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Q+A with Nooga Queen Bee Founder Carmen Joyce

Green and white graphic featuring a circle, in which a photo of Carmen Joyce in beekeeper getup is places, and the words "Q+A featuring Nooga Honey Pot — Carmen Joyce, beekeeper and founder of Nooga Queen Bee."

Graphic via NOOGAtoday, photo via Nooga Honey Pot

Table of Contents

Profile: Nooga Honey Pot aka Carmen Joyce is an artist, a beekeeper, and founder of Nooga Queen Bee. Read on to find out why she started Nooga Honey Pot, what the “save the bees movement” means to her, whether or not keeping a hive at home is right for you, and her tips on buying local honey.

Bonus: Tomorrow is National Honey Bee Day, and Nooga Queen Bee’s next (virtual) meetup is on Aug. 22. 🐝

Photo showing the back of Carmen's head (in beekeeping gear), as she holds up a hive of bees.

Beyond beekeeping, Carmen is also a full time artist | photo via Nooga Queen Bee

What’s your name, job, and 3–5 things you want people to know about you?

My name is Carmen Joyce. I work full time as an artist (Carmen Cay Art) and dog poop picker upper (unpaid position). I love to hike and explore strange and obscure things — old buildings or cemeteries. I am an INFP and my superpower is finding good parking.

You’re NOOGA Honey Pot – are you from Chattanooga originally? If so — why have you stayed here? If you’re not, what brought you here?

I am originally from a small rural town in Central Florida. I moved to Chattanooga over 2 years ago and I LOVE IT! I grew up vacationing in Tennessee with my family. Every year we’d camp at Elkmont and Cades Cove and in the Smokies. I’ve always been in love with Tennessee, but it wasn’t until I spent my summer at an art school in Western NC I realized how much I really love the Appalachains. The cooler weather (trust me it’s better than Florida), the access to beautiful hiking trails and waterfalls, true Southern hospitality, opportunities I have as an artist, and 4 seasons are just a few reasons I love Chattanooga.

Describe your perfect day in Chattanooga in the length of a Tweet (~240 characters).

Breakfast at The Daily Ration, followed by a hike to Mushroom Rock then to Chattanooga Market for local veggies then to BeCaffeinated for afternoon fuel. I’d probably head to Reflection Riding to buy some native plants on my way home to hang out with my dogs and bees.

Let’s talk bees — tell us about NOOGA Queen Bee. What is it, why did you start it, and what do you hope it becomes?

It’s hard moving somewhere new, but it’s especially difficult during a pandemic. 10 months after we moved here we were sheltering in place. I work from home and I was already really isolated. It wasn’t until I moved to Brainerd and met some fellow beekeepers that I started to feel a sense of community. I thought it would be awesome to have a group that specifically supported women and since one didn’t already exist, I decided to create it. Nooga Queen Bee was created to give a voice to female beekeepers and provide a community for them to learn and grow in. We want to expand that message into the community so we are working on becoming a nonprofit. We hope to do a lot more bee-related things in the near future!

How did you get into beekeeping?

Farming and beekeeping is generational for me. I grew up in a rural area of Central Florida heavily focused on agriculture. My father was a firefighter and beekeeper. He and his cousin worked bees in the orange groves every summer for many years. I grew up hearing stories of beekeeping and eating delicious local honey. I’ve always wanted to own my own farm and honestly if I had more support in my STEM classes (and for managing my ADHD) I would’ve gone into the field of Biology. I, instead, went into the field of counseling but the older I get the more I find myself getting back to my “roots” by immersing myself in the natural world. My goal is to buy more property to put more hives on.

Older-looking photo of 3 people outside near white shelves of bee hives, all wearing beekeeping garb

Carmen’s dad, pictured here, was a beekeeper in the Florida orange groves | Photo via Nooga Queen Bee

Do you wear protection when working with the bees? Why or why not?

At the end of the day bees are stinging insects and I choose to use protection while working with them. With that being said, I do await the day I feel brave enough to scoop up a swarm with my bare hands. It’s a powerful thing to feel the buzz of a hundred bees on your fingertips.

How many times have you been stung? How common are bee stings in your field?

Stings seem pretty common but it doesn’t happen all the time. I have 2 hives and since this year I have been stung twice. It happened 2 days in a row with bees from the same hive (WuTang Clan — yes, that’s the name of the hive). The culprit was a queenless hive, which I didn’t know at the time. My husband was stung twice near his eye that same week. Once we got a new queen into the hive they stopped being so aggressive. The thing about bees is, if 1 bee stings you she releases an alarm pheromone that tells the other bees where to sting, so unless you get away fast enough or quickly clean the area off, you will more than likely be stung again near the same place. I guess that’s how bee stings can add up quickly. You can get stung a couple times in just one incident.

What’s the gender gap like in this profession, since your goal is to empower women beekeepers?

Beekeeping has traditionally been a male dominated field, although women have kept bees for centuries. There is a lack of data when it comes to the numbers but from my experience female beekeepers tend to lay low and quietly do their own thing. I do see way more female beekeepers in academia doing related research and everyday beekeepers sharing their beekeeping journey on social media. I think it’s really important to show younger women and girls they can be beekeepers, too!

What does “save the bees movement” mean to you + how can people do more to help save them?

This question can be controversial. Some people want to save honeybees and others want to save native bees and pollinators. Technically honeybees are non native, since they were brought here by European Settlers in the 1600’s. I think there is room for both and we should all be learning how to be mindful of the delicate ecosystems around us. I think we’ve all been fed the wrong information about insects...it doesn’t help that a lot of them creep us out when they fly or look scary. They’ve been labeled as “pests” and we have been taught to get rid of them with pesticides. But, a lot of insects are beneficial and educating people on how they can support their habitats is a worthy cause.

We can all protect our pollinator species by keeping our yards more natural by: removing or not planting invasives, not using pesticides or herbicides, planting only native plants, and by buying fruits and veggies (and honey) from local farms and farmers markets. A great summer project would be to make your own bee hotel and even a bee watering station!

Is buying local honey supportive or detrimental to bees?

Buying local honey is beneficial not only on a small scale but on a larger scale as well. It helps put money back into the local economy and gives you a natural way to help with allergens. On a larger scale you are helping reduce pollution and saving resources.

When it comes to major chain honey brands popping up across the country, how do they get their honey? Is there some kind of giant bee farm somewhere for major honey companies to use?

I personally don’t eat store bought honey. Not that it’s “bad,” necessarily, but I want to be sure about where my honey comes from. The label may say “local” and you grab it off the shelf thinking it’s from your area but if you read the small print you find out the honey is from California. There has also been some conflict regarding honey being sold in the states that comes from different countries. Some have been found to contain chemicals, high fructose corn syrup, rice syrup, and even antibiotics! Stay safe, stay local.

Photo of Carmen holding up a large hive of bees

According to Carmen, beekeeping takes time, patience, and money | Photo via Nooga Queen Bee

Would you recommend folks try to keep a hive at home? What are the top 3 things you need to start beekeeping?

I think keeping bees is a lot of responsibility. I would recommend it if you have the patience, time, and money. Startup costs can be expensive since you’ll need to purchase all the equipment, but if you do your research you can find some deals. There are so many things to learn and you will spend a lot of time researching and talking to other beekeepers. Beekeeping can be time consuming and let me tell you — in the summer it is HOT! 1 of the first things I did when I decided I wanted to start beekeeping is I sought out other local beekeepers and visited their hives to learn more about it and to see if I even felt comfortable around bees. There are a lot of beekeepers in the area that you can learn from. I also recommend finding a mentor!

What’s your most interesting fact about the Queen Bee of a hive + what’s the most fascinating behavioral trait about bees in general?

There are so many interesting facts about bees! One of my favorite things about the Queen Bee is the worker bees have to digest food for her because she lacks the gland that helps her digest food. So, even though it seems she is the ruler of the hive, she would die without her attendants! It’s a very complex situation in there!

It’s also difficult to narrow down just 1 fascinating behavioral trait because they are all so interesting but 1 of the coolest things is bees can recognize human faces! Isn’t it amazing that all of this is happening right underneath our noses?

NOOGA Queen Bee shares its name with some other famous Queen B’s, including Beyonce, Lil Kim, and Britney Spears. Do you have a favorite fellow queen?

Honestly I don’t think I have a favorite Queen Bee but if I had to choose it would be Beyonce. She’s a badass and has been working hard her entire life to reach her goals and that is really admirable.

And finally — what are your thoughts on “Bee Movie”? 🐝

Despite the conflict I have about the bees in “Bee Movie” seeming to be mostly male (when they would technically be mostly female) I think the movie is fun. “Bees don’t care what humans think is impossible” is my favorite quote from the movie. It reminds me of the magic that happens all around us that we don’t see because we are too worried about things that aren’t going to matter that much tomorrow.

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