Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hunting Honey

Honey. Everyone knows what it is, but what do we really know about it?

Recently Holeman & Finch staff (and a few Restaurant Eugene friends) took a field trip to Hidden Springs Farm where Ray and Donna Lopes, beekeepers and farmers extraordinaire, toured us through their amazing 110 acre apiary in Williamson, Georgia. The Lopes have been keeping bees for over a decade, and it's not just honey they produce from their 200+ hives. They also raise queen bees to sell, as well as about 100 head of Brangus cow and enough laying hens to fill egg orders at The Peachtree Road, the East Atlanta Village and the Emory Farmers Markets.

The Lopes were kind enough to share a tremendous amount of knowledge with our staff, and a bee suit with Holeman & Finch Chef de Cuisine Ryan Smith who harbors a love of the apis mellifera. Suited up, he smoked the hives to calm the bees --- the smoke simulates a forest fire which triggers the bee's instinct to binge on honey in preparation for migration. At the first wiff of smoke, the bees become so busy filling up that they are less inclined to sting those who tamper with their colony. While the bees binged, Ryan hunted for queens and looked for full frames to rob of honey.

We took full frames from the hives inside to the extractor, a centrifuge used to spin the honey out of the comb. Then we brixed it to test the water content, and filtered it just once to remove any residual bits of wax.

Here are just a few of the bee facts we gathered on our trip:
- a single hive contains somewhere around 40,000 bees
- a hive has only 3 types of bees: 1 queen who lays all the eggs and regulates the hive, the drones which are male and exist soley to mate once with the queen and die, the worker bees which are female and do all the work of the hive (i.e. produce the beeswax for honeycomb, gather all the pollen and nectar to store for food, keep the queen comfortable - they can even unhinge their wing to fan her if necessary)
- queens lay around 2000 eggs a day
- during honey production time, a bee lives 6 weeks (in the winter they can live longer due to inactivity)
- bees die when they've worn out their wings
- honey bees visit about 2 million flowers to make 1 lb of honey
- bees communicate through pheremones, and by dancing (yes, dancing)
- bees fly about 15 mph
- to produce 2 lbs of honey, bees travel a distance equal to 4 time around the earth
- bees visit approximately 1000 flowers every day
- the queen slows or speeds her egg production based on the amount of pollen coming in the hive
- bees eat the honey to produce the wax for their combs. 8 lbs of honey are required to produce 1 lb of beeswax
- when it's time for a new queen, the worker bees feed royal jelly (a custardy looking substance they produce) to larvae to produce a new queen