by jennifer hetrick
to trey flemming, having raw honey to sell, use to make a living and keep on-hand in his home is all in rich gratitude of his relationship with the winged ones known as bees.
co-owning two gander farm with his wife, deirdre, the two live in rockland township sharing land with the bees. a few miles away is their organic vegetable farm, where some of their bees buzz around the low-set crops.
on top of the two gander farm part of their efforts, urban apiaries is also under their supervision; the hives are scattered on rooftops around philadelphia, with the bees responding well in pollen-grabbing labors thanks to all the ornamental trees in some sections of the city.
traces of beeswax cappings, propolis and even the natural residual of bee parts are sometimes found in flemming’s raw honey. but a lot of people are dedicated clientele who excitedly reach for his honey when they are looking for a more natural, less processed form.
the variety of honey types and flavor-sets is something flemming appreciates very well in his beekeeping life-minutes. tastes and hues per jar depend on when the bees gathered the pollen-parts and what plants and trees were in bloom when they were buzzing around on the clock.
regional spring wildflower, summer amber, fall wildflower and buckwheat honey are his staples.
his buckwheat honey, known by those who’ve tried it as a love it or hate it flavor, carries a dark color to it, as a result of the considerable mineral amounts in it. this also makes it more nutritionally valuable.
such locally whipped together honey, left in a more natural state, is known to be a health benefit for those dealing with allergy problems or even for those looking to adapt better to the allergens in the region by consuming the honey to be proactive in keeping irritations to a minimum.
“we have predominantly italian honeybees, but most queens are locally mated with mixed genetics,” flemming explains. “a strong hive may have 30,000 to 50,000 bees, at its peak.”
queens can lay 2,500 eggs on a given day, he says. they live one-to-two years, typically; they can live up to five years, but that’s rare.
“worker bees themselves have very short life spans of six-to-eight weeks,” flemming says about the females other than queen, laboring away in the hives and out in flight.
no drones, or males, are in hives in winter, as they’re not raised until mid-spring and only account for up to 10 percent of the population in a hive, but even that is a high estimate, flemming says.
good, healthy queens are a key component to successfully raising bees and honey efficiently and effectively.
she’ll determine the overall strength of her hive,” flemming elaborates about a queen.
the worker bees generally keep within a two-mile radius of their home but follow the queen wherever she goes.
this means if she decides to relocate, they will most likely go where she goes, creating a new hive in a place she sees as appropriate, which might be in a hollow tree or even on the underside of a camper.
as the hives succeed and thrive, flemming finds himself grateful for time spent alone with the bees.
the solitude of being in the apiaries is what he enjoys most about his chosen labors.
“people don’t want to come in and catch you off guard,” flemming says, so he is rarely interrupted as he works beside the bees.
“i’m now comfortable with the bees to the point that i don’t wear protective gear,” he says. “bees are very therapeutic.”
the humming of their moving wings brings a sense of calming relaxation to flemming.
“honeybees are very industrious and not inclined to sting,” he admits.
since stinging is fatal to them, flemming says they give ample warning before they might plan to use their lone barbed stinger.
reflecting on how integral honeybees are to life itself, he pointed out that one out of every three bites of food is generally pollinated by a bee.
“it used to be that almost all small family farms had hives,” he says, glad to be keeping bees himself, today.
on average, a hive can produce about 60 pounds annually. an especially tenacious and capable hive of worker bees can offer close to 100 to 200 pounds, impressively.
when the full combs are carried to the honey house, the wax cappings are removed with a cold serrated knife.
next, the comb goes into a radial extractor, which is a centrifuge, like the spokes of a bicycle wheel.
“you turn that on and spin it for about 15 minutes, and all of the honey is extracted with centrifugal force,” flemming says. “at that point, the honey will flow from the bottom of the extractor into a five-gallon bucket, along with the wax cappings and any remaining pollen and propolis.”
this is what two gander farm calls its raw honey, poured from the bucket right into a bottle, with no further processing.
“with our seasonal honeys, we take that raw honey and pour it through a double sieve—stainless steel screens of two different sizes,” he details. “a coarse screen takes out the beeswax, and a finer screen takes out some of the more fine particles in the honey.”
then the honey makes its way into a bottler through a nylon mesh strainer cloth, much like fine cheesecloth.
“that takes the finest particles out of the honey but not the pollen, so even our strained honey still has the pollen grains in it,” flemming says. “then we’ll put the honey in a water-jacketed stainless steel bottler, controlling the temperature very precisely, gently warming it to 115 degrees fahrenheit.”
this is what allows the seasonal honeys to become clear, liquid and pourable for a long time.