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Buzzing with the Bees

How Midnight Supply came to “bee”

By Jenna Biter  

Photographs by John Gessner

OPEN glows red on the window near another sign advertising local honey for sale. In the space between the two, what resembles a stack of wooden bankers boxes, or maybe a tall wooden filing cabinet, can be seen through the glass, sitting near the front of the country store. It’s quiet on the outside but, inside, it’s a veritable — sorry — beehive of activity.

The peculiar woody contraption won’t be there long.

The next customer will push through the shop’s happy honey-yellow door, tender payment at the counter, and in exchange, haul the thing away to fill it with the humming of a colony of tens of thousands of honeybees.

That’s because, as you might have figured, the thing isn’t a pile of hand-carved bankers boxes or a filing cabinet hewn from pine. It’s a beehive, one of the many that Erin and Calvin Terry Jr. make and sell at Midnight Bee Supply, their beekeeping storefront/woodshop on East Maple Street, in Vass.

“A bee box is like a mayonnaise jar,” Calvin says. “It’s a mayonnaise jar because it’s got mayonnaise in it.” He pauses. “If that same jar’s got jelly in it . . . ”

Erin joins in, as if they’d rehearsed the line 100 times like Abbott and Costello, Wheeler and Woolsey, Bert and Ernie, “ . . . it’s a jelly jar.

“So a box is a box, but when you fill it with bees, it’s a bee box,” Erin says, delivering the punchline.

The couple’s 1-year-old daughter, Maggie, babbles approvingly from her Pack ’n Play behind Mom’s chair. An enlarged printout of a Google review hangs above her on the office wall. “The store smells wonderful, like fresh cut wood,” it reads. From a room over, the buzzing of saws adds an exclamation point.

Midnight Bee Supply has been operating out of that brick warehouse in Vass since 2016, a handful of years after Calvin got into the business on something of a whim. While studying at N.C. State, the construction engineering major registered for a beekeeping course, enjoyed it, got high marks in it, and parlayed the experience into a part-time job working for Jack Tapp, a beekeeper who ran Busy Bee Apiaries out of the basement of his Chapel Hill home.

“Whoever was building his hives at the time wanted some ridiculous price for a cypress hive body,” Calvin says.

“His background is in construction and things like that,” Erin says of her husband. “So he looked at that and went,Oh, I could build that.’”

Calvin spent his Fourth of July learning how to construct bee boxes for Tapp. “I took him five, and he said, ‘Yeah, give me 50,’” Calvin says. He filled the order, no problem, then follow-ups, and more after that, eventually taking orders from David Bailey, who bought Busy Bee in 2013, renamed it Bailey Bee Supply, and moved the business to a plaza in Hillsborough.

“David took it to the next level,” Calvin says. “I was still in school, and we were doing a lot of deliveries to Bailey Bee Supply at midnight.”

Hence Midnight Bee Supply. The business had a name before it had a place.

At first Calvin built the bee boxes in his grandfather’s Johnson Street workshop and sold out of his parents’ garage on Saturdays. Now, a dozen or so years later and a mile across town, he’s ripping through more than 100,000 board-feet each year.

Calvin points to a stack of softwood planks piled high on the woodshop floor. He says something but the mechanical droning of planers and table saws drowns out his words. Back on the other side of the shop door, the noise fades and, with the lilt of a fourth-generation Vass native, he explains that cypress makes all the difference in the high-quality preassembled hives like the ones at the front of the store. The wood’s oils provide a level of natural waterproofing that extends hive longevity. Pine, on the other hand, is the budget option. Regardless of the material, Calvin and his handful of employees shape the wood into the Langstroth hive body preferred by the vast majority of customers.

Considered the father of American beekeeping, Philadelphia native Rev. Lorenzo L. Langstroth patented his eponymous beehive on Oct. 5, 1852, and it remains the most common style used in North America today. Langstroth’s design is modular, constructed from a series of vertically hung boxes and removable frames with 3/8-inch gaps called “bee space.” The small gaps ensure that the bees won’t seal their home shut with honeycomb or bee glue, making it easier for beekeepers to conduct hive inspections and honey collection without irritating the colony.

Calvin starts in on the anatomy of a Langstroth hive. “You’ve got a bottom board,” he says, patting the stack at the front of the store, almost as if he’s patting the rump of the family dog. “That’s a deep box.” The lesson swivels into something more like internal medicine. “If you want your top box honey only, no eggs, a queen excluder keeps . . . ”

Calvin and Erin whirl through the store, pointing to and naming all the accoutrements a beekeeper could want — specialty boxes for harvesting honeycomb, slatted racks, and different frames and feeders, as well as pest control supplies and supplemental honeybee food for the hard winter months.

“That’s basically a large centrifuge used to separate the wax from the honey,” Erin says, eyeing a silver-bellied cylinder called a honey extractor. “We’ve got a little bit of everything for anything you might be doing.” And that includes Erin’s expert beekeeping advice.

Like Calvin, she attended N.C. State, though their time on the Raleigh campus didn’t overlap. Erin, who has a degree in natural resources, conducted research with mosquitoes and genetics, and post-graduation, took a job with the school’s honeybee research lab. It was a six-month temp job tailor-made for her research experience that transformed into a happy seven years.

“I loved the bees,” Erin says, “so the longer I was there, the more I was getting into beekeeping, not just research. And then when we met, it just kind of snowballed into this,” she says, her voice lifting as she looks around the store. The earthy aroma of sawdust hangs in the air.

For consumers who prefer honeybee products without the chance of stings, the Terrys sell beeswax candles, quilts handmade by Grandma, and of course, raw and creamed honeys produced from their own apiary and bottled by Calvin’s parents.

Honey production has always been part of Calvin’s business model. “We keep several hundred hives of bees,” Erin says. “You keep bees, you make honey.”

Anticipating the life cycle of the honeybee, which revolves around the flow of nectar, is what the Terrys do, both as beekeepers and as a beekeeping supplier. “First of February starts spring for us,” Erin says. “Spring is busy on all fronts because this is when beekeepers are thinking about their bees most.” After enduring the freezing winter — all the while feeding on honey stores and protecting the queen bee from the elements — the vulnerable survivors emerge from the hives to forage for nectar and restart honey production. Beekeepers help that process along.

It’s that brisk but sunny time of year when customers flow steadily into the front while wholesale orders ship out the back. Sixteen pallets of hives are waiting to be picked up.

“We stay busy, absolutely,” Erin says.

As busy as . . .  well, you know.  PS

Jenna Biter is a writer and military wife in the Sandhills. She can be reached at