper for seven years

“It’s neat getting into the hives and observing the everyday life of how the bee colony works together. I love to feed the queens right when they hatch. It is fascinating watching the queen eat the drop of honey right off my finger.” – Bridgette McCue, beekeeper for seven years. Photos by Bonnie Manning, Feature Photographer

She got into the avocation nearly seven years ago when she began dating her boyfriend, Michael Bodeker, who with his dad Rick Bodeker, has been McCue’s mentor at Michael’s parents’ Noble County farm.

“It was very fun and I love helping to increase the bee population, because even if we have a small apiary, every bee counts,” said McCue, adding that the farm is a great place to keep bees because it is “80 acres of wildflowers, wetlands, grasslands and forests for the bees to collect plenty of pollen and nectar to flourish.

“It’s neat getting into the hives and observing the everyday life of how the bee colony works together. Michael has been raising queens, and I love to feed the queens right when they hatch. It is fascinating watching the queen eat the drop of honey right off my finger.”

McCue recommends that novice beekeepers connect with the Northeastern Indiana Beekeepers Association for information, to be persistent and to get into beekeeping not for the money but rather for the love of bees.

Linda Jones has been involved in beekeeping for six years. She did wax and honeybee products for the first few years and then took “Bee School” and built her own hive.

“I was mentored by (husband) Harry and NEIBA,” said the Fort Wayne resident who now owns six hives.

“The first year we extracted honey, we had our daughter-in-law and four small children helping. It is now a family event with all four of our children, most of the 17 grandchildren, extended family and a few friends involved. The past three years, we have had between 30 and 40 people here for the ‘Honey Party’ in the fall.

“The first year we extracted honey, we had our daughter-in-law and four small children helping. It is now a family event with all four of our children, most of the 17 grandchildren, extended family and a few friends involved. The past three years, we have had between 30 and 40 people here for the ‘Honey Party’ in the fall.” - Linda Jones, beekeeper for six years

“The first year we extracted honey, we had our daughter-in-law and four small children helping. It is now a family event with all four of our children, most of the 17 grandchildren, extended family and a few friends involved. The past three years, we have had between 30 and 40 people here for the ‘Honey Party’ in the fall.” – Linda Jones, beekeeper for six years. Photos by Bonnie Manning, Feature Photographer

“We give away more than half our honey to family and friends who come to help extract and then we gift the remaining honey to friends throughout the year – some in need of honey for allergies.”

Asked for an especially memorable moment, Jones recalled one a year ago.

“Last year we were watching a video on collecting swarms (of bees) with our four grandchildren who were visiting,” said Jones. “Just as the movie ended, our son arrived to pick up the kids and simultaneously we got a call from our association swarm rep who asked if we wanted to get a swarm.

“We were all so excited, so we drove to the swarm location and I got to collect the swarm with the grandkids looking on from a safe distance. By the way, swarm bees are very docile as they have no home or honey to protect. It was a thrilling experience for the grandkids to always remember.” Maraiah Russell, registered veterinary technician at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, began going on swarms with her grandfather, Fred Russell, during her childhood, and started her own hive eight years ago.

“My grandpa played a trick on me when I was a kid,” said the Vevay native.

“He said you have to taste the bees to see if they were healthy, and then proceeded to put a drone bee in his mouth. He still does that today with new visitors for shock value – drones are male bees that don’t have a stinger.”

According to Russell, the connection with nature is, “amazing, and keeping a hive really gives you a unique opportunity to see the wonders of nature up close. It is truly a female-dominated society, and the biology of the honeybee is just unbelievable! I especially enjoy sharing my passion for beekeeping with others, particularly children, who need to understand the importance of every small creature.”

Russell, who has a backyard hive, also manages four hives locally at Tanglewood Berry Farm and helps manage other hives near Markle.

“Tanglewood is a certified organic farm, so hopefully the bees there are exposed to fewer chemicals,” said Russell who teaches beginner classes there and also gives Bee Chats at the zoo on Sundays.

“Bees can fly for 2-plus miles in search of nectar and pollen, though, so you can’t control what they are exposed to when they visit other properties. You would need a beehive set in the middle of about 1,300 acres of organic land to be able to claim that the honey is organic.”

If a novice is contemplating taking up beekeeping, Russell recommended doing a lot of reading and research and talking with experienced people in the field.

“Learning from a local beekeeper is priceless because she or he knows the challenges of our particular area. Beekeeping is an art and a science and a responsibility once you have committed to a hive,” noted Russell. “Having a backyard hive can be compared to having a pet. It is a choice to keep a living creature under your care, and you are responsible for all that goes along with that.”

Beekeeping can be a wonderful family activity, and the resulting fresh honey is a bonus, said Russell, who generously shares her honey with family and friends.


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