Meet Sharon Jones, the Benzie Bee Mistress. For those who know her, to call her by that title is an understatement. This Benzie resident has spent the last four decades nurturing, raising, selling, and teaching about honey bees.
Based in both Benzie County and the Florida panhandle, Jones’s passion for bees takes many forms. Jones and her husband, Kirk, own three businesses centered around bees and their honey: Sleeping Bear Farms, an organic honey farm, St. Ambrose Cellars, a meadery and winery, and BeeDazzled, an organic bee byproduct shop. Jones also heads the Benzie Bee Guild, a beekeeping enthusiast group, through a local community organization called Grow Benzie.
During a recent visit to Grow Benzie and their hives, Jones bestowed some of her wisdom about her buzzing buddies and the art of beekeeping. Here are just a few.
A bee’s life is circular.
While bees live in stacked boxes, their habits are far from square. Jones points out that everything a bee does is “circular by nature.” When they swarm, they form into a circular shape. When they are building comb in their hives, it appears round in the frames. Even when bees are in a honey flow (a specific time when, due to good weather and lots of available nectar sources, bees are foraging for nectar), they tend to fly and buzz about in what looks like a large circle around their hives.
Bees get a bad rap.
Watching Jones tend to her bees can seem a little nerve-racking for the bee novice. Jones is comfortable wearing just a veil among the hives; no protective jacket or gloves. “Bees are uninterested in what we’re doing,” she explains while prying open a hive box and gently removing one of the frames with her bare hands. “A honey bee will only sting if it feels threatened.” In fact, the male honey bee doesn’t even have a stinger. Bees are too busy (pun intended) to antagonize humans.
You can’t learn everything on YouTube.
YouTube is great for home improvement tips, but not for beekeeping tutorials. Jones encourages anyone interested in beekeeping to find a mentor. Beekeeping has a long tradition of mentorship programs. That’s how the Benzie Bee Guild was formed. Aspiring beekeepers work alongside experienced people like Jones to learn the skill before going off on their own. And if Jones sells someone bees, she requires the buyer to tend to the Benzie Bee Guild’s bees for some time. That way, the buyer can learn from Jones and her fellow beekeepers, ensuring the buyer’s continued interest and the safety of the bees.
Bees need your help.
The plight of the bees and their importance to our ecosystem has been the talk across the country. Jones stresses that there is plenty that can help the bee population right here in northern Michigan. “Educate yourself, talk to your neighbors and vote,” she said.
The Benzie Bee Guild offers various educational opportunities to learn more about raising bees and understanding their importance. For instance, both beginners and more seasoned beekeepers will gather this month for the Cherryland-sponsored 2019 Northern Natural Beekeeping Conference to learn from beekeeping experts, engage in discussion, and hone their skills through workshops.
With just one visit, seeing Jones’s passion for honey bees will make anyone want to toss on a veil and tend to a hive. And if you’re not so sure, just talk to the Benzie Bee Mistress. You’ll learn pretty quickly what all the buzz is about.