Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Small Farms, Big Ideas: Naked Bee Honey

Honey and butter on a hot fluffy biscuit.  It is a combination that I venture to say most people on this earth would find comforting and utterly delicious.  Whenever I have brunch at 29 South I order a plate first thing...the perfect appetizer to wash down with a cup of coffee.   What makes this little bread plate exceptional is the local honey.  Naked Bee Honey Farm, owned by artists and artisans Gayle Prevatt and Enzo Torcoletti, make some of the best honey I have ever tasted.  

I feel like we have a lot to learn from bees, yet I find myself nervous whenever I find one around me.  What better way to confront a fear of an unknown than to learn about I thought I would ask Gayle a few questions to gain a little insight into the world of bees..

What sparked you and your husband's interest in beekeeping?  How did you get into the craft?
For many years I had the hobby of finding and planting different and unusual varieties of citrus trees and a few other fruit trees.  I would research each variety to see when it bloomed, bore fruit and its particular characteristics.  The process of discovery is such a pleasure!  After some years, I realized that the trees should be bearing fruit and alas, there was none.  And so began the discovery of the absolute need of bees for the pollination of fruit trees and the subsequent finding of a beekeeper willing to sell me a hive and encourage me along.  That was more than ten years ago.

Is there a season for honey?
The beauty and harmony of nature is truly the most wonderous gift of the universe.  The spring season arrives with the blooming of wild trees  beginning with the swamp maples in December in North Florida.  This is quickly followed by wild fruiting trees such as the mayhaw and plum and then the first cultivated fruit trees, the pears begin to bloom.  Other trees wish to join the party and so festoon themselves with delicate blossoms and spicy scents wafting through the air.  And who can slumber in winter doldrums through all this....not the honeybees!  From the maple blossoms through the palmetto in late May or early June,  they only take a break in February while waiting for the next trees to come out!  Mid summer is hot and often dry like this year, so the honeybees hang out on the back porch and tell tales.  If the August rains come, then there are beautiful fall blossoms of goldenrod, ironweed, spanish needles and a myrad of other wildflowers to help the bees tuck in stores for the winter.  And then it is back to the homefront for them, safe with their golden stores of fuel to see them through the cold until one day in December the scarlet flags of new growth in the woods signals once more the earth and sun desire to transfer their energy in the form of sugary delicious nutrients through the soil up into the tips of the living Maple....

What types of flowers do your bees enjoy?  
The honeybees I care for enjoy wild persimmon, wild cherry, pear, a variety of citrus, holly, blueberry, palmetto and black gum tupelo in the spring.  In the fall they like spanish needles, ironweed, golden raintree, wild oregano and most of the yellow wildflowers.

Can you describe the process of extracting the honey?
To bring the honey to the table, I gently pull a few frames of honey from the top of the beehive, and bring it to a horizontal box upon which rests a notched device to hold the frame without disturbing the contents.  With a serrated knife, I slip the blade just under the surface of the wax covering the delicious honey and remove it, flip and repeat.  Four such frames are place vertically into a hand cranked vertical stainless steel extractor.  The frames must be spun, stopped and flipped to repeat, then left in place for awhile to drip.  There is a valve at the bottom of the extractor from which to collect this nectar.  I usually place a simple stainless steel strainer under this in a food safe bucket to catch the bits of wax which may come loose.  There! Thats all there is to it!  A beautiful and wholesome harvest of one of nature's marvels!  Before the invention of the centrifucal spinner about a hundred and twenty-five years ago, people would simply eat the honey together with the wax or place the combs into a light cloth and squeeze to extract the honey.  Very time consuming!

How do you keep your bees from mingling with wild bees?
Honeybees are family oriented!  They may enjoy flying out to see what the day has to offer but they don't keep it to themselves, they load up with pollen and nectar and take it home to share with their family members.  Always!  They may pass other bees or share some particularly wonderful flowers while out but they always go home at the end of the day or when they have loaded up with goodies!  Wild bees do this too.  We could learn alot.  p.s.  They've been around this earth a lot longer than us.

Have the bees taught you anything unexpected?
As far as learning new things from the bees, I really do learn new things everyday.  I must be alert and present when around these active creatures and watch them so as to see how to behave that day.  What are they telling me about the weather?  Are they content or is something bothering them?  I have to move at the same speed as they are working or they become irritated.  I must be sure they have enough to eat and a fresh source of water every day.  It really forces me to pay attention to what the day (and the season) is offering.  Before working with honeybees, I didnt realize how all incompassing the seasons really are and how they affect everything that all living things do and how we and other living things feel as the earth and sun turn in relation to the universe.  Anyone who thinks they are not so engaged is fooling themselves and is missing out by not waking up and enjoying active, awake participation.

I couldn't agree with Gayle more!  If you want to learn  more...or sample this lovely honey go to

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