Michelle Farnsworth
Tina Opp checking hives on her bee farm. (Michelle Farnsworth)

A touch of honey. (Michelle Farnsworth)

I first met Tina Opp at Urban Harvest, standing behind her table of different types of honey for sale. I ambushed her and asked to take her photograph and to give me one word to describe herself. Without hesitation and with a broad smile on her face, Opp said, "Curious."

Curiosity is a guiding force in this second generation apiarist (beekeeper) from Flasher, N.D.

Although Opp has lived in five other states -- Wyoming, Oklahoma, Utah, Montana and Washington -- and experienced an abundance of life in her 36 years, her love for beekeeping on the family farm kept guiding her back home. Perhaps Opp is similar in nature to the very bees she cares and nurtures each day -- exploring different communities, bringing back a wealth of knowledge and finding her way back to the hive.

During our first meeting, Opp offered me the opportunity to visit her beekeeping business first hand. I was thrilled when Opp said I could suit-up and view the bee yard up-close. But my love and excitement for bees is getting the best of me ... let's go back to the beginning of the day.

The day started with a tour of operations in the shop getting a first-hand look at how the team of approximately six to eight employees harvest the honey from the boxes and frames. And yes, it's a sticky business. This time of year marks the beginning of the harvesting or extracting honey, which typically lasts about six weeks.

Each box consists of any where from six to eight fames. Each frame is removed and placed on a conveyer belt, where more than one set of hands scraps the honeycomb or wax away to reveal the liquid gold, which is just waiting for spinning and delivery to a gigantic holding tank. Watching the process gave me a whole new appreciation for those little honey bears, so easily taken for granted perched on grocery store shelves.

But taking honey for granted is a thing of the past. News headlines and now a recent Time Magazine cover story, "A World Without Bees," August 19, 2013, warns the world of colony collapse and the potential effects losing bees are having on agriculture and food production around the globe. It's a serious problem.

The Opps have been in the honey business for more than 20 years. Opp remembers her father first acquiring beehives when she was about 12 years old. Through the years they have experienced their share of bee losses. One year, they watched the bee population in their hives slowly diminish until it was obvious they had a devastating loss on their hands.

"It was like getting hit in the gut," Opp said.

Opp provides nutritional supplements to her bees and pays close attention to the hives. Checking production and the health of the colonies contribute to making a quality honey.

Most beekeepers do not winter their bees in North Dakota. Although the state is the number one honey producing state in the nation, our weather is not friendly to keeping bees warm and producing during our frigid winters. Opp's bees travel, just like she does, with a trip to California each November. This is when Opp hauls her bees to help with almond production. Her bees begin their job around Valentine's Day and wrap-up their migratory work close to St. Patrick's Day.

"After the hives are split to make more hives and re-queen the hives, we haul them back to North Dakota," Opp said, "Nice weather and plants producing pollen begin the process once again in North Dakota."

Following the shop tour, we jumped in her truck to drive to the bee yard. After a short drive down a winding, gravel road past a small herd of lazy cows, we took a turn off-road into an almost secret clearing. There nestled safely in a grove of trees were the stacks of white boxes marked TJO. A thrill ran up my spine. I realized I was really going to get out of the truck and step right up to all the stacks of white boxes, humming with life.

Opp began to prep the "smoker" which is a small hand-held little teapot looking device that she stuffs with paper and wood chips and lights to create smoke. The smoke is puffed around the hives to gently lull the bees into a more relaxed state -- in other words; making sure this city girl didn't get stung.

Another precaution, and fashion statement, was putting on the pink, beekeeper jumpsuit. I pulled it on, zipped up the screened-in hoodie, and was ready to face the thousands of friends awaiting my arrival. A pair of white, leather gloves made my ensemble complete, and I was ready to go.

While Opp removed frames for me to see the bees, we discussed the many different sides of beekeeping including colony collapse, bee nutrition, raising queens, daily beekeeping responsibilities, agriculture and family life. Each topic we could've talked about for hours.

Getting back to the bees, I want you to know how loud the bees are. The hum emanating from those hives is louder than you would think. As the old saying goes, the bees are really very busy. They don't give too much attention to the beekeeper pulling out the trays to inspect their honey production. One of the most cherished memories I think I will take away, is watching new fuzzy, baby bees pulling themselves out of the cells. They are as independent as their keeper.

I asked Opp if she remembered the word she used to describe herself the day I met her at Urban Harvest.

"Curious," she blurted out with that same smile, "It's pretty fitting. I like to learn and understand things. There's so much I don't know."

Opp's curiosity also extends into the art world with ceramic sculpture and drawing. I got the pleasure of also seeing some of her work, which is very unusual and beautiful. She has also started learning to play the accordion.

Her love of bees and the art of apiary is clear and golden as the honey she harvests.

"I can spend a lifetime of trying to figure out what they're doing," Opp said.

TJO Bees can be found at www.tjobees.com. For more information and places to purchase the TJO Honey, check her website and Facebook page for updates.

Michelle Farnsworth loves travel, writing, photography, daily devotions, gardening, making jewelry and finding old treasures. Her greatest accomplishment is her two sons, who bring life, love and laughter to her each day.