Two Hives Honey

Tara Chapman didn’t expect to fall in love with bees. She took her first beekeeping class on a whim, seeking a bit of work-life balance. Instead of just an inspiring hobby, beekeeping quickly became her obsession, and then her job. She went on to launch Two Hives Honey in 2015.

When we meet on a December morning to visit some of her hives, it’s clear that Chapman is still smitten with bees. Wearing overalls and yellow rubber boots, she arrives in a pickup truck crammed full of beekeeping equipment. A small bee tattoo graces her inner wrist.

She’s amazed at the journey bees have taken her on. After spending years working with the CIA traveling in and out of the Middle East, Chapman returned to her native Texas. Work had her shuttling between Austin, Washington, D.C. and Afghanistan, where she would spend anywhere from two weeks to two months.

Enamored with bees and eager to help the honeybee population thrive, she soon quit her job and moved out to tiny Navasota, Texas, to help breed bees at BeeWeaver Apiaries. She also started her own hives. She was fascinated by the nuances of the first honey she harvested, how it varied in flavor and color based on the season and available nectar sources.

“When I saw that my spring harvest was totally different from my fall harvest — different flowers make different honey — I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if every neighborhood in Austin had its own honey?’’’

This question became the impetus for Two Hives. Chapman installed micro-apiaries in backyards across Austin in a program that trained new beekeepers while she collected their hyper-local honey for the hives' first 18 months.

Still, Chapman admits she was more hobbyist than expert in those early days. Then she won an Austin Food & Wine Alliance grant at the end of 2015 and caught the eye of John Antonelli of Antonelli’s Cheese Shop. He walked up to Chapman at the awards ceremony, asking to purchase her honey. That moment changed everything.

“I was instantly thrust into a very exclusive club,” she says. “Then it was up to me. I could fail, or I could rise.” The next spring, she went straight to Antonelli’s with her harvest. Two Hives is still the shop’s singular local honey source.

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Two Hives specializes in comb honey, cut directly from the hive and sold in squares or chunks. It’s the rawest, purest honey you can find. Unlike some other apiaries that add wax or other structures, Two Hives starts with empty frames in its hives. This means that the bees create everything you see in the comb. The beeswax is thin — only seven tenths of a millimeter — and gives the honey a texture that liquid honey doesn’t have.

“When you look at a jar of honey, it’s easy to imagine it was made in a factory,” Chapman says. “But when you look at a box of comb honey, it’s easier to think, ‘Oh, an insect made that.’ You can make the connection. It’s such a beautiful product.”

The comb honey is packaged in clear boxes, labeled with its neighborhood of origin and sold at the Two Hives Honey store in Southeast Austin. It’s featured in restaurants like Emmer and Rye, served atop a black garlic caramel ice cream. Chapman suggests highlighting the comb by placing a slice onto a baked sweet potato with a little cinnamon or spreading it on toasted bread.

But comb honey is just the beginning at Two Hives. “We are never going to be just a honey company, mostly by design,” Chapman says. Central Texas has limited production possibilities, with only two honey harvests a year. And Chapman loves to share the complex world of bees with others.

Two Hives runs popular hive tours, introducing children, adults and corporate teams to the magic and challenges of beekeeping. People get to gear up, hold frames thrumming with bees and taste honey straight from the hive. Chapman also developed an intensive beekeeping apprenticeship program, whose cohorts meet for six Saturdays over half a year to do a deep dive into the intricacies of keeping hives. Back at the store, Two Hives sells equipment as well as curated, bee-related gifts from local female entrepreneurs.

While she’s now overseeing a multidimensional business — and work-life balance remains elusive — the love that drew Chapman to bees is still strong. She moves gently, with ungloved hands, in the hives, pointing out the queen on one frame and a surprise winter drone on another, as she closely monitors the activity in each hive.

Back at the truck, when a bee lands on her wrist, she stops midsentence. “Look at that proboscis,” she says, pointing with wonder at the bee’s long tongue, which is siphoning honey from her hand. Soon bees are buzzing all around us, but Chapman just smiles. “All right, ladies,” she says to them, “it’s time to go back home.”

Written by Vivé Griffith • Photographed by Melanie Grizzel

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