Can sleeping bees fly? Sure, if they’re copping their z’s in one of Brian Griffin’s cans. Griffin, 71, is the nation’s No. 1 salesman of hibernating native bees—which, once they wake up, help gardeners and farmers all over the country pollinate their plants and fruit trees. Working out of his own Bellingham, Wash., backyard—yes, it’s a regular hive of activity—Griffin and his daughter Lisa Novich, 44, spend each fall packing thousands of sleeping bees into sealed cardboard tubes, which they mail to customers nationwide. When the tubes are put outside in the spring, the warmer air helps to rouse the bees from their slumber in time to get busy in the garden. “Bees are the great unsung heroes of nature,” says Griffin.
They haven’t exactly been bad for the Griffin family, either. Since 1991, when Brian became interested in bees while researching how to make apple trees in his backyard bear more fruit, their family-run enterprise known as Knox Cellars has grown into a business with yearly sales of $200,000 from books, bees and paraphernalia. “Dad’s silly little bee hobby got totally out of control,” says Novich, a married mother of three who gave up her job with a forest-products company to join full-time in 1999. Fortunately the bee they deal in most, the Orchard Mason, usually ignores humans—even ones who can’t mind their own beeswax. In all his years of beekeeping, Griffin has been stung only once. “And it was my own fault,” he says. “I just happened to get one down my shirt and started swatting it until it finally fought back.”