The art of beekeeping

Mike McMannon considers honey-making a contribution to the greater good

By Genevieve Oswald
Posted 2/19/20

Bees are vital to all life and yet not many people are eager to get up close and personal with their fuzzy cuteness. Willingness to work with bees requires the kind of people willing to reduce their senses in adverse conditions in order to obtain resources from a group of sensitive and sometimes temperamental creatures with sharp pointy bits who attack in life-threatening swarms.

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The art of beekeeping

Mike McMannon considers honey-making a contribution to the greater good

Posted

Bees are vital to all life and yet not many people are eager to get up close and personal with their fuzzy cuteness. Willingness to work with bees requires the kind of people willing to reduce their senses in adverse conditions in order to obtain resources from a group of sensitive and sometimes temperamental creatures with sharp pointy bits who attack in life-threatening swarms.

Being attacked by a swarm of bees never sounds like a fun idea. Fortunately for the human race, there are enough people willing to dedicate their time to beekeeping, facilitating the collaboration that bees and humans benefit from year after year. Beekeepers are artists, land stewards and vital contributors to the greater good.

Land stewardship and resource management have been at the heart of Mike McMannon's work since he moved to New Mexico in the fall of 1994. For many years Taos was home base for McMannon while he donned a United States National Forest Service uniform and worked as a forest ranger throughout the Southwest. Spending his time outside, constructing trails and working with horses, McMannon says, "I found time with the Forest Service to be rewarding and fulfilling."

When McMannon left the Forest Service in 2011, he knew that being outside and working with nature had to be a part of his future life here in Taos. What that future looked like he was not sure so he began exploring new hobbies - beekeeping was one.

Growing up McMannon always wanted to be a beekeeper. "I thought, in fact, everyone did," he says. He did not know that he would someday become one, full time. McMannon now has nearly 300 hives under his watchful eye on his bee farm in Arroyo Seco.

When McMannon sets out to get a task done with the bees he, like any artist, employees a process. Noting that his previous work with horses prepared him for his work with the bees.

"When a horse is irritated there is a reason, perhaps something stuck in his hoof, perhaps he senses a lightning storm on the horizon. The irritation is an invitation to more observation. Bees like horses offer this same invitation - the best place to begin is with your eyes," he explains.

While preparing his smoker McMannon suits up and observes. He's looking for anything abnormal. For 15 minutes or so he'll note flight patterns and watch what is happening at the entrances of the hive. He wants to know if the bees are fighting, agitated or if their standard behavior has altered in any way. When he opens a hive he notes smells and sounds. "Anything that is not reminiscent of the sweet ambrosia of honey is something to take note of."

Observing the bees keeps McMannon safe and productive - providing him with information that enables him to complete the day's task or informs him that the day chosen for the task is not the right day.

In 2015 McMannon purchased Taos Honey and sold his first commercial jar of honey at Cid's Food Market. McMannon considers Cid's a great champion for small food businesses in our community, businesses like his.

"I felt their support enabled me to take a hobby and turn it into a vocational success."

McMannon now sells in multiple commercial locations as well as the Taos Farmers Market on the Taos Plaza. He is proud of being a part of the local agricultural community. McMannon is rational and pragmatic, disciplined, committed, passionate and focused. These qualities lend themselves to his work with the bees as much as they do with the business of honey.

"The success of this business is not reliant on myself alone," he says. "There are hundreds of hives which are tended too by numerous helpful and skilled hands."

These include McMannon's right-hand man Jeffery Vasquez, who sells his Pepe's Salsa at the Farmers Market with his better known brother, Joe. McMannon proudly says that Vasquez is "the backbone of the company. A loyal, reliable, great employee."

McMannon's humility regarding his own success is refreshing.

Visit Taos Honey at taoshoney.com.

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