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Honey Harvest

The arrival of fall brings the end of the honey season, when beekeepers begin to harvest the last of their delicious syrup from the hive. Honeybees had to work extra hard this year, as the dry weather left them searching for sweet nectar. The summer drought left the ground barren of flowers and clover patches, and few plants such as poison oak with dainty flowers remain available to the honeybees. Honey yields will suffer due to the short supply of nectar. Nevertheless, beehives are teeming with honeybees and still oozing with this rich commodity. Beekeepers—adorned in a hat, veil and gloves—will start to collect, bottle and sell this year’s honey crop across the region.

The first steps of beekeeping

Gerald “Peanut” Torres, owner of Peanut’s Place in Livonia, Louisiana, took up beekeeping as a hobby after finding an interest in the honey-making process. “It was a lot to learn, so I waited through the winter while I read and did a lot of research,” he says. First, techniques such as purchasing and transferring new honeybees into the beehive require skills and knowledge of the trade. Equally important, there are several types of beehives that need daily care, including necessities such as water and sunlight. Honeybees take nectar and pollen from the flowers in the surrounding area they use to make honey. The honeybees build the honeycomb where the bees deposit the honey and seal it with wax. Eventually, these beehives will produce savory, raw honey.

View of the inside of a beehive
View of the inside of a beehive

The B Farm currently owns and operates over 30,000 beehives in five northeastern locations, including New York, Massachusetts and Vermont, and three southern locations in Louisiana and Alabama. Torres purchased a nucleus of honeybees that he used to start his beehives from The B Farm in Bunkie, Louisiana. A nucleus contains the honeybees’ queen, workers and brood bees with a supply of food and honey. The beekeeper must transfer the nucleus to a new beehive where they can thrive and produce honey, thus The B Farm can supply new and old beekeepers with a nucleus, new queens and honey.

Facts from a beekeeper

The life of a honeybee is an astonishing pattern of work from flight to hive. “During the summer, when they work, they could fly five miles a day, back and forth,” Torres says. The worker bees spend their time collecting nectar, feeding bees, making wax and producing honey. A honeybee’s tasks take so much energy that they work themselves to death. The constant work of the honeybees shortens their lifespan to about six weeks during the summer. The entire colony depends upon the queen bee for breeding and the birth of new bees known as brood bees. The honey will nurture the new bees and create a supply of food for the winter.

An average sized beehive is occupied by 50,000 to 70,000 honeybees at one time. Beekeepers typically use the Langstroth, top bar or flow beehives. Torres uses a Langstroth and flow hive to house his honeybees and collect their sweet honey. A Langstroth beehive has hives stacked one on top of the other in boxes. In one season, this type of hive can yield an astonishing 35 to 75 pounds of honey. A flow hive houses a plastic honeycomb. The design allows the beekeeper to turn a valve to collect the honey and can yield about 3.5 gallons of honey. Beekeepers collect these enormous amounts of honey during the harvest season from July to September.

Standard Langstroth beehive to the left with a flow hive to the right
Standard Langstroth beehive to the left with a flow hive to the right

Sweet and sticky

Savannah Bee Co. opened its flagship store in Savannah, Georgia in 2008 with a countless assortment of honey products. The company now has 14 different locations from Lake Buena Vista, Florida, to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. A visit to one of these honey spots can satisfy anyone’s craving. Savannah Bee Co. offers honey tasting and a wide variety of flavors from Tupelo Honey to Orange Blossom Honey.

the natural flora in the area where the honeybees collect nectar and pollen influences the taste and color of the honey. Flavors can range from nutty, woody, sweet or bitter. Fresh strawberries or salty almonds are the perfect accompaniments for drizzling in honey. Savannah Bee Co. even has honey specifically made for tea and coffee. Their whipped honey with pumpkin spice, cinnamon, lemon and chocolate is a sumptuous treat.

All things honey

Savannah Bee Co. offers honey merchandise from A-Z including health and beauty products. The honeycomb is used to make a wide variety of byproducts. The honeybees secrete wax that they use to create the cells of the hive and construct the honeycomb. The honeycomb is melted to create a thick, clear wax. Beeswax is commonly used in cosmetics because it can moisturize and protect skin. The texture of beeswax is perfect for making soap and even adds an additional fragrance. Savannah Bee Co. brings consumers items such as hand cream, body lotion, lip balm and pedicure kits made from raw honey materials.

Beehive honeycomb with wax covering the cells containing honey
Beehive honeycomb with wax covering the cells containing honey

The practice of using honey as a remedy for a cold is as old as time. Honey can soothe a sore throat or suppress a cough. It can alleviate some symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. Warm water with a teaspoon of honey and a pinch of cinnamon can have anti-inflammatory properties. Mix lemon juice with honey for vitamins C, D, B6 and B12. Even though honey will not cure the illness, it can relieve some of the symptoms.

Protecting the pollinators

Poison oak flowers growing during drought

Due to factors such as parasites, droughts and pesticides, the honeybee population is in decline. A parasite known as the Varroa mite is slowly destroying entire colonies. The mite attaches to the honeybees as a host, and the honeybees carry the mite back to the beehive. The mite will infest the beehive and the entire colony will die. Beekeepers are attempting to control the mite population with early detection and treatments.

The recent droughts are yet another reason for the loss of the honeybees. When there is a lack of rain and extremely hot temperatures, the grass and flowers no longer grow. White clover is a vital nectar source for honeybees and is dying in the drought. When there are no flowers for honeybees to collect nectar and pollen from, they will produce a smaller honey yield.

As honeybee habitats start to disappear, they will need vital native flora to survive. Planting a bee garden can supply these pollinators with food sources. A “bee bath” such as a shallow bin with rocks inside can also provide the honeybees with a drink of water on a hot day.

Honey in the raw

A sweet jar of raw honey
A sweet jar of raw honey

It is hard to compare the taste of raw honey to anything else. Raw honey is collected directly from the beehive. Beekeepers strain the honey to remove wax, comb or pollen. There are no additives or modifications—raw honey is the natural product of hardworking honeybees. The beekeepers diligently fill jars with honey gathered directly from the beehive. To find raw honey, start with local beekeepers bottling their honey to sell. Local markets and small businesses scattered throughout the South are selling raw honey in conjunction with beekeepers. Now is the perfect time to stock up on honey until next year’s season.

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  • Richard Andre / October 6, 2023

    Didn’t realize Peanut had honey. Peanut, I’m coming after that honey as hard as I come after that delicious food of yours.