Partial to Home: A honey of a retirement plan

 

Birney Imes

 

 

Lee Lee and Randy Burris have what seems to be the perfect retirement plan. It looks a lot like beekeeping. 

 

They didn't stumble upon it right away. Parents of two grown children and longtime New Hope residents, the Burrises retired a dozen year ago: Lee Lee from teaching at New Hope Elementary and Randy from the Mississippi Employment Service. 

 

After she retired, Lee Lee started going with Randy to Kiwanis Club meetings, and it was there during a program given by a local beekeeper they discovered something that piqued their interest. 

 

"That's (beekeeping) something we could do together and it would be fun," Randy said to Lee Lee after the meeting. This was November 2010. 

 

For Christmas that year, their children gave Randy a bee suit and a book, "Beekeeping for Dummies." 

 

By April, they had three hives. By August all three were in trouble, varroa mites. Jeff Harris of the MSU Extension Service offered a solution, and the Burrises were able to save their colonies. The bees made enough honey to overwinter, but there was no extra for their keepers. 

 

That was hardly the point. Combating the varroa infestation required of the Burrises a deeper involvement with their charges. In doing so they had been exposed to two of the tenets of successful beekeeping: You must be a creative problem solver and be willing to roll up your sleeves and go into your hives. 

 

By the end of that first year they felt like seasoned beekeepers. 

 

The best way to describe the Burris' involvement with beekeeping is "total immersion." Randy has climbed trees to capture swarms; they've driven to Aberdeen to claim one; they've served as mentors to beekeeping neophytes; they've even given bees to beginners. 

 

The number of their hives grew to 12 -- they have nine now, three in their backyard and the others on farmland in the Prairie. They've harvested as much as 60 gallons of honey in a season. Usually it's around 25 gallons, though last year Randy and Lee Lee's girls offered up 43 gallons. 

 

They give the honey away. To friends, family, fellow church members. One year they bottled up a bunch of it and donated it to The Dispatch's Imagination Library's Honey for Books campaign. 

 

The Burrises seem to be the perfect team: Randy meticulous, studious, serious. Lee Lee with her elephant's memory and artist's eye. 

 

"I don't think I would do this without Lee Lee," Randy said. 

 

He said this one wet morning this past week. The three of us were sitting in their living room. Outside, a misting rain was falling. Behind Randy a picture window offered a view of their carefully ordered, though cluttered backyard. Next to the house, on the patio, a raised bed overflows with bright green lettuce and greens. Beyond, there are the playground toys for the grandchildren, who live nearby, and back in the woods, neatly stacked, are the beehives. 

 

Oh, and there's the chicken coop. You have to hear the story about the chickens.  

 

For years Randy wanted chickens. Every time it came up, Lee Lee said no. She was emphatic about it: no chickens. To make matters worse for Randy, their daughter Anna and her husband Robby Hudson, who live nearby, got chickens. 

 

Sometimes, time rewards those who wait. 

 

An about-to-be-transferred CAFB family of chicken keepers offered the Hudsons their fancy chicken coop. Lee Lee learned of this during a phone call with her daughter during a cruise in Mexico with Randy. Daughter Anna told her mother she could have hers and Robby's less posh chicken coop. After she hung up the phone, Lee Lee announced to Randy, "We're getting chickens." 

 

"The chickens are much easier than the bees to care for, but it's a whole lot cheaper to buy eggs in the grocery," says Randy. 

 

Oh, but sir, what about the entertainment value? 

 

The Burrises have had Rhode Island Reds, Marans and currently American Easter Eggers, which as their name suggests, lay pastel colored eggs that look like, well ... Easter eggs. 

 

Randy and Lee Lee have lawn chairs positioned near their chicken coop and their beehives, and should you drop in on them, say, late one spring afternoon, it is quite possible you will find them sitting in those chairs, cool drinks in hand, enjoying the fruits of their labors and each other. 

 

 

Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.

 

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