03 Oct Local + Honey = The Challenge and the Reward
The first time I bought local honey, I took a step back. I was trying to eat local, but that little golden bottle was so expensive! Sound familiar? Then the light bulb came on—I am sort of a homesteader, I have land, I have flowers. Why not produce my own honey?!
Let me step back a bit and introduce myself. My name is Wendy and I am one of the bloggers for Lemon Street Market. I am a local, Lancaster County girl, raised on a farm, and transplanted in eastern York County. Yes, there is a bridge between Lancaster and York, but it’s really not so bad over here.
I have almost four acres of land, a desire to grow what I can for my family, and an interest in native plants and ecology. Bees make sense, right? My great uncle was a beekeeper, and I was raised on local honey. The jars were housed near a radiator so they wouldn’t crystalize throughout the winter. We never bought honey—we just shared the bounty within our extended family.
Fast forward to my 30s and the onset of degenerative back pain. This blessing in disguise brought me to a chiropractor/beekeeper (Dr. Ed) who shared stories about his hive, the people he met through beekeeping, the science behind bee breeding, and so much more. I was hooked, but I knew I couldn’t handle one more “project.” Eventually, I couldn’t resist. Dr. Ed put one of his hives on my property and I was learning as I went along under his guidance. I bought the bees and he provided the hardware for me. Yes, you buy bees. That alone was an eye opener—over $100 for one queen and her court!
My girls (the female bees do most of the work, so they are the most important) established quickly, but the year was dry. By late summer the bees were… not so pleasant. Bees can smell, and they don’t like carbon dioxide. They didn’t seem to like human too much, either. That winter we wrapped the bees up to protect them from strong winter winds, with the plan of introducing a new, kinder queen to the hive in the spring. The disposition of the queen determines the disposition of the rest of the hive (her offspring), and I knew we needed to do something. Although I’m not allergic to bee stings, they really are not my favorite thing. Did you catch the part about a new queen? My new queen was $25—starting to see why local honey has a large price tag?
My hive was alive and well the following spring, but Dr. Ed wanted to move his hive hardware to another site. It was time for me to dive into this beekeeping thing head-first. Wooden hives are $500+ once you purchase all the accessories. The bees were transferred to their new home and they were kind! The new queen did her job. There was hope for a honey harvest. Until… August. Fewer bees were traveling in and out of the hive. Then, weird black droppings started showing up. Something was not right. Upon inspection, I discovered that my hive had been taken over by wax moths. These “wonderful little gems” lay their eggs in a hive and the larvae that hatch feed on the beeswax and honey. My hive was empty.
Will I give up? No way! I will be restocking my hive in the spring. I have learned that beekeepers are forever optimists. Although there are many things that can harm a hive—mites, bears, disease and moths, to name a few—the satisfaction that comes from the first taste of your own honey is like no other. This post is not intended to discourage. I encourage everyone to try beekeeping. The Lancaster County Beekeepers Society is an excellent resource for newbies. However, beekeeping is risky as a business—probably more so than farming. Local honey production is a major labor of love.
Support your local beekeepers! Continue to buy your honey locally and plant flowers in your yard to help all of the hives in our area succeed. Some Lancaster County honey providers include: Beebees All Naturals, Family Cow, Honey Bee Creations, and Stockins Apiaries (all of which are available at Lemon Street Market!).