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How Two Austin Women Are Saving the Bees

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Local beekeepers Tanya Phillips and Laura Weaver joined forces to reverse the global extinction of bees with their new Texas Honey Bee Farm. 

By Andrea Tinning

Bee Friendly

When you sit down to enjoy a meal, there is a good chance bees are to thank for your food. Bees make up 80 percent of pollinators worldwide and play a vital role in the global food chain. While bees are incredibly intuitive and efficient, the widespread use of pesticides, combined with global climate change, is devastating colonies throughout the world, with a 90 percent die-off rate of bee colonies per hectare in the United States since 1962.

Contributing to a global initiative to save the bees, the matriarchs of Bee Friendly Austin and BeeWeaver, Tanya Phillips and Laura Weaver, teamed up to open Texas Honey Bee Farm, a farm amplifying Austinites’ opportunities to support bees. 

This year, Phillips and Weaver opened their new initiative on the Bee Friendly property complete with a store dedicated to all things bees: a variety of organic honeys, as well as beekeeping equipment, T-shirts, candles, jewelry and other local artistry.

Weaver is the first female owner in more than 180 years of beekeeping at BeeWeaver, a honey farm based in Navasota, Texas. Phillips and her husband, Chuck Reburn, own Bee Friendly, an Austin-based apiary. Phillips is a master beekeeper, author and co-founder of the Tour de Hives, an interactive tour of several local honey farms. She and Reburn intended to keep their business small but ended up hitting the ground running and finished their first year with 20 hives. Now they manage more than 150 colonies.

“My first interest [in beekeeping] was a hobby, a fun, goofing-around thing,” Phillips says. “As I started to read, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, the bees are in trouble. We have to do something.’ I was just panicked.”

Local beekeepers Tanya Phillips and Laura Weaver
By Andrea Tinning

Phillips and Weaver became friends through beekeeping and once they realized they could make a bigger impact by helping each other, a partnership was an easy choice. 

“I had the building and the manpower to make this place happen and she had the stuff to put in it once we got it,” Phillips says.

The main attraction, of course, is the honey. Weaver curated a selection of honey from farms throughout the United States, producing a product unlike anything available at the grocery store.

“Honey is like wine: It varies by region and it varies by year,” Weaver says. “It’s a great way to travel by your taste buds when you can’t get on an airplane.”

For those whose interest in bees goes beyond just supporting farms with their patronage, Bee Friendly and BeeWeaver offer beekeeping classes at the introductory and advanced levels. Hive tours and creative classes like beeswax-candle and soap making are also on the agenda. 

Phillips and Weaver hope to share their passion for bees and cultivate a community that can help these pollinators thrive. Many women can even relate to bees on a personal level; bee colonies are operated solely by females with males functioning only as drones, or sperm donors. Females truly run the hive.

“[Female bees] basically work themselves to death, just like us!” Phillips jokes. “They know how to do everything. Bees are amazing.”

Advice from the Bee Queens: How to help save the bees, even if you’re not ready to start your own hive

  • Incorporate flowering native plants, which are great for bees. Bees struggle in the winter and summer when there is not much to forage, so adding plants that can grow in all seasons is an extra bonus. 
  • Abstain from using pesticides or harsh chemicals in your yard.
  • Shop at farmers markets and buy organic. Sustainably grown produce means it came from bee-friendly farms.
  • Leave water out for the bees. Bird baths often do the trick, and maintaining a consistent water source will improve your chances of bees returning to your porch.
  • Vote. Research politicians who prioritize the environment and sustainability.
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