By Kati Moody
There’s a lot of buzz about a new honey farm and AirBnB just outside of Levelland, Ahava Honey Farm.
Christine and Keith Mitchell moved to Levelland about a year ago after discussing what they wanted to do with their lives.
“We were driving around and Keith asked what I would do if something happened to him,” Chrstine said. “I told him I would sell everything and move to Lubbock.”
The couple lived in Georgetown at that time, and with Covid-19 restrictions interrupting Keith’s work, they decided what better time than now.
“He said let’s go,” Christine recounted. “He said he’d rather do it now than have the burden on myself. We picked up and moved.”
Christine said they were looking at moving to Lubbock but had trouble finding the proper place for their beekeeping operation and farm they wanted to have.
“We were looking at Lubbock proper but couldn’t find what I needed to grow my bee farm, and I really wanted to get involved in the community,” Christine said. “I started expanding my search and found Levelland.”
The couple soon found the place they live in now, off Drillstem Road near the Sundown Highway.
“When I got here, I knew this was the one, it was perfect,” Christine said. “It felt like God pointing me to where I needed to go.”
On the property the couple purchased, there was not only plenty of room for the bee farm and a small animal farm, there was also a second house that would make the perfect place for the couple to provide an AirBnB.
“For us, this is a ministry, too,” Christine said. “It’s an opportunity to love on people. We like to host things and make people feel good and that’s what the AirBnB is for us now, to connect with people and pour into them for whatever time we have with them.”
Before moving into the world of bee farms, raising small animals and hosting an AirBnB, Christine was a software engineer for Lockheed Martin.
“I got the opportunity to retire and when I did, I thought how am I going to fill my time? I’m the kind of person who loves to create and had some exposure to bee keeping and I thought it was something Ketih and I could grow together instead of away,” Christine said. “I wanted to find something we could both do and now he loves it, too.”
At that time, the couple lived in Georgetown and had friends who owned approximately 100 acres where the bee farm started.
“They were like, ‘Bring it on,’” Christine said. “We grew our hives out there and left some behind with them. They were so interested in it, too, after we got started.”
Christine said after deciding bee keeping was something she wanted to pursue, she began her research through books and mostly YouTube.
“I tried my best to find reputable resources online through YouTube and other websites,” Christine said.
She said she wanted to keep the farm to 40-50 hives, because it wasn’t something she wanted to do full-time.
Her plan in starting a bee farm was not only to begin making local honey, but also to provide a community resource.
“I wanted to take care of the community and pour into the school systems and give ag teachers and science teachers options for visiting the farm and be able to expand their education through a live situation,” Christine said. “I wanted to provide the community with an opportunity.”
This is Christine and Keith’s fifth year raising bees and Christine said she and Keith have become quite passionate about the endeavor.
“As you get to know the bees and understand the nature of them and how important they are and how misunderstood they are, it makes you have a new charge and feel like you can go ahead and jump in and help other people have a better understanding and more exposure,” Christine said.
Since being in Levelland, the Mitchell’s have done a couple “bee rescues” from people who found bees in places bees weren’t supposed to be.
“We didn’t plan on it and it wasn’t something on our radar, it was just a need that popped up in the community,” Christine said. “One of our first rescues, a man called us and said ‘I have some bees but I don’t want them, do you want them?’”
The Mitchells went to the house and found the bees in the roof. They set a trap to coax the bees out into a “mini hive.”
“It’s a push-pull, we push them out from where they are with a smell they don’t like, and pull them towards the hive with a smell they do like,” Christine said.
After starting the push-pull, the Mitchell’s checked the hive the next morning and found the entire hive, including the queen, had moved into the new hive. They waited until nighttime to move the hive, as bees are active during the day and settle into their quarters at night.
“If we had moved them during the day, we might have left behind foragers,” Christine said.
Another rescue the couple performed was for a family that had found bees in their shed they were trying to tear down. The construction crew wouldn’t touch it until the bees were removed, thus the Mitchell’s stepped in.
“The queen could have been anywhere under the shed and it’s very difficult to find the queen,” Christine said. “We prayed over it and the queen just ran across the floor and we got her. That never happens where the queen exposes herself alone.”
Christine said that while they are capable of performing bee rescues, they cannot accept all requests as they are not equipped with certain removals that might require demolition or construction work.
“We have to be selective,” Christine said. “But, it’s just an aspect the community has needed those services and you don’t want to kill the bees and we don’t them to.”
Christine said making honey was something easy for her and Keith to get behind once they did a little research into the topic.
“In the United States, we import 62 percent of our honey and it’s because we don’t have enough bee keepers, there isn’t enough production of honey,” Christine said. “The bees are important to our production and our food sources. On a large scale, bee keepers are forced into managing the needs of the food industry.”
Christine said that is part of the reason why she wants to keep their bee farm on the smaller side of the scale, as to not compromise the bees they are raising.
“I don’t want to be forced into a situation where the bees are not safe,” Christine said.
She said bees are oftentimes carried across state lines for pollenation purposes, for orchards and the likes.
“Bees are so diligent, they will work the entire orchard before they do something else,” Christine said. “During that time, they face other invasive pests and the bees end up suffering and getting killed in the situation. Keepers can suffer dramatic losses.”
Christine said she hopes to educate the community on how to take care of local bees and help the population remain in the local area.
“I’m focused on helping people feel comfortable with bees and what they can do to support bees,” Christine said. “Plant a flower, that’s a huge thing.”
The hives at Ahava Honey Farm take effort, but Christine said she tries to leave the bees alone for the most part.
“I check them about every other week, just to see how things are going,” Christine said. “You have to manage the size and health of the colonies and see how they’re doing. We will pull a couple cones and read them quickly to see if there’s a queen, eggs and larvae, and how they’re doing production wise.
“That, along with the overall volume of bees in the hive will tell you their general health,” Christine continued. “If they outgrow a box, you want to add another box or they’ll swarm and leave. That’s how they naturally manage themselves.”
“We have had that happen recently where we weren’t right on top of a swarming situation and my neighbors called and said there are bees in my tree,” Christine said.
She said one of the most important pieces of education for people is what to do when they see a large amount of bees in an area where they aren’t necessarily supposed to be.
“When you read about bees being somewhere, people panic–don’t panic,” Christine said. “It’s not permanent, they’re just resting.”
Another interesting piece of education Christine wants to share is the common event of people seeing bees near water and becoming afraid they are going to settle into that area.
“One of the last jobs a bee has is to get water,” Christine said. “Older bees are not going to bother you, they’re just getting water for the hive. People tend to think they’re going to move into where the hoses are but they’re really not going to bother you for the most part.”
She said the same goes for foraging bees who are simply trying to do a job.
“Everyone in the colony has a job, they are foraging, looking for food and they typically won’t move left or right from that objective,” Christine said. “A regular honey bee is just going to do its job and move on.”
When the Mitchell’s have visitors at the AirBnB on the property, Christine gives them a rundown about the bees and how to interact with them.
“They will come close, but don’t swat at them, simply move the opposite direction and stay away from their hives,” Christine said. “I haven’t had any issues.”
Also on the property, the Mitchell’s are raising chickens, miniature goats, two miniature horses, ducks and rabbits.
“The reason I have those is for permaculture,” Christine said. “Here, every animal has a job.”
She explained the goats cut the grass, the chickens produce eggs, the duck pond is drained for irrigation purposes, the horse dung is used for the bee smokers, and rabbit pellets are used to fertilize the trees, and so on.
Christine and Keith have many goals for the future, but most of all, they want to be involved in the community, build community relationships, and provide a place where they can bring people together.
“There are so many things I want to do and for this to be a place for people to come,” Christine said.