Tuesday, July 01, 2008

EXTRACTING THE GOLD OF SUMMER
Delicious Mint Honey from Honey Tree Apiaries



And the guy who harvests it in Alpine, Oregon.




This is Ethan Bennett: beekeeper extraordinaire who started the company Honey Tree Apiaries. He sells his honey at the farmer's market in Corvallis every Saturday. I can tell you unabashedly that it's the best honey I've ever tasted. I bought a quart jar of his mint variety, which was collected from a hive that sat near wild mint and farmers' fields of radish and cabbage. Ethan also sells pumpkin honey and several other varieties- which are also yummy. He also melts down the wax in a solar-powered contraption and makes lovely beeswax tapers you can fit in a candle holder.

Ethan also let me accompany him while he was beekeeping. I have a curiousity for it and wanted to be around the lovely little creatures that accompanied my grandfather for the duration of his adult like. My grandpa was a beekeeper in Idaho while helping raise 5 children. My mom and aunts talk about helping in the extracting room with their daddy. They all have fond memories of it and all have a love affair with honey and I think the art of beekeeping. Of course thinking back on childhood, one is always prone to romanticize a bit. But anyways, thanks Ethan, for giving me a taste of what it may have been like for my Grandfather the beekeeper. (In the next post, I'm gonna tell a little bee-lore that was passed down by my mother. Stories like my Grandpa forcing the bees to sting his arthritic knees before a bowling tournament and otehr medicinal uses like my mom chewing on raw honeycomb to relieve her asthma.)

I have to add in here that I was indeed very comfy around the little bees... little worker bee ladies that buzzed around the hives (I could do without the drones who are slow and the Queen Bee, who is sooo fat) But then again none of us could do with the Queen and her drones now could we? But those little worker bees are so cute, I wanted to take one home :)



He's lighting the smoker with a piece of burlap.



Here he is charming the bees.



Interesting Note: I rather liked the soft sound of the constant and mezmerizing humming of bees but Ethan says he tires of it. Think of it, if you always heard that background buzzing all day long if might get to you after awhile. Ethan says he finds bees everywhere: in his food, in his hair, so I'm sure he wouldn't miss one of those bees one bit if they had hitched a ride home with me.

I'll let you hear about his job in his own words. (And I'm going to add a few more videos when I get them downloaded!)





In all Ethan's got about 80 hives with 40,000-60,000 bees in EACH hive. Which makes him the father of how many bees?? You do the math. He says some of the breeds are feistier than the others. But for the most part, the honey bees are "gentle," particularly in the summer.

Honey Money

He makes his money off honey he sells at the farmer's market but the bulk of his profit comes from farmers who pay him to pollinate their fields. They pay him about $40 per hive and he uses about 4-8 hives per acre. His bees pollinate blueberry, pumpkin, and radish and cabbage seed fields as well as meadow foam (a flowering crop that's under experiment as a possible bio fuel source).

In February and March, Ethan will head down to Northern California with his bees to help pollinate almonds there. The California almond fields need every registered beehive in the US for their harvest, which has given rise to questions of whether the US government should allow more of these bees to come from Mexico to meet the demand of farmers to pollinate fields. Ethan says many of these are Africanized Bees- a breed of bees that have a dominate gene and are very aggressive. He's concerned that if the US allows this, that beekeepers won't want to be beekeepers anymore because the African bees will breed with the domestic bees and produce bees that are difficult to manage. It's a worry he has (and honestly can you blame him? wouldn't you worry? Didn't you see that t.v. movie in the '80's: Attack of the Killer Bees?) Here's an article (albeit old) about the "Mean Gene" in these Africanized bees.

Here's another article Killer Bees.

Ethan points out the Queen Bee to me. She's longer and fatter than the others, but she's the most important bee- you want to keep her fat and happy.




Extractor room


Ethan takes a panel with honeycomb on it and puts it in a machine that spins around, making the honey run down to the bottom.

The extractor


When this thing gets spinning, if you stand over the extractor, a delicious honey wind blows into your face. It's magical. My mom always talked about helping her dad in the extracting room. She and her sisters and brother have very fond memories of the extracting room.. the smell of the honey and how soft her hands were after handling honey all day.




Thanks to Ethan at Honey Tree Apiaries.

1 comment:

Beth said...

This is fantastic! If you make anything with the honey, you should totally submit it to my local food challenge. :)