I'm trying to remember the precise moment I lost control of this whole thing. Five years ago, I got my first bee hives. I had two of them. Well, about two and a half—two of which made it through that fateful first winter. Quickly did I learn that a blessing (or a curse) of honey bees is that they multiply with great vigor. Two strong hives, aggressively split in the spring, can become six. Six strong hives can become eighteen; so, even if winter losses approach 50%, a beekeeper can still end up with significantly more hives than he started with. When this cycle plays out for, say, five or six years, one can easily become overrun with a bevy of hardworking honey bee colonies. For about fifty weeks a year, this is no problem. Individual hives, left to their own devices, typically don't require much maintenance. As long as they have strong queens, few pesky pests to harass them, some good food, and room to expand, life is good—for those fifty weeks.
Then there are those other two weeks, when the generally self-sufficient nectar and pollen connoisseurs require a small army to attend to their needs. Perhaps "army" is a bit of an exaggeration. It's more like a highly-trained special forces unit of dedicated beekeeping professionals who spring into action to remove the magically delicious honey from the hives, extract it, and make it available to the eager honey fans who have been lying in wait for the new crop. From beginning to end, the whole process is fascinating to behold. For the first year or two, I had a lot more free time to behold it. With the right equipment, extracting honey from a half dozen hives is not an unmanageable investment of time for a couple of experienced beekeepers. But when a half dozen turns into many, many dozens, it's a different ballgame.
Beekeeping is a team sport. Some might find it hard to believe that anyone would play on a team whose uniform involves a thick jacket and a veil worn on 100° summer days amid a cloud of stinging bugs, but beekeepers are a different breed. They are, with rare exceptions, a kind breed—a helpful, community-oriented, and supportive breed. The comradery among bee wranglers makes the long, sticky, honey-drenched days fun and manageable. Maintaining a bunch of hives alone during those insane two weeks would be a much more grueling experience for both body and spirit.
Since I started keeping bees, I have been guided by excellent mentors whose patience, expertise, and help have given me the knowledge and support to do what I do. In particular, Roy and Sis Clingon of Dixie Bee, and Skip McInnis of McInnis Apiaries have taught me more than I could ever have gleaned from books. They are tireless workers seemingly undaunted by the hot July sun of south Mississippi. For the past few years, I have also been fortunate to work with Steve Sanders, Steve Oshrin, and Jackie Moore whose help has been immeasurable. When extraction season is over and I am no longer covered in honey from head to toe, when my shoes stop making that weird sucking sound from walking with honey on my soles, and when I look around and see the giant stacks of honey buckets that have overtaken every corner of my home, I feel a profound sense of gratitude—for good friends, for good bees, and for knowing that I don't have to do this alone—at least for another fifty weeks.