by Susan Frampton
The air of Lisa and Michael Hogue's suburban Augusta backyard is alive and pulses to the rhythm of thousands of delicate wings, driven by a single-minded purpose. Tiny jewel-like creatures dart through the sunlight again and again, following a course that takes them out dancing from bloom to blossom, then draws them back to shake the dust of the journey from their small bodies.
This dance drew the Hogues to create a rainbow-painted village of pastel boxes that stand in their yard, which serve as headquarters for the diminutive workers of Augusta Honey Company. Several years back, much as the honeypot in Milne's classic Winnie the Pooh attracted the attention of a bear, a hive that formed in the neighbor's hollow tree drew the couple and their two daughters to the art of beekeeping.
"We really enjoyed watching them," Michael says of the wild bees that later moved on. "And we decided that we'd like to raise bees."
The two have created a product line as a result of the two hives that launched their foray into the busy life of bees, which grew from a simple tube of chapstick, made from leftover beeswax, to an impressive array of balms, lotions, soaps, candles, and of course, the wild, golden elixir produced by their colony of Italian honeybees.
Beautifully packaged, the all-natural products are a sensory feast of fragrance and flavor - soothing and calming with essential oils, drizzling sweet sensation into everything from morning tea to evening cocktails, and offering an age-old alternative to healing with an aptly named salve called BooBoo Honey.
Michael turned to YouTube when researching a way to create hollow, re-usable honeypots from the beeswax by-products of the bees, finding inspiration in the design process used to make Hollywood props. Beautiful and functional, the resulting pots that hold honey at room temperature can be washed with warm, soapy water, air-dried, and reused. They are unique to the Augusta Honey Company and lovely in their golden simplicity. One of his designs replicated the cut-crystal of an antique candy dish found at an antique shop in town, making it an attractive addition to the kitchen counter or dining table.
As the bees go about their business, Michael suits up to check the hives. As he moves among the bees, they take little notice of his white-clad figure. Time is honey to the workers, and they are on the clock. He removes a catch frame from one of the boxes. It is heavy with almost three gallons of the bees' liquid labor, and buzzes with the intensity of their industry.
"We don't heat treat our honey or anything. We just take it and spin it in an extractor or crush the combs in a bag. They honey's distinct flavor is drawn from the bees' food sources," Lisa explains. "We keep bees here, and also in North Augusta, so that they have different food sources. Ours is primarily the flavor of wildflowers..."
The threat of pesticides, colony collapse, parasitic mites, and newly emerging viruses are a constant worry for beekeepers around the world, but the Hogues are optimistic about the future of their hives.
"You worry about them, and you learn how to manage them as you go," Michael says.
There is no doubt that the future of these bees is in good hands, and that the continued success of Augusta Honey Company's bee team will be a sweet reward that benefits us all.