The experts say that each of us have only one or two really close friends, quite a few more as family and perhaps a hundred or more as acquaintances.
Monica Hackett doesn’t believe in this statistic, especially when it comes to the “bugs” she has been infatuated with over the last seven years. She affectionately states, “I have about eight million close friends in several locations in Cumberland County,” and she really means it.
Monica owns a 107-acre farm in Grassy Cove where she talks about her latest hobby and what she calls her intense desire to learn about a myriad of subjects.
The learning skills started to develop as a Navy brat, traveling with her parents to foreign countries and learning the languages and customs of the people. Her father served as a hospital advisor in the Navy, finishing a 28-year career at Pensacola, FL, in 1977.
After completing high school in Pensacola, Monica studied horticulture, ornamental agriculture and ultimately graduated from Louisiana State University with a master’s degree landscaping architecture in 1985.
Monica reunited with an old high school friend, Mike Hackett, and the two married later in 1985. Soon after, they started a business in landscaping architecture in New Orleans. The rapid growth of the business, however, dictated the need for considerable travel. Eager to expand their operations and also to feed her latent talent to pursue another skill, she took flying lessons to promote the business. As might be expected, she decided to expand her flying career, going on to get her wings as a commercial transport pilot flying for American Eagle Airlines. She was just 35 years old.
Her flying career came to a halt when Mike’s communication engineering job took the family to Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. Living in a foreign land for an extended period required they homeschool their two sons. Both now work in successful engineering careers.
Fast-forward to 2014. Monica and Mike visited her brother who was living in Crossville. After many years of Florida living, they fell in love with the Cumberland Plateau and moved to the farm in Grassy Cove.
Soon after the move, she attended the Cumberland County Fair and visited a booth where the attendant was raising honey bees. It caught her attention and, once again, another learning skill was manifested. Fascinated with these “bugs,” she studied bee keeping for a year before jumping into the hobby with both feet.
Over the past seven years, she added a 200-square-foot room to her home and purchased thousands of dollars worth of equipment to produce several related products based on bees and the honey itself. Her “friends” produce about 75 gallons of honey each year.
Monica said that all her several million bees are happy bees because they are fed with a vary palatable nectar from the flowers of sweet clover, buckwheat, strawberries and fruit trees that grow in fields within about a 1,000-foot radius of the 30 colonies — also called hives — at the farm. She has 70 more hives at six other locations in and around Cumberland County.
The closer the flowers are to the hive, the more nectar each bee will provide for the hive and the less chance the bee will return with a pesticide or a contaminant that might kill the hive.
A worker bee will visit up to 100 flowers during each collection trip. Ten pounds of nectar is necessary to produce just one-quarter teaspoon of honey in its three-to-five-week lifespan.
A healthy hive will contain up to 40,000 bees. Ten percent are drones, one queen, and the rest worker bees.
The queen will make just one flight to a drone congregation area, mate with 15 to 40 drones and return to the hive. This one-time mating with drones from different hives provides different genetics to assure healthy offspring within her hive. The queen will lay up to 2,000 eggs per day in her sole mating flight for her two-to-three-year lifespan.
The worker bee is born sterile. Their main job is to produce nectar and honey; however, they also maintain the successful operation of the hive. Each worker bee weighs just three grams.
The drones are male bees that are a product of an unfertilized egg. Their only purpose is to mate with the queen during her solo flight to produce offspring. They die within minutes after mating and their bodies are quickly removed from the hive.
Monica said, “There are no laggards in the hive, and this includes the queen.”
Each bee has an innate sense to know when any individual is not performing as they are designed or created to do, or they are summarily killed by the rest — no exceptions.
When any disruption of this kind occurs in the hive, an orderly, immutable process takes place to restore the hive to its proper operation.
Even after seven years of loving attention and constant research, Monica is still astounded as to how up to 40,000 of these living creatures literally crawling over each other in a small box communicate to work in perfect harmony for the sole purpose of providing such a sweet treat.
I asked if the bee business would be her last hurrah. She said, “Yes, absolutely.” But I have my doubts. The itch may yet again return and it would have to be scratched. That’s just who Monica Hackett is.