The buzz around Bee Ninja is that Lee Calvert makes some pretty sweet honey out on his Forreston farm. The best part is that he makes it from bees that he’s saved from extermination.
Calvert is a fourth-generation farmer that has lived in or near Waxahachie. From farming crops to raising his own broiler chickens, Calvert has dug his hands into every aspect of the farmer’s life. It’s what he grew up doing.
“My ancestors have always lived here,” Calvert expressed. “My grandfather is still alive. He’s 91, and he’s my toughest landlord too. I get to learn from that many years of farming mistakes all ahead of time rolled up into two advisors – him and my father.”
Calvert is the proud owner of 48 beehives that comprises over a million bees – and they all make up his beekeeping business that he started five years ago called “Bee Ninja.”
“My friends and I joked about it,” Calvert chuckled. “It’s like everybody looks like a ninja when those bees get after you. It looks like you’re karate-chopping trying to get them off your face, off of your ears, out of your hair. I’d say I was always willing to go kung-fu on them.”
While Calvert considers beekeeping a regular part of his day-to-day profession, his introduction into beekeeping was by complete accident. Back when he was a worker for the Nash Forreston Water Supply company in 2009, bees would regularly infest their way into dark, tight spaces in water meter boxes, making work all the more difficult.
But steadily exterminating the bees was expensive – not to mention unnecessary.
“A friend of mine that worked with me was using gasoline to get rid of them,” Calvert recalled. “I was like hey, you doused it in gasoline! You can’t even eat the honey now!”
So Calvert issued a proposal to his boss – let him remove and save the bees himself, and he would get to keep them.
“I’m a farmer,” he expressed. “I understand their role. Killing them, to me, was like using a chainsaw on a scalpel-type problem. We can use a little precision here and make everybody happy. I’ll come, take the bees out, read the meter. It would get the job done and save the bees at the same time.”
Calvert stated he knew little about how to remove the bees in a safe, efficient manner. He even recalled more than one occasion where he got himself stung in several places.
“You gotta know what they’re going to act like,” he explained. “It’s nothing but baptism by fire when you’re dealing with them. A mistake hurts. You learn very quick.”
“The most painful I ever got stung was on the lower eyelid,” Calvert expressed. “That hurt pretty good.”
Eventually, however, he was able to train himself on how to extract the bees and safely transport them to his own farm. Calvert stated that he would remove the hive piece-by-piece and start them on clear sterile frames on his own beehive.
“I have a special little vacuum that sucks the bees up,” he explained. “They’re always built into these hollow little areas. You really need full access to them to be able to remove the full components of the hive. It’s crazy all the details that go into this.”
And aside from producing and selling his own honey for $12 a pint and $8 for half a pint, Calvert also offers bee-removal services as part of his business. Calvert stated a removal could cost anywhere between $50 to $350 or higher, depending on how extensive the job is.
“It’s altered some of my practices,” Calvert explained. “Before, I was just spraying to be effective on the pest insect without much concern of what else I was going to kill. Nowadays, we’ve learned a lot about pest management. The time you apply is just as important as what you apply.”
Calvert regularly distributes his honey to the Ark and Country Store in Waxahachie, as well as the Downtown Farmers Market every Saturday during the selling season.
As far as how long he plans to be in the beekeeping business, Calvert stated as however long he enjoys it.
“I just like the bees,” he expressed. “I really like what they do, and I try to do whatever I can to sustain them. We need them, and I enjoy learning about them. Every season is different.”
Bee Ninja is available at the Downtown Farmers Market 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. every Saturday during the selling season at 410 South Rogers Street. To request a quote for Calvert’s beekeeping services, call 214-864-5814.