Brenda Tracey loves the buzz that surrounds her. As a youngster, this Belleville resident experienced something many of us can relate to - an unexpected and irritating encounter with bees - while on a family camping trip. For most people, these unwanted matchups forever educate us to avoid bare feet on clover, and to move the other way when we hear that familiar hum in the air, but for this retiree, it has always been music to her ears.
Brenda, a registered beekeeper with the St. Clair County Beekeepers Association and swarm remover, began working on her newest endeavor seven years ago. Inspired by that one childhood camping trip to Minnesota when she sat in the grass, leaned her weight onto her hands, and met the then-enemy in a bed of clover, she now calls bees friends.
I have been fascinated with them ever since I was stung on my hands, she said. I remember my parents removing the stingers, and whats funny is I later learned they did it the wrong way - they pulled them out when you should really scrape them off with an object like a credit card.
I always knew I wanted to become a beekeeper, but between raising children and a career, there wasnt any time to do it. Once I neared retirement I started looking for beekeeper groups and a mentor to train me.
It didnt take Brenda long to find both, as well as five hives, a secluded location for her bees to call home, and a name for her adventure, From the Bee Yard Apiary.
Her hives just recently began making honey as it takes a couple years for the process to begin, and she is thrilled with the output. She sells the honey, and gifts it to friends and family. She also admits to keeping an excess amount of honey for herself.
I absolutely love it, she says with a smile, especially on toast, and in my tea. Who doesnt?
Brenda says the people in her life, although supportive, think shes crazy. The first question I get asked when people find out Im a beekeeper is, Do you get stung?, she said. And the answer is Yes, I have been stung. Ive learned to just walk away if they swarm me. The beekeeper suit helps immensely to prevent these types of incidences.
Brenda also takes great pride in beekeeping in style. Although she wears the official jacket and pants sets, she has a custom hat with mask that she designed and crafted herself. This oversized straw hat with fake floral accents sports black netting with a drawstring closure to keep her face, neck, and head protected as she checks and tends to her hives.
She always shows her gear while educating others about bees, beekeeping, or swarm removal, especially classrooms full of children eager to learn about the hobby.
Upon meeting Brenda, who is a grandmother, you will quickly see that she missed her calling as a schoolteacher as she is frequently asked by local schools to give talks, but she does much more than talk, she makes learning fun through costumes, props, and a play script she herself wrote.
I let the kids play the parts and show them how to act out the different bee roles - drone, queen, workers, etc., she said. The children always get a big kick out of this, seeing their friends in costume and in a different character, and they really learn about the bee dynasty. This alone is the best part of being a beekeeper - passing my knowledge on to others.