Buzz the Apiary

© 2017-19, ZBees Apiary, Waynesville, NC.                                                                                                          Buzz the Apiary

Lifetime member of the North Carolina State Beekeepers Association

As a “certified” North Carolina honey producer, you can rest assured that every jar of honey produced from our ZBees Apiary is pure natural mountain floral honey without any added sugars, pasteurization, supplements, or ultra-filtering. Our honey has all the natural pollens and nectars which the bees bring back to the hive. The consumer nothing less than “pure raw” honey. Our honey is never harvested “during” or “after” any hive treatments are applied to control various hive pests.

Our honeybees are not fed any “sugar-syrup” during the active honey flow seasons, which can vary depending on the current weather conditions. Comb capping's are punctured on each frame and then, the frame is placed inside an extractor for processing. During this process the honey is drained from the extractor through a double layer strainer to remove the wax capping only. After straining, the honey is set aside for a few days in a sealed container to allow the air bubbles to rise to the top. On bottling day, the honey is bottled all at once for consumption to prevent it from absorbing any excessive air moisture.

Unfortunately, the unscrupulous practice by some producers of “diluting” honey with other by-products such as sorghum, molasses, or white corn syrup can present the impression to consumers that all beekeepers who harvest honey are out for a “quick buck.” This is a great discredit to all reputable beekeepers and the North Carolina State Beekeepers Association frowns on this practice of honey production, as does ZBees Apiary. Any reputable beekeeper works hard to harvest and sell pure raw honey, just as the bees work hard to produce it for consumption.

There are several ways to extract honey from the hive and every beekeeper has their favorite method. First, for Langtroth hives the honey is typically extract in either eight-frame or ten-frame boxes called honey supers. They can be either deep, medium, or shallow frame boxes, however, the typically size most beekeepers used is the 10-frame medium super box. A few beekeepers use a 10-frame box with a 9-frame spacer installed and the idea is that the bees will stretch out the comb and produce as much or more honey than the standard 10-frame box. The reality is this- the volume of space to produce comb does not change within the box. The bees will still produce a similar amount of honey per box. This method is more conducive to the beekeeper who wants to stretch their frames between honey supers.

Second, the de-capping of honey comb is accomplished in several ways. Some beekeepers, a) use a hot-knife to de-cap comb, b) use an old butter knife to de-cap the comb, c) use a de-capping roller and/or comb to scratch the capping off. This beekeeper’s preferred method is “C,” because I extract the honey with a motorized extractor and the few pieces of capping's that end up in the extractor are filtered out during the draining process.

The First Jar of Raw Honey

NC Honey Producer

Honey Harvest and Production Honey Extraction and Processing

21 July 2017

First comb of honey processed

Honey, that sweet nectar from the Creator Himself and given to us by way of the honeybee. Some people hate it… others like it…, but the beekeeper loves this “liquid gold” which gets one’s taste-buds to moving into high gear. Honey is the end result of a lot of hours and work by the honeybee and the beekeeper. Let no one fool you, beekeeping IS NOT a hobby… it is definitely a science. In order to produce great tasting honey the beekeeper must strategically place their apiaries in areas where plenty of foliage exists for the the type of honey the beekeeper hopes the bees will produce. Remember, they are just insects after all and they have a preprogrammed instinct which tells them to harvest what they feel is the best pollen and nectar, not what the beekeeper wants them to pollinate and harvest.

Let me explain this science. Within two hundred yards of ZBees Apiary there are numerous types of trees; basswood, black locust, dogwood, holly, magnolia, red maple, silver maple, sourwood, tulip poplar, white pine, and wild cherry. The oak trees are not included in this listing. In addition, there are flowering plants and shrubs like; buckwheat, crocus, daffodils, milkweed, tulips, sumac, white clover, and zinnias, not to mention all of the wild flowers growing in the the woods. Now, imagine the seasons in which these foliages bloom and one might think that just because sourwood blooms in our mountain area from mid-July to late August that if the hives are located near some sourwood trees that the bees would naturally migrate to those trees for pollen. This is not always the case. If the sourwood honey season is plagued with a lot of rain then, the bells do not fully open and the honeybees cannot harvest the nectar, regardless of how tasty it is to them and profitable for the mountain beekeeper. The same goes for tulip poplar trees.

Within the 1.86 mile average foraging range of the apiary there are other trees such as alder, Bartlett pear, flowering cherry, sumac, and many other flowering trees, not to mention, alfalfa, henbit, ragweed, and other flowering plants or bushes. Thus, the beekeeper truly has no definitive answer as to where or what type of pollen and nectar the bees are gathering. Sure, we can look at the colors of pollen the bees are bringing back to the the hive: lemon-yellow, yellow, gray, orange, or whatever. And, the beekeeper can review the NC flowering chart to see what should be in bloom during the season, however, the beekeeper can only assume that the honey the bees produce is of any particular pollen. In reality, the beekeeper has no valid way of determining the actual pollen content of the honey without scientific analysis of the honey.

The Science of Gathering Pollen

Based on experience and scientific testing, I can attest to the fact that the bees gather nectar which is easiest and most plentiful to obtain. It is said that honeybees go “high” for nectar first, then go “low” when many trees are not blooming well. I know this, they forage for pollen and nectar that is most plentiful during the season, whether the source is “high” or “low.” At ZBees Apiary, we adhere to the NC State Beekeepers Association Standards for classifications of honey and take great care to ensure our honey meets those standards. Let me summarize a few of those standards for North Carolina certified honey, for a complete description see NC State Beekeepers Association Honey Standards:

  1. Only honey that is produced in the state can be labeled as North Carolina honey.
  2. Honey labeled and identified as originating from any particular floral source, such as “Sourwood Honey,” must meet the following criteria.
  1. NC honey cannot have any added water or other liquid during the course of extraction or packaging for sale or resale using the word “honey” and the moisture content cannot exceed 18.6%.
  2. Sugar Content in Honey
The Science HoneyFoaragers returning to hive 2.

Foragers returning to the hive with pollen

Foragers returning to the hive with pollen

All honey produced and processed at ZBess Apiary is labeled in two primary methods for identification. First, our standard honey is not called “Spring Honey,” “Fall Honey,” or “Wildflower Honey,” as most honey is labeled. The honey produced at our apiaries is labeled as “Mountain Honey,” denoting the fact that the pollen sources are in the mountains of Western North Carolina. This distinction denotes the difference between NC honey produced in the costal or piedmont regions of the state. Second, any honey that is specifically labeled is tested by the Texas A&M  University, Palynology Laboratory of the Department of Anthropology for pollen content before special labeling is applied. This testing is not free and thus, some beekeepers may have no valid documentation meeting the 51% requirement by North Carolina for specific honeys. Example: In August 2018, a sample of honey was sent to Dr. Vaughn Bryant for testing. It was hoped that our ZBees Honey contained enough Sourwood pollen to qualify as sourwood honey. It did not, in truth the test results showed absolutely no sourwood pollen in the sample batch, not a single grain according to Dr. Bryant. How revealing this was to ZBees Apairy and thus, that batch of honey could not be labeled as sourwood honey. The test results revealed 53.4% clover pollen, 13.1% Asteraceae (sunflower-type), and 8.9% Parthenocissus (Virgina Creaper), with the remaining percentages containing mixed floral pollens.

Some North Carolina beekeepers may may use the local label for Appalachian Grown honey. This label is generic to the whole Appalachian mountain region and covers states from Georgia to Vermont.

Raw honey typically contains both fructose and glucose in fairly even amounts and it possess good anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties from the hydrogen peroxide which is inherent to honey and it can benefit people with a sore throat or it may also be used as a cough suppressant. It can also serve as a anti-bacterial healing agent for minor cuts, scrapes, or some skin issues. However, that is not why ZBees Apiary manages honeybees. Our task is to separate the “honey” from the “bee” and offer you the same sweet nectar we enjoy. In addition, raw honey is not a “cure-all” food, but it sure does soothe a sore throat, trust me I know from experience. Also, scientific research shows that amber colored honey, such as blackberry or tulip poplar, typically have a higher concentration of these anti-bacterial properties. Finally, one of the biggest drawbacks of eating raw sweet honey is that it does contain a high amount of calories and carbohydrates, but it is still better than stuffing oneself with bread just to get an equivalent amount of carbohydrates.