Let me beegin with the truth: up until 1 week ago, I knew absolutely nothing about honey bees. Sure, I knew that they pollinate plants and had maybe heard about them being endangered but who cares? They are bees! And in my ignorance, all bees are created equal. (I obviously paid a lot of attention in my UGA entomology class.)
So when we realized we had bees coming into our siding earlier this summer, my first instinct was kill, kill, kill! Imagine my displeasure when Al, our pest control guy, told us that we have a case of honey bees and that they were protected by law. F!
We called his recommendation for bee removals and the guy, without even asking any questions, bluntly told us that all bee removal jobs start at $750. $750!! After hearing that, we just ignored the honey bees and left them to bee since they really weren’t bothering us. That is, until we noticed them buzzing around the other side of our house after finding another gap in our siding. (Yes, we need new siding pronto.) The second cluster of bees made us act fast. After some debate, James and I knew we had to do the right thing and get the honey bees professionally removed. Beecause, you know, we like fruits and vegetables. Thus beegins our adventures with Mike.
Mike Schaaphok was referred to us by the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association. I had contacted them in hopes that some bee enthusiast would gladly come and take our honey bees off our hands for free. Not the case. But they did refer us to Mike.
When I called Mike to request an estimate, I immediately took a liking to him. Not only was he friendly, interested, and knowledgeable, but he was genuinely thrilled to hear that we had honey bees. I learned from our first phone conversation that honey bees were beelieved to be the only animals that followed Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden and that God used them as messengers. He also fondly referred to the honey bees as “the girls.” (Females do all the work while the males have one task and one task only: to get lucky.) After hearing about our colony on the side of our house, he reassured me that they were, in fact, a blessing. Hrm, not quite how I saw it but his enthusiasm was endearing enough. He came to check out our situation a couple of days later and was just as friendly in person as on the phone. I knew he was our guy.
The day of, Mike quickly set up and and went to work. I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of this story.
Unfortunately, Mike said our colony was showing signs of failure. Because he was unable to find the Queen and there were no larvae (or broods), he said the queen probably left or died (about 6 weeks ago from his estimates); therefore, he didn’t have any brood to transport back to his home. In cases like this, he will combine the bees that he collected from our house and introduce them to an already existing colony that he has back at his home in Stone Mountain. Luckily, after a few days of separation but close proximity, bees are accepting and integrate well. They’ll bee making honey soon enough! Well 70% or so will. Sadly, not all of them will survive.
Did you know …
- Honey bees pollinate 30% of Earth’s crops.
- Mind your own business and they’ll mind theirs. Honey bees will die if they use their stinger so they don’t want to hurt you unless you threaten them.
- Up until the 1920s, the Catholic Church only used bees wax candles. (Until petroleum paraffin became more cost efficient.) The church considered bees chaste because the working female bees were virgins; only the Queen mates.
- A Queen’s lifespan can range 2-3 years in the wild. (Although in labs, they have lived up to 7 years.) She can lay 1,500 eggs in a day or 1,000,000 eggs in her lifetime.
- Female worker bees will live up to 6 weeks during the summer season or approximately 6 months if they make it through the winter. The females do everything! From gathering pollen, to watching the babes, to moving the dead.
- Only 1 out of 10,000 drones (males) will actually score with the Queen. They also die doing so. The rest of the time they’re just hanging out doing … well nothing. Typical.
- Honeycombs are edible. When I called my parents in Korea to tell them about the day’s adventures, my mom kept lamenting over the fact that I threw away the honeycombs after straining them for honey.
Since our honeycombs didn’t contain any broods to save the existing colony, Mike let us keep our honeycombs. After hours of straining them for honey (and a really sticky mess), we were able to get about a quart of raw honey! At first I was worried that I did something wrong because our honey was super dark and thick, almost like molasses. When I asked Mike about it in a follow-up email, he had the most informative response:
There are many different varieties of honey – some very dark, and some very light! The honey that is typically sold as generic “Honey” in public stores is most like honey which was produced from clover, alfalfa, and other monoculture crops. Very neutral, very light colored. Also – processed with high temperatures to facilitate processing ( heat thins honey), and Hyper Filtered to produce a perfectly clear, visually appealing honey.
Nutritionally – bleah!
Your honey is best described as “Wildflower” honey – and the darkness indicates that it is high in anti-oxidants which makes it very superior to anything you are likely to find anywhere except a local farmer’s market or health food store! Your honey has NEVER been subjected to heat – so all the enzymes and lacto bacilli in this “living food” are still intact and available to you. it has never been hyper filtered, so the pollens of plants local to you are present in very small quantities ( Which, BTW. is what is believed to give local Honey “Anti Allergy” powers!! )
Most darker honeys have complex and deeper flavor patterns, which can make them highly sought after by gourmands. Try pairing your honey with cheeses or fresh fruit!
The thickness of various honeys varies, but is generally an indication of moisture content. The less moisture, the longer the honey will keep – it is perfectly fine to keep this on the counter, as long as you keep a lid on the jar when not enjoying it!
Eventually, your honey may crystallize. This is perfectly natural, and in some areas, Germany specifically, Honey is preferred in this state! (But if you want to return it to liquid state , take a small saucepan and heat water to just under boiling – remove the pan from the stove, and place the jar of crystallized honey into the pan – the honey will return to it’s liquid state!!)
Over the next few days/weeks, you may also notice a very small amount of white granules on the top of your jars – this is not mold (Which NEVER forms on cured honey…) but small bits of wax from the comb slowly floating to the top. It is perfectly harmless and is edible -but if you do not like the appearance, just lift it off with a spoon (you could use this spoonful in hot tea – the wax melts, the honey sweetens – and you enjoy!!)
So – think of it this way. The honey you are accustomed to seeing is like Maxwell House or Folgers is to coffee. But the honey that you have is strictly Starbucks.
If you are ever in the unfortunate need of a honey bee removal, please consider Mike. On the flip side, if you’re interested in having your own colony, Mike is more than happy to set one up for you. He enjoys lending out his honey bees in the spring for pollination and observation. He’s set up honey bees for many community gardens, observation centers, and schools. After spending a few hours with Mike, he almost had me convinced to keep my honey bees! I really enjoyed talking with him and observing the entire process. (Plus he put up with all my pesky questions with nary a hint of annoyance.) Thanks, Mike!