Marchese’s metamorphosis from designer and creative director of a giftware company into professional apiarist began with RosieB, the queen bee character she created for a greeting card line. A neighbor saw her drawings of Rosie, and afterward the neighbor’s husband offered to give Marchese a tour of the hives he kept in his backyard. Excited, she donned a beekeeper’s hat with a veil and braced herself for fierce buzzing and sharp stings. But when the neighbor pulled out one of the honeycomb frames, all she heard was a gentle hum. “The bees seemed content and calm,” Marchese says. Carefully, she reached into a cell to sample the raw honey. Divine, she thought. Maybe I could keep a hive.
Marchese had long desired a closer-to-nature lifestyle; that’s what had led her to buy a home in a semirural Connecticut town. But the hour-and-a-half commute to her New York City job had prevented her from fully exploring the possibilities of her land. There just wasn’t time. Keeping bees seemed doable, however: She could tend to them on weekends. “Bees are the kind of pet where you don’t need to be there every day,” she says. So she ordered a beekeeper starter kit from a catalog for $125, plus a colony of 20,000 bees for $72 from a Georgia bee farmer. When the kit, with its precut wood and nails, was delivered, she was ready with a hammer. “As a kid, I built tree houses,” she says.
With her design work still paying the bills, Marchese devoted her leisure time to learning all she could about apiculture: She read books, watched videos and even attended beekeeper-association meetings. She found out how to rescue a hive when the bees “swarm” (abandon their nest) and how to “requeen” the hive when her grande dame disappeared. And she fell in love with her bees, sitting in the sun to sketch them and marveling at the way they carry pollen balls and communicate through different “dances.”
Two years later, Marchese had four hives ready for their first harvest. She’d planned to give away the wildflower honey, but after tasting it and thinking about how hard she and her bees had worked, she decided to turn her hobby into a business. Marchese created a label for her company, Red Bee (redbee.com), and began experimenting in her kitchen with products like lip balm (her recipe, passed down by generations of beekeepers’ wives: Melt beeswax and olive oil in a double boiler; whisk in honey, and add two drops of peppermint essential oil). That summer she set up a table at a farmers’ market, with jars of honey, skin-care lotions and candles. But on a good day, she’d make only $40. Disheartened, she thought, Guess I can’t quit my day job yet.
Then in 2006 a mysterious phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder destroyed many commercial hives. As the artisanal market began to swell, Red Bee started getting regular orders from upscale New York City restaurants and retailers. With the extra business, Marchese finally ditched her city work and wrote a memoir, Honeybee: Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper, which was published last year. Today she grosses about $60,000 annually. “I love that I can combine my artistic background with beekeeping and nature,” she says. “I’ve created a business that sustains my finances—and my soul.”
Originally published in the July/August 2010 issue of More under the title FIELDS OF DREAMS.