The Bee Lady
by Michele Roldán-Shaw Photography by Christian Lee
Jackie Currie drives with bees flying around in her Prius.
She climbs trees to capture wild swarms. She tracks the “nectar flow”
from the year’s first blooming red maples and dandelions
to the last goldenrods and asters of fall.
She understands the personalities of her hives—which are good honey producers, which are mite-resistant, which overwinter well, which are docile and which are feisty—and she causes them to reproduce accordingly. She knows when they’re gathering pollen and ramping up to reproduce their colony, when they’re sending out this explosion of bees to gather nectar and make honey, and when they’re hunkering down to survive winter, perhaps with a little help from the sugar-water she puts out for them in lean times. She is the Bee Lady, a self-appointed steward of the species.
“I do it for the love of the bees,” says Jackie, who was disturbed by their declining numbers due to a parasitic mite that entered the U.S. in the late ’80s and started decimating these important pollinators. “I knew they were in trouble and thought maybe I could do something to help in my own meager way.”
She dove right in with a 9-week beekeeping course and bought her first pair of hives. “I loved having them right there in my yard because I could wake up, grab a cup of coffee, go out and see them start to stir,” she says. She laughs remembering the time her sister called and asked what she was doing, to which Jackie responded that she was petting a honeybee on a flower. After moving to Bluffton from North Carolina in 2016, Jackie found she couldn’t keep hives in her new neighborhood, so she got permission from a landowner on the May River to set up her growing collection there. The bees are thriving now thanks to her dedicated care, and despite threats from not only mites and other diseases, but pesticides, which recently killed her most robust hive that was 60,000 bees strong.
“It’s really a helpless feeling because you don’t have control over where your bees go out and forage,” she says. “They can go right in your yard if there’s a flower source they really like, or they can go up to five miles away. They send out their scouts every morning, then they come back and do this little bee dance to let the others know where to find the best food source.”
Last year Jackie harvested around 100 pounds of honey, only a little of which she kept for herself, and the rest she sold or gave away as gifts. But the work she does mentoring new beekeepers and educating schoolchildren about what they can do for the survival of honeybees is far sweeter than honey for her. Planting pollinator gardens is great, she says, and being aware of pesticide use is essential. The worst type is the dust because it clings all over the bees, then they bring it back to the hive and it kills the entire population. Jackie encourages people to read the labels on pesticides and to never use the dust on flowering plants. She considers the public education she does a form of community service that is her duty as a certified journeyman beekeeper.
“I take it very seriously,” she says. “You have to be a student of bee biology. It’s not fair to just stick them out there and forget about them. They’ve got so much against them, you really need to keep educating yourself constantly to make sure you’re taking care of them. That’s the difference between being a bee-keeper and a bee-haver.”
Hometown: Atmore, Alabama
Country roots: Her momma was a gardener, her daddy owned a cotton gin and feed & seed.
Career: pediatric physical therapy
Hobbies: golfing, birding, kayaking
Her advice to people with lawns: “If you can kind of give yourself a little break and not be too hard on yourself when you have a few dandelions and clovers pop up—bees feed on that.”