The sound of angry bees was almost deafening. Despite the eerie cacophony of the buzz, Mike Finnern calmly pulled out a tray full of bees and capped a honeycomb from the active hive.
“As long as you have the right protective gear, you’re fine,” he said as he turned the tray over to look for the queen bee, his face a few inches away from the busy bees.
Beekeeping is a hobby Finnern, a retired dentist, learned about six years ago.
Today he has about 10 active hives in his garden in Bartlett and produces rich, amber honey that has caught the eye of chefs like Andrew Armstrong of Bounty on Broad. “It’s the best honey I’ve ever tasted,” said Armstrong, who uses it in a Honey Tree Cake dessert on his restaurant’s menu.
Finnern is not alone when it comes to Memphians beekeeping as a hobby.
Eric Caron, president of the Memphis Area Beekeepers Association, said the organization typically has more than 300 current members at any given time.
But the number of beekeepers in the region is even greater.
“I’m guessing there are well over 1,000 active beekeepers in the Memphis area,” he said.
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Do you like bees?
Thinking of beekeeping as a hobby, Finnern said the first thing to consider is, “When you think of bees, do you think of honey first or getting stung?”
If bee stings are your first thought, he said beekeeping might not be for you.
But, if it’s honey, it’s a hobby that will enrich your life.
“I love eating honey, but what I really love about beekeeping is the learning process and the camaraderie with other beekeepers,” Finnern said. “You never stop learning.”
Finnern is a wealth of information on bees. As he led a tour of his hives, he explained everything from the life cycle of a bee, to how they work together as a community, to how to extract honey from hives.
Did you know that all worker bees are female? Or that the average life cycle of a worker bee is only 35 days, but a queen can live for several years.
Finnern said he still learns something new every day. He is currently trying his hand at raising his own queen bees.
How to start beekeeping
Finnern started with a hive, ordering bees by mail. You can order a box containing a queen and about 3 pounds of bees. “They will ship bees all over the country,” Finnern said. “But most come from here in the south because of the weather here.”
Over the years, he added hives to his apiary by collecting bees that built nests in Mid-South homes and yards. “The Memphis Area Beekeepers Association has a ‘swarm list,'” he explained. If you have a honeycomb on your property, a beekeeper like Finnern will come and remove the bees, bringing them home to create a new hive.
Finnern said the Memphis Area Beekeepers Association is an invaluable resource.
The organization not only mentors new beekeepers, but also provides resources for current members to borrow honey extractors during harvest season, monthly newsletters providing timely information on local, state and national beekeeping concerns, as well as a monthly general meeting of members with presentations adapted to the season. , keep everyone up to date with the art, science and practice of beekeeping.
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Before jumping into beekeeping and ordering a box of bees, Finnern recommends educating yourself as much as possible. Here are his top five tips for getting started in beekeeping.
Tip 1: Read. Lily. Lily
Finnern recommends reading and watching beekeeping videos to educate yourself and see if it’s something you really want to do.
Tip 2: Take a course
The Memphis Area Beekeepers Association holds an annual Beginning Beekeeping Workshop. For 57 years, the MABA Short Course has been training amateur beekeepers. The workshop usually takes place at the end of January. Visit memphisbeekeepers.com for more information.
Tip 3: Find a mentor
Finnern recommends that you find someone to work with who has been beekeeping for a while. “Think of it as an exchange,” he said. “You can help them with their hives, while they help you find out about yours.”
Tip 4: Join a beekeeping organization
Finnern suggests the Memphis Area Beekeepers Association, which holds monthly meetings and offers resources for members. “You get so much information by talking to other beekeepers,” Finnern said, adding that one thing he appreciates about the club is the diversity of members. “It’s really a cross section of society.”
Tip 5: Craft your own gear
Beekeeping can be an expensive hobby. To save money, Finnern recommends building as many things as possible. For example, make your own boxes or, if you order some, get a kit that you can assemble yourself rather than a finished box. Finnern even built his own juicer out of bicycle wheels and a food-grade barrel. “I like it as much as bees do,” Finnern said of making his own hives.
Finnern is also quick to add that harvesting honey is a hot, sticky mess. But, as he meanders between his hives and talks all things bee-related, you can tell his bees bring more joy to his life than headaches or stings.
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Jennifer Chandler is the food and restaurant reporter at The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @cookwjennifer.
cooking with honey
A spoonful of local honey is a sweet treat on its own, but it’s also delicious used in more than hot tea.
Susan Finnern, Mike’s wife, likes to drizzle it over banana bread or grilled pineapple slices. Here is his honey chicken recipe.
Honey Baked Chicken
1 whole chicken (3 lb), cut into pieces
½ cup butter, melted
½ cup of honey
¼ cup prepared yellow mustard
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon curry powder
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place the chicken pieces in a shallow baking sheet, skin side up. Combine melted butter, honey, mustard, salt and curry powder in a small bowl. Pour the mixture over the chicken.
Bake in preheated oven for 1½ hours (75 minutes), basting every 15 minutes with pan juices, until chicken is browned and tender and juices run clear.
For 4 people.