Millington's Sweet Buzz
A sweet hobby turned lucrative through hard work, sends a buzz throughout Millington as a local beekeeper commits to the community and a small hive of bees.
Little did this beekeeper know that his amateur interest would soon morph into the sweet life he had always craved.
Chris and Meredith Sanders have owned and operated an apiary on Meade Lake Road in Millington for a little over a year now. For his regular 9-5 job, Chris works as a Flight Simulator Technician for FedEx and Meredith runs the business end of the operation, all the while raising their two adorable kids, Steven 6 and Anna 13.
Chris’ love of beekeeping evolved naturally. As a home gardener, he noticed that his squash and watermelon production wouldn’t really start taking off until the bees discovered his garden and started helping to pollinate it. His mother-in-law generously gifted him two hives so he could try and boost his garden production the next growing season. He set up his hives and then ordered two bee colonies via USPS. Funny enough, a postal worker called him to come pick them up from behind the Post Office as he was too afraid to handle them once they arrived.
That first season Chris’ bees must not have felt comfortable in their new home because they left almost as quickly as they arrived. Not to be defeated, Chris would try again, but this time he would reach out to the Memphis Area Beekeepers Association for assistance. The Association’s President at the time, Stewart Hoosier, put the apiarist in touch with his soon to be mentor, Robert Hodum. A discouraged Chris shared his concern with Robert, telling him how the bees just up and left! Robert took Chris under his wing and promised him he wouldn’t let the next colony leave under his instruction. Chris had his doubts, but sure enough, the bees stayed that season and he’s been keeping them ever since.
His process includes monitoring the bees frequently enough to ensure any problem is caught and remedied quickly; but infrequently enough that the bees don’t feel infringed upon. The majority of the delicate operation occurs in the bottom box of the hive, also known as the brood box. That’s where the queen resides and lays eggs. On top of that is a frame called a Queen excluder and the sole purpose of this structure is to keep the Queen in the lower section of the hive. Above that, worker bees build up their honeycomb cells in structures called “supers.” This is where pollen and honey are stored and can be harvested by the beekeeper.
To harvest the honey, the frames are carefully removed and taken to the processing room. A heated electric knife is used to slice off the wax caps that the bees placed on top of each cell. Bees create these caps in order to keep the honey inside their combs. Once the caps are removed, the frames are placed inside the extractor. Essentially, the extractor is one big centrifuge. The frames are placed inside the extractor and spun until all the honey is pooled at the bottom. When the spinning is finished, a spigot is opened so the honey can run into a bucket below. Before bottling, the honey bucket is placed inside a “hot box” where the temperature is kept at a steady 120 degrees. This ensures the honey will flow nicely through a simple strainer into the bottles. Running honey through a filter removes “good things” like pollen, and flavor so by running the honey through a strainer, they are able to remove rogue pieces of wax, and bee parts while leaving the “good stuff” intact. After bottling, they are labeled and hand-delivered to the retailer.
The flavors and colors of the honey change as the season progresses. Depending on what the bees are eating, the honey can range from a very light amber color to a deep brown. You can even taste subtle differences depending on the batch. It all tastes like honey but some might taste more floral, some more fruity; it just depends on what’s blooming. Honey production is also weather dependent. One hive’s yield can range between 30 and 150 pounds of honey depending on wind and rain.
When asked what he felt was the best part of beekeeping Chris stated, “The honey of course!” But, there are also drawbacks. “It’s a lot of work and it’s HOT.” Chris recounted one particularly uncomfortable reaction he had when a bee stung him on the hand. He had been stung before, but for whatever reason, this time it was different. He was rushed to the Emergency Room with difficulty breathing, and his arm had swelled to the point of excruciating pain. Chris recovered quickly and hasn’t had another experience like that one since. Beekeeping isn’t without its hazards, both to the apiarist and the bees. For instance...
Colony Collapse Disorder (a mysterious occurrence where established bee colonies just disappear for no known reason) has been mentioned in the news in recent years and luckily the Sanders haven’t encountered that problem with their hives. However; there are some practices we can do to help make things easier on the honeybee. If spraying chemicals on your yard is necessary, there are times of the day when you can spray to lessen the impact on the bees. If you need to spray insecticides, opt to spray either very early in the morning or late in the evening. Those are the times the bees are not venturing out so it will give the poison time to dry before the bees return to gather the nectar.
What started off as a hobby has transformed into a productive business. Chris doesn’t just get honey from the bees, he’s also learned valuable lessons in patience, perseverance, and acceptance. “You have to realize that learning is a process. You’re going to make mistakes, you just have to roll with it and learn as you go.” When asked what advice he would pass along to the general public, Chris emphasized the importance of supporting your local honey producers. “Unfortunately, honey is one of the most adulterated imports, and one of the only ways to ensure you’re receiving a pure product is to buy local”. When shopping for honey at your local grocery store, read the label to see where it originated. If it was imported, there’s a good chance it’s been blended with another substance to stretch it and you can’t be sure of what you’re eating.
When asked what the future looks like for the Sanders Apiary, Chris stated that he hopes to get more equipment and more hives. Meredith shared her desire to supply a major retailer with their honey one day. Currently, Sanders honey can be purchased at MidSouth Marketplace and Boatwright’s Pharmacy in Millington, Haddad’s Department Store in Munford, Geek and Wonder in Atoka, 51 Liquors in Atoka, and Carl’s Liquor Store in Bartlett. Their honey is also used to make the Cinnamon Roll Biscuits at Kinfolk in Memphis. Check out their page on Facebook at Sanders Local Honey as well as their Instagram @SandersLocalHoney. After you give their honey a taste be sure and share your experience using #beesandbreakfast.
If you are interested in beekeeping or learning more about beekeeping in your community, the Memphis Area Beekeepers Association meets at 7 P.M. every second Monday of the month at the Agricenter, 7777 Walnut Grove Road around back in Concourse C. See their website for more information at www.MemphisBeekeepers.com