6/6/2013 - While some New Hampshire beekeepers package and sell their honey, most keep bees and make honey just for the fun of it.
“It is quite popular in New Hampshire. You figure that probably close to 2,000 to 3,000 packages [of bees] are distributed throughout the state every spring,” said Alden Marshall, treasurer of the Merrimack Valley Beekeepers Association. “Some go out to beekeepers with lots of hives and some to people with one or two hives. Most beekeepers are hobbyists with anywhere from one to six hives.”
There is a New Hampshire Beekeepers Association and seven affiliated regional beekeeping clubs around the state. The NHBA offers “bee schools” where people can learn how to keep their own hives and offer tips on getting started with bee packages — literally packs of bees — to start your own hive and get that honey flowing.
New Hampshire’s honey production is limited by factors such as climate and the smaller selection of flowers that bees can visit.
“Basically, it’s wildflower [honey in New Hampshire] because there’s not enough of any one plant in this area to be able to get a varietal honey. That will encompass any plant that the bees are going to,” said Allen Lindahl, owner of Hillside Apiaries and Beekeeping Supplies in Merrimack. “We don’t get enough of any one individual crop to call it a varietal honey … in other words, blueberry honey or clover honey.”
Where the bees find their nectar affects the taste and color of the honey, Marshall said. And springtime honey is different from summer honey, with the bees yielding less honey in the spring.
“What makes the flavor of honey is the flora it comes from. A honey with a variety of flowers produces a different flavor, but the difference would be rather small,” Marshall said. “The early honey crop comes from trees … maple, aspen, linden, locust.”
In addition to honey that you would expect to find in a jar, which is called extracted honey, some people enjoy eating comb honey.
“Comb honey is untouched by human hands. We basically take the comb out of the hive and put it in a container,” Lindahl said. “Comb honey, you take spoon and dip right into the wax and eat the wax and the honey.”
Learning to make your own honey is not difficult, Lindahl said, but he suggests doing some homework first. His Hillside Apiaries offers products to help people get started with their own hives, such as protective suits and hive boxes.
And of course, you need bees. While most people opt to purchase packages of bees, which are sold by the pound, it is possible to trap a wild swarm or attract one to the colony you already have. It’s not an easy process, however.
“There’s a whole science around doing that. You can try catching swarms, but it’s unpredictable,” said Dolores Blake, who operates DJ’s Pure Natural Honey in Manchester with her husband John. “There is research going on for trying to figure out if you can bait bee swarms to a specific spot. But for an average hobbyist, you would miss a swarm because of the time of day they swarm. It’s not like you are sitting there watching your hive all day.”
According to Lindahl, you need a lot of bees to make just a little bit of honey.
“In a going colony there are 40,000 to 60,000 bees. One bee can make about 1/12th of a teaspoon in it’s lifetime, and its lifetime is four to six weeks,” Lindahl said. “The bees are physically working themselves to death. They wear out their wings flying back and forth.”
The bees also need to produce enough honey for themselves, Lindahl said.
“You want to make sure the bees are bringing nectar in so that they have a surplus for me. They need about 60 to 80 pounds of honey for themselves to make it through the winter,” he said. “Anything above and beyond that is what the beekeeper would take. A typical hive could generate in the order of 40 to a hundred pounds per hive.”
Once harvested there isn’t much to do to the honey before it is ready for a jar.
“We run it through a strainer to remove any bee parts, wax or particulate matter that may have settled in the honey. We don’t filter honey and we don’t heat honey, because when you do that it destroys the enzymes and ruins the honey,” Lindahl said. “And you don’t want to filter honey because you don’t want to take the natural pollen in the honey out. That’s the beneficial part of it.”
Honey will also last forever according to Lindahl.
“They’ve actually found honey in the tombs in Egypt that has been crystallized and is solid, but if you warm it up, it’s as good as when the bees brought it in,” he said. “Honey never spoils as long as it’s covered.”