Oh honey, the Queen is coming

Sarah Wibell Community, Featured

The queen is coming! She is surrounded by her guards, drones, and workers that have already scouted a new location for another colony. Once settled, all those around her will play their highly specific roles to keep life functioning the way the queen wants it. Any stranger not from their colony is forbidden entry unless an offering is provided: honey, water, pollen. That’s the way of the honey bees.

Certified beekeeper and Madison locals Lisa Longo and her husband Tony have learned all about bee hives and how they multiply. Lisa, now in her fourth year of beekeeping, was initially intrigued by a video online in which a beekeeper took seven gallons of honey from his own bee hives.

“Another video showed a man in Tennessee wearing shorts and a tank top out near his bee hive,” Lisa remembered. “I thought, ‘He is not getting stung’; that made me a little braver.”

After visiting two beekeeping groups for two months – one in the Watkinsville area and the other in Oglethorpe County— the Longos got their first set of bees. Lisa is currently certified through the Master Beekeeper Program offered by Young Harris College, associated with the University of Georgia, and is vice president of the Oglethorpe County Bee Club.

“Bees are so fascinating,” Lisa stated. “The more you know, the more they draw you in.”

Each hive has one queen that lays eggs. However, when a hive becomes too crowded a second queen emerges and leaves with half of the hive to find a new location to live and expand.

“Scouts go out beforehand and search for a good location,” Lisa elucidated. “Sometimes they end up in a tree or they might even end up under a porch.”

The Longos have added two hives to their beekeeping endeavors this year: one swarm was “caught” recently when a hive split and another was collected from under a porch of the West Jefferson Parkside lofts.

“We prefer to catch swarms – which is what happens when the bees have split off from one hive and are about to create another. We put a bee box on a trailer in our backyard in early March with lemongrass, honey, and wax inside to try to attract new bees, and we just had a swarm go in it. That’s probably why the other hive was under that porch,” Lisa explained. “Although the bees that had built that hive last year had been removed, remnants of wax and honey remained and attracted a new swarm.”

The Longos help protect wild bee populations by providing an alternative for people in residential areas who observe a hive being formed. In this case, rather than using an exterminator, they smoked the hive to make the guard bees drowsy enough for the queen to be collected and then were able to safely remove and relocate the bees to their backyard.

“If the queen gets in the box, the others will follow her,” Lisa said. “Honey bees have different jobs and only a few are guard bees. Nurse bees clean out the honey cells and feed the larvae while worker bees collect water and pollen. Honey bees are not aggressive in general and should not be grouped in the same category as wasps.”

“It is amazing what bees know and are able to do entirely in the dark!” Tony commented.

“The combs are built up on an angle to prevent the honey from dripping out,” Lisa added. “When they are full, the bees fan their wings until the nectar contains the right moisture content, around 18 percent, before capping it with wax as a way of storing it. The low moisture content prevents the honey from spoiling. Capped honey lasts a long time – thousands of years even!”

A 2015 National Geographic article stated that 3,000-year-old honey was found in pyramids in Egypt during excavations and was perfectly edible. How is that possible? Raw honey has acidity, hydrogen peroxide and a small amount of water that aid the preservation process, which is why it was also an ingredient for ancient embalming purposes. Beeswax is further noted to have been used by people since the Stone Age.

“Raw honey is actually antimicrobial and could be put on cuts to prevent infections,” Tony shared.

An article in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine stated: “Honey is an ancient remedy for the treatment of infected wounds, which has recently been ‘rediscovered’ by the medical profession, particularly where conventional modern therapeutic agents fail. The first written reference to honey, a Sumerian tablet writing, dating back to 2100-2000 BC, mentions honey’s use as a drug and an ointment” (Manisha Deb Mandel and Shyamapada Mandel, 2011).

Of course, eating honey is a fantastic option, too!

The Longos extract their honey by taking a panel with the combs on it, breaking the capped seals, and inserting the panels into a homemade extractor. Using a clean metal trashcan and a dash of innovation, the panels are positioned inside the can, which has had the base removed. A power tool attached to a center rod spins the panels, and centrifugal force ejects the honey that hits the side of the can, falls into a strainer, and pools into a bucket below.

“Madison honey is so good because there are so many flowers around,” Lisa asserted. “Tony and I only sell a limited amount of our honey to a few people in town. We have two hives now with the third just starting to be built. We have had up to six hives in the past, but how many hives we have varies due to factors like hive beetles and wax moths that can infest a hive, and sometimes the bees just leave.

“Bees gather nectar from over 30,000 flowers to make one teaspoon of honey. We like the honey from the fresh spring flowers, but we never take all the honey, especially later in the year when the bees have stored it for winter. The honey also tastes different and becomes darker as the year goes on depending on what flowers are available.”

Our honey is raw,” Tony noted. “It is not pasteurized* like what you will find in grocery stores. It tastes like how the flowers smell, and you don’t get that in the store.”

Lisa added, “I think this is the true taste of Madison.”

The Oglethorpe County Bee Club is inviting people to come out and see and taste these differences during a honey tasting contest in celebration of National Honey Bee Day, the third Saturday in August. For more information about the Oglethorpe County Bee Club, go to: www.ocbeeclub.com.

Raw Madison honey may be purchased by emailing madisonbeeline@gmail.com.

*Pregnant women and very young babies are often advised to temporarily avoid unpasteurized food.

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