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  • Writer's pictureNona Spillers

A Year in Bees: Gratitude, Good Friends and the Connectedness of Everything!

When I retired at the end of 2022 I purposefully began the new year without a plan. I’m a planner - so it is hard for me to take things as they come.  Mother Nature to stepped in with an unexpected challenge.

John and I have kept bees since 2018.  Each year, our hobby has grown.  There are good years and difficult years. We’ve had enough honey to sell a bit the past two years.  Our neighborhood network and quirky front yard markets provided the perfect solution.

This summer, Patrick called in my promise for a trip to Europe.  Perfect, because I had the time.  John stayed behind to provide Springtime support for the bees.  There were 30ish hives when we left in early May.  By the time we returned, our count was up to 60.  An early Spring and robust bloom of bee balm meant the colonies grew large earlier than expected.  John made splits, dividing large colonies, to prevent swarming.  He is especially good at the process.  Add a dozen swarms that moved into his strategically placed boxes and a few rescues.

By mid July, I knew our harvest would be more than we expected.  2022 was nearly 900 pounds.  So,1200 lbs seemed a reasonable estimate because new colonies do not normally produce enough honey for harvest.  John says he will never forget the look on my face when we were harvesting our Haecker Farm crop - the last and largest.  It was clear our total was headed north of 2000 pounds.  Unprepared was an understatement.

I’ve been in marketing my whole life.  I had foolishly assured John that if the bees made it, I could sell it.  Good thing I retired, because all of a sudden, I had a full time job!

Jars were the first necessity.  We’re fussy about how we store our honey - we insist on glass.  The endless scavenger hunt for jars just wasn’t going to work.  Thankfully, I made a terrific connection with Pur Health Group, the maker of Pur mason jars.  They are heavy glass jars, made to meticulous standards and packed to insure integrity and cleanliness.  I even got to share some honey to the team when I was in Colorado this summer.  We’ve now ordered three pallets of jars!

With consistent jars solved, I was able to tweak our brand — from Spillers Honey Bees to Texas Sassy Bees.  We loved the family name - but I spent more time explaining which Spillers clan we were or weren’t than I did selling honey.  AND it didn’t work so well if a Spillers wasn’t there to sell each jar.  My good friend Rachel Landers, who designed a multitude of bee education materials for Whole Kids Foundation, graciously said yes to helping with our rebrand.  We kept the original bee that Megan created and simplified everything so it would work at a farmer’s market and on a retail shelf.

The gift shop at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center was first to offer us a spot on their shelves.  Extra special since John and I were married there and mom has volunteered more 500 hours in the shop.  It warms our hearts that brisk sales of our honey makes possible a tiny part of the amazing preservation, education & research that the Wildflower Center does.

Knowing we needed more customers than our neighbors, I signed up for a booth at the Jones Road Plant Pop Up Market now called Jones Road Bazaar.  I’ve done hundreds of event booths - but never anything like this.  THANKFULLY my intrepid sis became our market ace!  She brought her energy and experience and the tent to greet dozens of customers adventurous enough to compare the taste of honey from two different locations.  Every time someone said “WOW” my heart would swoon.  And with every question answered, I knew folks would respect honey bees and pollinators in a new way.

On an afternoon trip to Lockhart, I fell in love with the town’s gourmet shop.  My car is now always stocked with honey, so I left the guy at the counter with a jar.  After visiting the book store across the street, I saw him running down the sidewalk, “My boss liked the honey, I need your information.”  And thus began a fabulous relationship with The Culinary Room (TCR).

At TCR we learned about an event at Sunny Hills Flower Farm in Luling - what better place to talk about pollinators!  We shared honey and the Wild Grape Jelly my sister made from more than 100 pounds of muscadine grapes we harvested at Aunt Hanna’s Kingsbury Ranch.

A visitor to the flower farm let us know about the launch of the Luling Artisan Market on Main Street.  Why not!  At each and every market, we made new friends among the vendors and customers.

With a little confidence - and now my own tent, weights, banner and all of the payment widgets, I started to explore proper Farmer’s Markets.

Throughout the year I met a few people who have bees and needed a smidge of extra support.  One woman has 6 hives near COTA and had her own surprise - a harvest of 200 pounds of honey.

Another, who has become a dear friend, opened a door at the Wednesday Dripping Springs Farmer’s Market.  We LOVE having customers we see every week - who share their stories, families and recipes.  We’re now  there three weeks a month.

Last year I was honored to become the bee mentor for the Bowie High School Bee Club.  Eleven members were eager to learn and installed their first hives just before summer break.  When school started in the Fall, I was overjoyed to find the club had grown to more than 40 students.  Check out their video!

Honey bee habitat being threatened as it is, I happily helped with swarms from Smithville to Leander and everywhere in between.  Now that the City has changed to digital meters - bees can move into the boxes and live for a good while before they are discovered.  We have a five month old water meter colony rescue from McKinney Falls now in foster in a friends garden.

From a connection made at the Wildflower Center, we were invited to be the honey sold by the Lamar Senior Activity Center year end fundraiser.  What a vibrant community providing vital services and myriad activities for our elders - so grateful to be able to support in our small way.

And in December we got a call from someone who received our honey as a gift.  She read our story and called us to check out some bees in her tree.  It was a soccer ball sized paper wasp nest.  In the future, those will get re-homed to a new mycologist friend I met at the Golden Gaia Market now hosted on weekends at Casa de Luz!

…For all the invitations I’ve had to speak to groups like the Yaupon Society, an organic gardening group, to the UT Campus Environmental Center to our faithful neighbors who allow their kids to convene in our yard or kitchen for giggles and mess making!

…For the multitude of people who have met me in parking lots, accepted contactless deliveries and picked up honey under the bench by our door.

…For my good friend Beth would describe nature and all of this connectedness and coincidence as Faith.

...I am profoundly, deeply grateful for every moment (all 525,600 of them) of this past year.  And I’m on the edge of my seat to see what 2024 holds.

Gratitude to all those in our hive:

Rachel Villanueva, Rachel Landers, Megan Goldberg, Ruth Martinez, Kelle Villareal, Kelly Quinney, Grey Skelley, Charlie Reed, Kelly Quinney, the TCR crew, Pamela & Taz Moskwa @ GoldenGaia, Myr & the team @ Lamar Senior Center

Friend & family who host our bees:  The Dukes & the Langes

The Bowie HS staff for their patience and support, especially Tara Walker Leon and the bee club officers & members.

Beekeepers who inspire me:  Tara Chapman @ Two Hives, Tami Enright @ The Bee Cause, Hilary Kearny @ GirlNextDoor

Bee supporters: Carol the consummate bee foster mom and the team at Whole Foods Market for taking a stand on good pollinator practices.  And every other retailer who is doing their part.

The team at Whole Kids Foundation that is the ultimate and original inspiration for my interest in bees.

And, of course, our family John & Patrick Spillers, Joyce Evans & Susan Burhman who have all worked tirelessly so we have room for next year’s honey crop!

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