Beekeeping engages all the senses, but for Marisa Papetti, it's the smell that's really special.
"It smells incredible. If you've ever smelled raw beeswax there's just this — I wish I could make a perfume out it of it. It's so fantastic," said Papetti.
Though she started beekeeping as a hobby, it became the foundation for an ultra-successful small business. Papetti is the owner of Marie's Bees, a 100% women-owned beekeeping company based out of Bellingham.
"All together, we have twelve female beekeepers that we're working with across the Pacific Northwest. Our main focus is teaching and then there's all the things that come along with that like products [...] Now we're selling nationwide. It's the world of chaos, but it's great," said Papetti with a laugh.
Marie's Bees uses the raw Northwest honey its keepers collect to make all manner of delicious products, perhaps most notably: creamed honey.
"It's a process where you take a certain amount of crystallized honey, a certain amount of liquid honey and then what they call seed honey, which is a little bit of creamed honey, and you mix them. In our case, we mix them in a huge Hobart mixer," said Papetti. "Then we add all the best ingredients we can find. We try to work with all organic ingredients and as much local as possible. You basically whip it for hours on end and it stays nice and smooth and creamy and it won't crystallize. So that makes it shelf stable."
In 2022, Marie's Bees was honored with a pair of Good Food Awards, including one for its Honey Zinger, a lemon-ginger creamed honey. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Marie's Bees makes oxymel, hot honey, cinnamon creamed honey and my personal favorite, orange vanilla (which started as a limited edition flavor, but may end up being a permanent addition to the product line).
While Papetti enjoys the culinary aspect of the business, her passion is the bees themselves and teaching as many folks as possible about them. I got to suit up and join her to take a closer look at the hives. Each is home to around 30,000 bees, a family with one queen. While they will sting, Papetti tells me the key to being around that many bees is to move steadily and stay calm and relaxed.
"We're basically tearing the roof off of someone's house," said Papetti. " You'll hear their pitch. It'll go way up. That means they're a little upset we are there. So just ground yourself, just calm down. You will hear their tone change back down."
The hives are made up of multiple boxes, which weigh about 50 pounds each. Inside the boxes are individual frames where workaholic bees are constantly building.
"They're mathematicians. They want to use every ounce of space to build perfect combs," said Papetti, showing me one of the frames.
Papetti tells me the bees put honey inside each of the individual combs. When it's the right temperature and moisture content, the combs are capped. That's the signal to the keepers it's finished, ready-to-go honey.
"We don't take all the honey [the bees produce]. We leave honey for them. They need 50 to 100 pounds of honey to go through the winter. We only take the excess," said Papetti.
After spending time at the hives, two things are clear to me: bees really are incredible, industrious creatures and beekeeping is legitimately hard work. We're all lucky enough to enjoy the sweet rewards from all that effort.
"I want [folks who are enjoying the product] to feel calm and grounded and that they're going to be okay. If the queen and those bees have done all this work and we've done all this work to bring it to you, then you deserve it. Just take a bite and just relax."