The Honeybee Effect

Honey. We put it in our coffee or tea and it is great with peanut butter and toast. Even a spoonful (or two) is a great way to kick a sweet tooth or craving without bingeing on candy bars. However, there is so much more to the story than you may think. Honeybees are responsible for far more beneficial things than you may even be aware of!

The Collin County area has quite the colony of honeybee hobbyists and professionals. There are several “farms” that supply honey to local shops, which Frisco residents can enjoy any time they like. There is even a local organization that can help you get started in the honeybee keeping hobby, if you are feeling adventurous.

As with many other products, there is a difference between mass-produced honey and local, raw honey. When you buy mass-produced honey, it is heated to 160 degrees, for 30 minutes, to burn off yeast, which occurs naturally in honey. When you buy local honey, it is completely unfiltered, which means the colors can be slightly different, but you get the only 100 percent natural source of sugar. The darker the honey, the more robust the flavor will taste and it will contain more antioxidants. Everything else has to be processed in some way, but honey can be used just as it comes out of the hive!

John Talbert, the owner of Sabine Creek Honey Farm in Josephine, Texas, and a teacher for the Collin County Hobby Beekeepers Association (CCHBA), has a wealth of information when it comes to the honeybee business. He started as a hobbyist 30 years ago. When he retired from his career, 15 years later, he took on beekeeping full time and turned it into a thriving business. He said, “I enjoy dealing with nature and it has been more fulfilling.”

Sabine Creek Honey Farm currently has 500 hives and they are planning to grow to 800 later this year. The honey is available at approximately 30 resellers, mostly feed stores where people expect to find locally sourced, organic products (he mentioned AquaFit and Wells Brothers Feed Store, both in Plano, if you are interested in trying his honey).

Aside from honey, beeswax can be sold to both skincare companies and candle makers. The skincare industry is the single largest consumer of beeswax, according to Mr. Talbert. “The candles made from beeswax will not smoke, will burn longer from the same volume and they smell sweet, with no added fragrance,” Mr. Talbert added.

These direct products are only a small part of what honeybees do for the world. “Without honeybees, food availability would be a lot less, less pretty and less tasty,” Mr. Talbert said. Mr. Talbert was able to share a large number of facts. For example, did you know it takes 70 visits from a bee to get one strawberry? Or that it takes two million flowers to make one pound of honey? Honeybees will pollinate everything within a two-mile radius of their hives. It also takes approximately one bee per square foot for good pollination. Take a look at the apples the next time you visit the grocery store. Mr. Talbert reveals that if you look on the bottom of the apple and one of those bumps is smaller than the rest, that bump was not pollinated as well as the others by bees when it was a flower.

It is hard to believe how significant the impact is that honeybees have on our daily lives. At the time of the interview, a large portion of Mr. Talbert’s honeybees were in Calif., busy pollinating at almond farms. Mr. Talbert said, “Honeybees are the only insect that can be farmed. They can be boxed and shipped where they are needed.” He also says that honeybee farmers see their hives increase in populations before flowers bloom, instead of during blooming season, to ensure proper coverage. Once his bees come back from Calif., they will be sent to the Hempstead, Texas, area for watermelon and squash pollination.

Mr. Talbert says that sometimes he also has his bees in N.D. to make honey and products he sells to food packers and national accounts. They mix different colors and sources to create the products you see in stores. He reaffirms that any Sabine Creek honey sold locally is made locally. Local honey is credited with helping allergy suffers, and the environment and soil conditions help with local enzymes that help our bodies adapt to local allergy sources. He added, “It is great to cook with.”

If you are curious to learn more about honeybees, Mr. Talbert recommended two books. The first, Honeybee Democracy, is by Thomas Seely of Cornell University. Mr. Talbert said, “Honeybees have 17 jobs in their lifetime. They just know what to do and in what order. The first job is to clean your room.” He also mentions what he called the “waggle dance.” It is a dance honeybees perform to communicate with the rest of their hive and it lets them know where good nectar sources are located. The other book he recommended was Mating Biology of Honey Bees, which is coauthored by several people.

If those do not pique your interest, perhaps the CCHBA has something that does. It offers several classes, at very reasonable prices. If you end up taking those classes and want to start pursuing the hobby yourself, it offers a mentoring program to help make sure you are successful. To get young people involved in awareness and the art of beekeeping, the CCHBA offers a youth scholarship program as well as their Honey Queen program. The programs are designed to get young people involved in beekeeping early on, promote education and awareness of the impact of honeybees and to be spokespeople for beekeeping. The Honey Queen has more specific public relations responsibilities, but both programs are designed to help young ambassadors spread the word.

Honeybee populations have been on the decline for several years now, partly due to a colony collapse disorder phenomenon, where bees suddenly abandon their hives. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that honeybee populations are half of what they were in the 1940s. Certain pesticides and the lack of land to pollinate have also been brought up as contributing factors.

Swarms in late spring and early summer can be frightening to see. Swarms are essentially large balls of bees clumped together, but they are simply looking to establish a new colony. These swarms rarely stay in one place for more than a day, and you can contact professionals who can remove the swarm safely. Since the bees are looking for a suitable place for a new colony, they do not have any honey to protect and they are not defensive. It can be especially scary for someone who is allergic to bee stings, but killing them should be an absolute last resort.

Without honeybees, life would be much more difficult for us. Every plant we eat has to be pollinated by something. Though some plants are pollinated by wind, of what is pollinated by insects, honeybees are the gentlest pollinators and cover so much ground. Most people exaggerate when they say life would not be the same without something. In the case of honeybees, this turns out to be true!

To learn more about the CCHBA or additional benefits provided by local honeybees, consider visiting

cchba.org.

Christi Redfearn is a wife, mom and Aggie in search of that perfect lap time in her weekend race car.