“The sound of bees buzzing is music to my ears,” says Mike Harris of Finger. For the past 11 years, Harris has made his living as a beekeeper.
At an early age, Harris realized he had a love for bees and enjoyed nature. His grandfather, Walter G. Harris, a beekeeper in Lexington, was instrumental in helping Harris develop his passion for bees.
“How the bees work is truly amazing,” says Harris. “There are three types of honey bees: the queen, who lays the eggs; the workers, females who gather food, make honey, build the honeycomb, tend the eggs and guard the hive; and the drones, males who mate with the queen. Once the queen lays an egg in the wax comb, it hatches into a worm-like larva and eventually turns into an adult bee.”
Most of the bees kept by Harris are wild bees that he has captured from homes, businesses, under decks and in chimneys. “It is surprising how many people actually call for this service,” he says. “Most of my customers are from the Jackson and Memphis area. It takes me approximately four to six hours to remove a hive from a home. I start the process by taking the comb first and then removing the bees with a ‘bee vac.’”
When Harris brings in a new batch of bees, he fills the hive (which is a wood box containing eight frames filled with combs) with bees and does not move them for about a week to make sure that the queen is laying the eggs. If the queen bee dies, the hive will also die.
The type of plant used for pollination determines the taste of the honey. In this area, Harris’ hives are set near soybean and cotton fields. Farmers are happy to see the beekeeper coming. He also sets hives along the Mississippi River near Dyersburg and in Tennessee Wildlife Reserve areas.
Without bees, there would be a lot of unpollinated fruits, flowers and trees that would not look so pretty. In the process of going from flower to flower to collect nectar, pollen from many plants gets stuck on the bee’s pollen basket (hair on the hind legs). This fertilizes the plants and produces seeds. The nectar is then carried back to the hive and turns into honey.
At harvest time, Harris brings in the hives to extract the honey. A small honey box weighs approximately 40 pounds, while the larger ones can weigh up to 90 pounds. “There is lots of physical labor and hard work involved in beekeeping,” Harris says, “but it is something I love to do.”
Extracting is the process whereby the beekeeper removes the cappings from the comb and places the frames into the extractor. Then a small motor spins the extractor so the honey flies out of the comb, against the side, down to the bottom and out into a filter. The filter removes any specks of wax or bee parts that might be in the honey as it flows. Before bottling, Harris leaves his honey in a settling tank for about two days. If any excess wax gets through the filter, it will float to the top of the settling tank. After the two-day period, the “liquid gold” is ready to be bottled.
From time to time, Harris has a request for beeswax from various health-food stores. He says, “There are at least 1,000 different uses for beeswax, from furniture polish to lip balm to candles. Every customer seems to have a different use for beeswax.”
Harris started his business with five hives and currently has about 180 scattered all over West Tennessee. For more information on beekeeping or if you’d like to purchase some raw honey or beeswax, contact Harris at 731-934-4109.