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Guilford Bee Keeper Rich Evans checks in on his hives, as the honey bees gather pollen from nearby Rose of Sharon flowers. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/elan )
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With honeybee populations on the decline, there are many who are working to reverse that trend, including local beekeepers. In addition to creating homes and environments where bees can thrive, many local beekeepers produce honey and other products sourced from their hives, including skincare products and bee pollen as a topping for food.
Ned and Sharyn Farrell of the Bee Happy Company based out of Clinton have been beekeeping for 31 years with Sharyn specializing in skincare products. Bee Happy also farms raw honey, which is collected from its hives on an organic farm in Old Saybrook.
"You can't really be assured what you're going to get from grocery store shelves with commercial honey – it could be heated, boiled, or mixed with other stuff," says Ned Farrell, who first learned about beekeeping in the Peace Corps. "When you buy honey from local beekepers, they're generally more environmentally and ecologically conscious. They're not going to mess with the honey by adulterating it in any way."
Glenn Penkoff Lidbeck of Three Sisters Farms in Essex agrees that local honey offers a variety of benefits and tastes. He noted that bees travel up to two miles from their hives so their honey is flavored by the different plants in the area.
"The biggest benefit of buying and consuming local honey is you experience a taste of what is unique to your area," says Lidbeck. "We usually get a summer and fall crop, and both are unique to the flowers that produced the nectar. Summer honey consists of spring and summer flowers from April through early July and, in our case, is noted for its light color and almost fruity flavor. The fall flowers of goldenrod, aster, and Japanese knotweed (an invasive) produce an amber, more robust flavored honey."
Rich Evans got involved in beekeeping after seeing the fruit trees on his property suffering and realizing the decline of the bee population could be to blame. After taking a beekeeping class, his interest in harvesting honey blossomed and he has expanded his hives to four different locations in Guilford.
Over the past five years, Evans has seen the interest in his product grow and has many repeat customers. While many are interested in the honey for the taste, Evans says that several have mentioned that their doctors have recommended local honey to combat seasonal allergies.
"My own testament is that since I started doing this, my allergies have greatly reduced – I used to go through a full packet of allergy medicine in a season and now I've only taken two pills this year," says Evans. "The pollen bees grab off various sources is mixed with the nectar into the honey, so my guess is it's creating that immunity."
Evans can only draw on his own experience and those relayed by his customers, but he recommends finding a honey as local to your area as possible. The majority of local honeys are raw, which means that they are taken from a hive, put through a strainer (some beekeepers don't even strain honey as some people prefer bit of honeycomb), and jarred. Raw honey is not heated or pasteurized, but rather a natural product.
When it comes to finding local honey, farmers markets are a great tool. Some grocery stores carry local honey as well and all raw honey is required to have the location where it's harvested stamped on the bottle. Many local beekeepers also have Facebook pages and websites, which can be found through a Google search.
Lidbeck admits that the weather and seasons in Connecticut can make it difficult to raise bees here, but there are resources for those who are interested (see sidebar). For those who aren't interested in beekeeping themselves, he noted it's important to support local.
"Keeping bees is an increasingly expensive endeavor, especially for the small-scale producers that comprise most local beekeepers," Lidbeck says. "Consumer support is vital to their continued existence as producers of local honey."
Even though beekeeping can be expensive and time-consuming, Evans enjoys his hobby and finds spending time at the hives and jarring honey relaxing. He recommends that those interested in getting started on their own take a class, noting that he took his in Haddam through the Eastern Connecticut Beekeepers Association.
"It was well worth the 45-minute drive," says Evans. "It's really something you have to learn from being hands on. I also enjoy sharing my hives with other people. One of my favorite things is having kids come to the beehives so they can see how everything works. It's amazing how many kids really enjoy it."
Farrell agrees that educating others is one of his favorite things about beekeeping as well. In the past, he has hosted demonstrations for Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, schools, garden clubs, libraries, and more.
"The kids love ecology and they get how it works," says Farrell. "They take it with them and it becomes part of their lives. That's their future. If they grow up understanding the importance and things they can do, they'll do it and pass it on."
Eastern Connecticut Beekeepers Association on Facebook
Connecticut Beekeepers Association on Facebook
CT Shoreline Beekeepers on Facebook
The Bee Happy Company
Three Sisters Farms
Evan's Honey Hives
North Guilford Honey
aka Evans Honey Hives on Facebook
How to Help the Honeybees
Plant melliferous plants such as bee balm, black locust, lavender, sunflowers, blueberry, various herbs, and flowering plants that bloom at different times of the growing season
Avoid using pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and chemicals on your lawn, garden, and plants
Leave the local ecology wild, including milkweed, goldenrod, skunk cabbage, and wildflowers
Don't clear wildflowers away before Oct. 1
Keep dandelions and clover
Let the lawn grow longer so things can bloom
– mow every two weeks
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