Ninety-one-year-old beekeeper reflects on sweet business
With a steady hand, ninety-one-year-old Mary Bost gently pinches together the honeybee’s wings and lowers the insect onto the fleshy area above her left hand. The bee, threatened, decisively plants its stinger in her skin, trading its life for the well-being of the hive.
Still holding the bee by its wings, Mary stares down, unflinching, as the bee pumps venom into her body. And then it stops. In a burst of energy, the bee propels away, breaking off its stinger in the process.
Five minutes later, Mary scrapes the stinger off her hand and goes back to her daily activities. “The bee sting hurts only for about five minutes, and then after that, the arthritis hurts so much less,” claims Mary, who has deliberately prompted bees to sting her back, knees, and hands to help relieve her pain. Though the duration of pain relief varies, Mary estimates that, for her, one sting can have ameliorative effects for up to several weeks.
With more than fifty years of experience beekeeping, there’s not much that Mary doesn’t know about bees. She can tell you exactly how much a queen bee costs: twenty-three dollars. She knows how long a typical bee lives: up to five years for a queen, while female worker bees live only three to six weeks; male drones die after mating with a virgin queen, and worker bees kick surviving males out when winter arrives. And she knows how many eggs a typical queen lays per day: between 1,500 and 2,000 to maintain the integrity of the hive.
But her knowledge of honeybees wasn’t always so comprehensive. Mary and her late husband, Robert H. Bost, started beekeeping together as an educational hobby and stress reliever. “We both liked honey, so Robert suggested we get a hive,” says Mary, smiling as she remembers.
There wasn’t a local bee club in this area in the 1960s, so the couple “made every mistake possible,” says Mary, recalling how her husband enthusiastically checked their first hive so often that the bees abandoned it. “Perhaps in favor of a hollow tree somewhere,” chuckles Mary. “Bees don’t like to be disturbed.”
But the couple persisted, and eventually, when they retired from careers in education—Mary a first grade teacher and Robert a principal in Leander ISD—they increased the number of hives to 150. By that time, they were selling their unpasteurized honey in six local area HEB grocery stores.
With Robert no longer around to help her continue the Bost Bees enterprise, Mary now relies on Jimmie Oakley—a friend, lifelong beekeeper, and fellow official of the Williamson County Area Beekeeper’s Association (WCABA)—to do the heavy lifting required when producing and transporting large vats of honey. Ever a friendly face, Jimmie in turn keeps some of his own bees on Mary’s farm in Georgetown.
“It’s a wonderful situation, because he really knows beekeeping, and he helps me out of the kindness of his heart. Jimmy’s one of those people who sees something that needs to be done and does it,” Mary says.
Today, honey fans can find Bost Honey in two flavors—regular and apricot honey, which Mary and Michelle, her home health caregiver, make in batches by blending pureed apricots with raw honey to sell at the Sun City Farmers’ Market on Tuesday and the Georgetown Farmers’ Market on Thursday.
“I love the farmers’ market, because it gets me out of the house,” says Mary who takes the honey to the markets herself. “I feel very fortunate to still be able to do as much as I do.”
After decades of consuming about a tablespoon of honey each day in her coffee, cereal, and toast, Mary credits the sweet spoonful with building up her autoimmune system so that she has no allergies.
You can also find Bost Honey at Gus’s Pharmacy, Clint Hawes’ Feed Store, Monument Market, and Monument Cafe.