Beekeeping

Beekeeping novel makes its fashionable debut – Winnipeg Free Press

The vital role of bees in global food production is increasingly recognized and gardeners are planting flowers to attract and nurture these pollinators. In his first novel crazy honeyKatie Welch takes an imaginative look at beekeeping and how it bonds a family.

Welch writes novels and teaches music in Kamloops, British Columbia. She grew up in Ottawa and chose Lanark County, a fertile countryside near Ottawa, as the setting for her novel.

In crazy honey, Melissa Makepeace and her foster sister Daphne run Hopetown Farm, started by Melissa’s parents, Charlie and Jill. Charlie disappeared when Melissa was 11; when she asked if he was coming back, his mother said no – he was still alive but had abandoned them. Despite her mother’s words, Melissa still half-expects Charlie to suddenly reappear, walking through the farmhouse door with a believable explanation for her long absence.

crazy honey

crazy honey

Unable to fully accept that Charlie is likely dead, she tells the local police about the evidence they initially gathered while trying to locate him. She finds out that some of the people who say they saw Charlie’s old truck in a nearby town, or think they saw him drinking at a local bar, are now changing their statements.

Jill ably runs the farm after Charlie leaves, aided by their farmhand Joseph Sommerton. “Joseph quietly took over jobs Charlie had left behind, the farmhand magically appearing when strong arms were needed, silently lifting or pulling, restraining a stubborn and aggressive animal or fixing a broken truck.” When she was young, Melissa thought of Joseph as a surrogate uncle, but their relationship deteriorates over time and Melissa now feels like he generally disobeys her orders. This includes his request to help him harvest honey from the farm’s hives.

Melissa needs a hand with the honey this fall because Beck Wise, her fellow beekeeper and lover, has been missing all summer. She doesn’t know why he left and isn’t very happy to see him again when he returns to the farm on his birthday in September. Beck is disheveled, very thin and, most confusingly, unable to tell her where he has been for the past three months.

Beck has no clear idea what happened to him but clings to the impossible belief that he lived and worked like a bee in a hive. “I tell you, I feel like bees. A whole colony of bees. Like all I did this summer was drink nectar, collect pollen, care for larvae, fan the hive, take care of my queen – I was bees.

He loves taking care of bees and has learned a lot about them. Yet he realizes that his unexplained absence and the mental images that haunt him are far from normal. His mother, Eurydice de Famosa, is a Cuban high priestess of Santeria. She encourages the flights of her sensitive son and does not rule out the possibility of a human turning into an animal or an insect. Beck’s father, Canadian Matthew Wise, a professional photographer, believes his son’s mental confusion must be the result of physical or mental injury, and he insists on taking Beck to a doctor friend in Toronto for testing.

Beck’s obsession with bees brings him into contact with his neighbor Marjorie Hill. A widow in her seventies, Marjorie lives in a dilapidated house but keeps her hives in perfect condition. She teaches Beck about the distinct roles of bees, how to handle frames and extrude honey safely, and the types of diseases that can quickly kill a hive. “That afternoon spent in Marjorie’s apiary gave him the confidence he needed to start keeping bees.

Marjorie also introduces Beck to deli ban, a dark orange honey that she believes has powerful medicinal qualities.

Worried about Beck’s mental state, Melissa struggles to finish the harvest and prepare the farm for the coming winter. Despite the setbacks of the farm, she is determined to organize and hold the annual harvest banquet.

Welch’s descriptions of Hopetown Farm and the surrounding countryside provide a visual backdrop for the actions of crazy honeycharacters. The information she includes about the life of bees also fleshes out the plot. There are a few unanswered questions, such as the basis of Jill’s relationship with the taciturn Joe, but overall the novel ends on a sweet note.

Andrea Geary is a freelance writer in Winnipeg.