Our Views on Honey

Eco Honeybees Views on Honey

For thousands of years the primary reason humans have kept bees is for the honey. For a very, very long period it was pretty much the only form of sweetener available. Honey’s other uses in medicine and for making drinks such as mead are also big reasons why humans felt they could be successful in a cottage industry supplying honey to buyers.  As an aside, the other product bees produce that there has always been a historical market for was wax.  In medieval times in Europe, a significant part of any church, monastery, or convent’s yearly budget was for ………. you guessed it, candles! food-honey-bee_083013_584

While all of our clients are aware of the critical need for bees nationwide and that’s usually the kicker when considering getting a beehive, everyone looks forward to that time when their beehive will give a little something back in return for all that investment, time, and effort in the form of pure organic honey. And yes, the honey inside your hive is yours.

Our clients and anyone whose sampled honey straight from a hive, all will tell us that it is the highest quality honey they’ve ever had. So questions are always forthcoming about when they’ll be able to get some honey, how we handle that, and how much they’ll be able to harvest.

honeycomb-bionicgrrrl-flickrO.K. First things first, and this gets into the fundamental difference between the Langstroth and Top Bar Hives. The Langstroth hive was designed in the U.S. after the Civil War by beekeepers in the honey business specifically so that they would be able to extract pure honey from them that could be put directly into jars and sold to people moving into cities. A special type of motorized honey extractor centrifuge is needed to do this process. Rest assured, Eco Honeybees has made that investment and does have the proper extractor on hand to do this easily. Additionally, we’re probably some of the only people in the country that has the capability to mount their extractor in their vehicle so as to be able to extract honey at a client’s location, if needed. When we give a client their honey it is usually in plastic jars or containers.

Pure honey in the comb on the bar

Pure honey in the comb on the bar!

The Top Bar hive is an ancient hive design that has recently started to become popular again. They’ve become more popular in recent years because they are very organic and the bees create the comb inside themselves. Because the bees do everything free form, much less equipment is needed (unlike a Langstroth) so people can often get into the hobby more easily. So, when organizations or agencies are donating hives to third world nations, they will often opt for the Top Bar hives for this very reason.  But back to honey.  Since the Top Bar hives are more organic, the honey is still in the comb. Many people will think honey is pure and organic only if it is still in the wax comb and therefore honey in the comb is always more expensive at stores.  To get liquid honey out of the wax comb, it is, believe it or not, easiest to put the comb into an old pair of panty hose, crush it, and then strain the honey through the material.  Try wearing rubber gloves if you get tired of licking your fingers!

Armed now with the differences between the two hives we offer, here are very common honey related questions we get all the time:

Does Eco Honeybees sell honey itself or for it’s clients?

We get asked this all the time. Eco Honeybees prides itself in bringing complete hives to clients and maintaining them for them. We’re regretfully not in the honey business. Setting ourselves up in the honey sales business would require too much time and effort and divert us from our primary mission of bringing back the honeybee to the DC area.
Also, when you think about it, no matter how many hives we have under our care, these hives do not belong to us. They belong to our clients. And, as such, the honey in them belongs to our clients.

How much honey per year does a hive produce?

That’s often a tough question to answer. The standard answer to give is between 10-40 pounds. This comes out to about one to five quarts. In other words … a lot.  In 2014 we did have one client inside the beltway whose hive produced a whopping 9 gallons of honey!  There are many factors that affect honey production including many variables that only come from a couple years experience with your individual hive in your individual neighborhood. Remember that one reason why hives collapse is starvation.  As in, they weren’t able to gather and store enough honey to make it through the autumn and winter.  In this area most hives will need additional feeding to help them create enough honey to get through the upcoming cold season.  This is also us being conservative.  Getting bees to survive is a challenge these days.  Starvation is the one thing we can prevent and try to do so by feeding each hive in both spring and autumn.  Every hive is different. Some Queens are better than others and only time reveals this. Also, some neighborhoods are better than others when it comes down to the pollen and nectar flow. So many factors have to be in sync to have a hive with a lot of honey inside.

And, to be right up front, Eco Honeybees is very stingy about extracting honey from hives.  Our company is geared 100% to the survival and increase of the bee population. What this means is that, even if there is a lot of honey in a hive, chances are, we’ll leave it in to make sure we aren’t taking food that will be needed from the bee’s table.  If we were in the deep south where it is always warm and honey is easy to replace things would be different.  But, because no one can predict how long or severe any upcoming winter will be, we try to err on the side of the bees and not extract too much.

Oftentimes, when we do remove frames of honey from a client’s hive, we ask them to, or offer to, store the honey in their freezer instead of extracting it. Again, we do this all for the bees. Honey we pull out and leave in the frame can always be put back into a hive later in the year if we believe a hive’s honey supply needs bolstering beyond just supplemental feeding. Once again, bees first, honey on the table second.

When does honey get extracted?

Our honey extractor mounted for mobile use in our bee van

Our honey extractor mounted for mobile use in our bee van

Honey normally gets extracted in the Spring after an area’s pollen and nectar flow starts up again and a hive is able to sustain itself again via nature. We would be extracting honey that the bees did not consume over the winter and is left over. Depending on how intense an area’s pollen and nectar flow is in the Spring and how wild and crazy the bees get in collecting it, there is a chance that we’ll be pulling honey out of a hive in the late Spring because the bees are running out of space inside their hive where the Queen can lay brood. Technically this honey is extractable but, like we mentioned above, oftentimes we’ll opt to store it out of the hive rather than extracting it. Once we extract it out of the frames, we can’t put it back into a hive easily. It is always a crap shoot doing this and a judgment call made on a hive-by-hive basis. We don’t ever want to regret extracting honey later on if we find out a hive really needs it. Being able to make some of those judgment calls based on environment, strength of season, quality of Queen, and overall strength of a hive is one of the big reasons you want to have us consulting with you on these matters.