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Bees, eggs make sweet business

For Claudia Randolph, bees are more than just a source of honey.
Over the six years that she has been working with bees and gathering their honey, Randolph has found that bees have more personality than most people realize, uniquely interacting with one another in ways that highlight their ability to work together.
“If they’ve gone out in the field and they’ve found a new place to gather their honey, they come back and on the front of the hive they make a little dance,” Randolph says. “That little dance tells everybody where to go.”
Although she grew up in a residential area in Newport News, Va., Randolph always had an interest in animals and country life and thought she should have been born in an earlier, more agrarian, time.
Randolph moved to Erwin where she lived until 1981 before moving to 15 acres of land in Dry Creek.
Missing the convenience of a town, Randolph then moved to Jonesborough, where she now lives in a historic house on Main Street.
“I’ve enjoyed this area better,” she says. “I like it a lot more. It’s gorgeous. I like the climate and the weather. A couple of weeks ago my daughter got married and that was in Williamsburg. I went back and there was so much humidity. I said, ‘I can’t live here. I can’t get my hair to do right.’ It’s just everywhere. It was just so hot compared to here. I like the mountains.”
One day, Randolph “just got interested in bees.”
Her interest came to full bloom when she met someone who mentored her and helped her get started. She has kept bees ever since.
In addition to selling honey, Randolph has a garden in which she grows cucumbers, corn, beets, green beans, onions, tomatoes and cantaloupe.
She also keeps about 15 free-range chickens and sells their eggs.
The chickens wander around her yard and garden, and finding their nests and eggs is like holding an Easter egg hunt all year-round.
“I’m always searching for [the nests], trying to find them,” she says. “My mother found a nest under her porch a couple of days ago. We’d been looking everywhere for it.”
When Randolph has free-range eggs and honey, she places a little sign outside her house, but honey comes in just once a year, and after her stock has sold out, she is out until the following year.
She keeps her hives in a field behind her house.
“You’ll probably see me out there in my bee suit if you ever ride by,” says Randolph. “I have a lot of people comment on it, ‘I saw you out there the other day.’”
Like all beekeepers, Randolph occasionally has to deal with swarms.
When the bees swarm in an area, like a tree branch, Randolph will place either a box or a bucket under the swarm and shake the branch so that the bees fall into the container.
If the queen bee falls into the container, all of the other bees will follow and stay with her.
In addition to capturing the swarms near her own hives, Randolph has also caught swarms in more public places.
“Joel Conger who has Mauk’s over here, he had a swarm last year up in the tree in front of his store,” she says. “He asked me to come and down and get it. We went after it after hours.
“It was quite interesting for everybody around. Some people sat across the street on the benches and watched.”
While she only harvests honey once a year, Randolph cares for her bees year-round. She feeds them sugar and water, and makes sure the hives don’t have moisture in them so that the bees won’t get diseases. And as winter approaches, Randolph makes sure the hives are properly closed up so the bees don’t get cold.
“This is about what I do most of the time, just mess with my bees and my chickens,” she says.