Not long after Lauren Hofing had moved from Chicago to Greenbrook in Lakewood Ranch three years ago, she found herself driving on a back road in Myakka City in the middle of the night.
In the back of her Cadillac was a beehive and the accompanying 10,000 bees. She had the hive covered with netting, but if something would stir them up … well, those worst case scenario thoughts were racing through her mind.
Such was life for a novice beekeeper.
It was a few days earlier, on Aug. 22, 2017 that her husband Nevin had presented her with a birthday present.
He told her they needed to take a drive so he could give her the present. And they took off for Parrish and eventually came to an apiary.
Hofing was excited to see hundreds of bee hives.
In Chicago, she had taken a beekeeping course at the Chicago Honey Co-op and grew very interested in the hobby. Only the streets of Chicago weren’t a great setting for bees.
A Peace Corp volunteer after she graduated from Michigan State with a degree in food science and human nutrition, she had been assigned to São Tomé and Príncipe, which is made up of two little islands off the coast of Africa.
It was there she was looking through a Peace Corps' list of the various programs it offered. One was beekeeping. She thought it was perfect for her, being that it comes from the Earth and is sustainable, but she never got the chance to learn the skill, so it would have to wait.
But she was hooked with the thought, mostly because she always had loved honey.
When she returned to Chicago, she eventually found the beekeeping course, but it didn't go any further in her urban environment.
That all changed when she moved to Lakewood Ranch with her husband and their children, 16-year-old Noah and 14-year-old Eliana.
Her husband knew with the rural setting nearby, she had the opportunity to pursue her hobby, and thus he planned the birthday trip to Parrish.
Lauren Hofing thought her husband had brought her to the apiary for an educational day working with the bees. Instead, she found he had bought her a hive. Her new hobby was about to accelerate full speed ahead.
Since she had no place to keep the bees near her Greenbrook home, she posted on social media that she was looking for a host for her bees in exchange for honey. She received several offers, but she especially liked one from a Myakka City resident.
So there she was, on backroads as she headed toward her bees’ new home. She had to travel at night because the bees would be more calm than a day trip.
"That was the one moment when I wondered what I was doing," she said.
Fortunately, she arrived without incident.
“I didn’t get stung,” she said with a laugh.
That would come later.
A year after beginning her hobby, she said she was careless approaching a hive and she was stung just below her eye.
"I have been stung many times, but that was the worst and it was my own fault," she said. "I walked up to the hive and the bees were seemingly fine. But a bee nailed me under the eye. Fortunately, I had a friend with me and she pulled out the stinger. It swelled up and I had a black eye. Now I always err on the side of caution and I do wear gloves most of the time."
It didn't stop her from expanding as she now has seven hives. Only 1½ of her hives are producing honey but the others will follow suit as they mature.
The first hive was a $300 investment as it was established. She spent another $300 in the safety equipment that must be worn while tending to her bees.
After she began selling honey to her friends, she spent another $425 for an extractor that now has found a home in her garage. Then she began to add hives.
She doesn’t attend farmers markets to sell the approximately 200 16-ounce jars of honey she produces each year — saw palmetto honey in the spring and Brazilian pepper in the fall. Her husband uses the honey in his cooking and her friends and family snap up the rest. Eventually, though, she will take her growing production of honey to events to sell.
Along the way, she has absorbed all the information about the making of honey she can handle. That information will be on display 7 p.m., Sept. 16 during a Zoom gathering called “Beekeeping and Honey Harvesting for a Sweet New Year.” It is being presented by Temple Emanu-El as honey is one of the traditional foods of Rosh Hashanah. It is eaten to "ensure a sweet, new year" according to Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman of Temple Emanu-El.
Glickman, who said Hofing is a great volunteer at Temple Emanu-El, asked her to do the presentation.
"She will share a virtual tour of her hives and talk about the hives, bees and the honey," Glickman said. "It will get people in the mood for Rosh Hashanah and also will let them learn and enjoy it."
The free Zoom gathering is open to the general public.
Glickman calls Hofing "personable, intelligent and engaging."
Hofing notes she uses no chemicals in the honey process. She said any chemicals added tends to stay in the wax and ultimately affects the taste of the honey.