There is life before the coronavirus pandemic...and life after. We drove down to Texas and wrote our last entry in the “life before” world. Travis and I were in southeast Texas when the pandemic was declared.
In this article, I will tell a few stories/ramblings about being a beekeeper during a pandemic.
Imagine being in a part of the U.S. where many, many people carry guns, and the gap between rich and poor is abundantly apparent. An area deemed “the alligator capital of Texas.” An area where the local radio station at first denies the pandemic, then drives the populace into a frenzy with fear of lack of toilet paper and food.
Just like in Minnesota, the grocery stores, dollar stores, and gas stations have been stripped empty of all necessary items. Shelves are bare, fear slowly settles like dust.
All the while, Travis and I are performing essential work away from the safety of home. We have to continue raising queen bees. Without these multiple thousands of queens going to hundreds of customers, our food supply will be impacted in the future.
Bees are necessary for pollination. Without bees, there would be a serious lack of alfalfa, almonds, apples, avocados, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, cucumbers, onions, oranges, squash and hundreds of other food items. This would affect animals that eat these crops – like cows eat alfalfa and humans eat hamburgers. You get the idea: We need bees to pollinate crops so that we can have food to supply our population.
The mixture of emotion is powerful: both being an essential worker and being in a remote, wild-wild-west location during a pandemic.
In Texas, we live in a multi-housing complex in the poor part of a small town. The first night that the pandemic became real was also when somebody decided that they needed to cut down a tree by themselves. This tree fell on the power lines and took out all of the electricity for the entire neighborhood. Imagine everyone – already in a panicked state – now without power and having to cook outside on the grill with candles, trying to keep six feet apart from their neighbors.
And then, magically, someone put music on, and the panic turned to community bonding. We were all in this together. Hours later, the power came back on, and we could hear the town cheering from inside their apartments.
Just for like any small business right now, it is a time of economic uncertainty. Farming in general is typically a risky, weather-dependent occupation. However, now it is compounded by the fact that we do not know when/if stores and restaurants will begin purchasing honey again. Nevertheless, now is the time that we have to make decisions for results that we won’t see until harvest in late summer.
We are trying to readjust our plans in order to both 1) be hopeful about the future and have ample honey to sell and 2) take the proper precautions so that we can have other bee-related income.
One idea is to increase the number of hives that we sell, perhaps sell mated queens, and if absolutely needed, do what we thought we’d never do: go to almonds for pollination for the first time with a portion of our hives.
Our hives in Minnesota need our attention, so we had to come back to tend to them. We decided to drive the 18 hours back home; flying is just too risky right now. We prepared all of our meals ahead of time. We pulled over to the side of the road to go to the bathroom. We slept in our vehicle. We made it home (1,174.3 miles) in a day and a half.
The only people we had to interact with were two toll booth workers in Oklahoma. We had to hand them $2.75 and they had to hand us a receipt. We made sure to sanitize our hands afterwards. We took everything very seriously and every precaution necessary.
Now that we are back in Minnesota, we already feel better. We are keeping to ourselves and doing the bee work that we have to do.
There is something about being home that makes one feel comforted. We have been going through the hives, taking off their winter wraps and feeding them pollen. We are very pleased with what we are finding! So far, over 90 percent survival and all heavy with honey.
It’s good to be home.
We wish you and your loved ones well during this crazy time. Please stay safe and take this seriously. I often think about other essential worker jobs– grocery store and gas station attendants, those working in nursing homes and home health care, hospital staff, and everyone helping to keep these locations clean. Thank you for everything that you are doing. Please know that you are appreciated.
Travis Bolton is a 2001 Park Rapids High School graduate. Chiara’s interest in honeybees began on the Tibetan Plateau, where she lived for five years. The couple has a honey house in Menahga and hives in Sebeka, Akeley, Midway and around the Twin Cities. Bolton Bees can be reached at www.boltonbees.com or email@example.com.