Two Sisters and the Lady Bee-Keeper

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

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"Nobody around here had ever seen a lady bee-keeper till her. She liked to tell everybody that women made the best bee-keepers, 'cause they have a special ability built into them to love creatures that sting. It comes from years of loving children and husbands."


-- Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees




We love the novel The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. It's a gripping, funny and poignant story that uses the backdrop of the art of bee-keeping as a metaphor for life and the varied roles that we, as women, play.


This story resonated so much with us that we were inspired to seek out our own modern Jamaican example of a lady bee-keeper: Enter Grace Foster-Reid.


Grace Foster-Reid is one of a handful of active commercial bee-keepers and honey producers in Jamaica today, producing top-quality organic honey with innovaton and, pun intended, grace under her brand Eco Farms.


While we all know that the by-product of bee-keeping is honey, very few of us actually know how honey is made. In essence, honey is made from the nectar of flowers that is collected by bees from various plants which they store in "honey stomachs". Once the honey stomach is full, the bees return to the hive where the honey is extracted by the "house bees". The house bees "chew" the nectar using enzymes that break down the complex sugars after which the nectar is spread on the honeycomb so that the water may evaporate leaving a thick syrup, aka honey, which the bees then seal with beeswax until it is ready to be consumed. We now understand the reason for the old cliché "as busy as a bee" because these little guys never stop.


In fact, bees function under an uber-efficient system of production that many modern-day factories would kill to replicate. Intrigued, we asked Grace to take us to one of her farms so that we could observe the process for ourselves. Bees live in colonies, or what we like to call little apartment buildings that are, essentially, production centres for honey.


Each colony is controlled by a queen bee (you know we love that part) and the worker bees run around doing her bidding and protecting her, which sounds even better!


Jokes aside, the queen bee is the heart and soul of a honey bee colony and is the only bee without which the rest of the colony could not survive; in essence, a good quality queen means a strong and productive hive. Take note, gentlemen!


Only one queen lives in a given hive; she is the largest bee in the colony, with a long and graceful body.


As the only female with fully developed ovaries, the queen's two primary purposes are to produce chemical scents that help regulate the unity of the colony and to lay lots of eggs.


All other bees pay close attention to the queen, tending to her every need. Like royalty, she's always surrounded by a flock of attendants as she moves about the hive.


Yet, in this instance, the royal attendants are not there to simply indulge the whims and fancies of a spoiled diva; they do, in fact, play a vital role and are essential to her survival because the queen is totally incapable of tending to her own basic needs.


The queen can neither feed nor groom herself and she can never leave the hive. And so, her doting attendants take care of her basic needs while she tirelessly goes from cell to cell doing what she does best... laying eggs.


Now you know why we were so intrigued. Prior to our visit to see the hives we got a quick lesson on the do's and don'ts from Grace and then, layered up and armed with camera in hand, we braved our fears and headed out in search of Queen Bee. Actually, we felt a bit like the paparazzi on the lookout for Lady Di, but that's another story all together.


Like most celebrities, however, our queen was evasive allowing us only a quick glimpse, proving herself to be more than just a little camera shy...


Grace's skill and innovation as a lady bee-keeper exceeded our wildest imagination and was reflected in her unique range of honey and honey-derived products.


Eco Farms has certainly reinvented this sweet classic by introducing a range of flavoured honeys like coffee, lemongrass lime and tamarind. It even produces a pimento and a logwood honey, to boot.


The pimento honey was, as Grace calls it, a "buck-up".


One day she randomly discovered that the bees on one of her farms had started gathering nectar from the blossoms of the pimento tree -- who even knew that pimento trees had blossoms? The result: a sinfully delicious, and equally rare treat that holds subtle notes of pimento and allspice... we were blown away! Eco Farms is also the first to launch mead.


Mead or honey wine, for the uninitiated, is one of the oldest alcoholic drinks known to man. Made from honey and water via fermentation with yeast, mead tastes a little bit like sherry. It can be still, carbonated, or sparkling; dry, semi-sweet, or sweet; plain or flavoured with other ingredients. To take it up a notch Grace also produces her honey wines in a variety of Jamaican flavours such as starfruit, sorrel and otaheitie apple, to name a few.


After a day spent in the gracious company of our hostess enjoying some true Jamaican hospitality, The Secret Life of Bees comes once again to mind; in particular we recall the quick lesson on "bee etiquette" offered up by August Boatwright, the lady bee-keeper, to Lily Owens, the protagonist, and we marvel once again at its relevance as a methodology for dealing with the many nuances of life:


"She reminded me that the world was really one bee yard, and the same rules work fine in both places. Don't be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you. Still, don't be an idiot; wear long sleeves and pants. Don't swat. Don't even think about swatting. If you feel angry, whistle. Anger agitates while whistling melts a bee's temper. Act like you know what you're doing, even if you don't. Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved."


-- Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees




Nuff said. Tune in next week Sunday for our season finale and a taste of Caribbean Potluck at our very special ladies lunch. Join us on TVJ at 5:30pm for a delicious ending to season two of Two Sisters and a Meal.


    

 

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