Margaret Reid suggests that the next time you cut an apple in half to reveal a balanced star-shaped seed chamber, or bite into a perfectly formed peach or cherry, or notice a bumper crop of watermelons, pause and thank local honeybees. These are all sure signs that they’ve been doing their pollinating job well.
Reid’s beekeeping venture began more than 30 years ago when she and her husband, Bill, planted an orchard on a small farm in Virginia. “We needed a hive for pollination so I ordered some equipment from a Sears and Roebuck catalog and a package of bees,” she describes. “When they arrived, the postmaster told me to come and get them—right away!”
With the buzzing package in the back seat of her VW Beetle, Reid drove home—faster than usual because a few found their way out. “I also learned that in the interest of decency and safety to not wear a dress when tending the hives,” she said of her early learning experience.
One hive became four, four became eight and today Margaret tends 25 hives on their 78-acre Lawrence County farm, also home to a herd of beef cattle.
“When we first started, we didn’t know how to harvest honey so we cut the comb (the wax cells filled with honey) and just gave it to our friends,” she said. Later they found out that extracted honey generated a following but only a modest profit.
“When you farm, you’re always trying to find ways to make money,” Reid said. So they opened Reid’s Apiary and “Bee-tique” and began selling beekeeping equipment and supplies to hobbyists and apiarists. They teamed up with their Amish neighbors to build hives and supers (boxes where bees store honey) and a specially designed screened bottom board that promotes air movement in hives, “because ventilation is key to keeping bees healthy,” she said.
Cold blooded, bees overwinter in tight clusters for warmth and produce energy from the reserved honey. If it’s too warm, the cluster loosens and they tend to consume more honey. They also can stray far from the hive on a winter day, maybe too far.
“Bees have a natural instinct to take care of themselves,” said Reid. “Their stored up honey is their only food.”
And while moderate amounts of rain are good for trees and plants, too much can wash the nectar out and the bees have to wait for the plants to replenish it. If it’s too dry, the plant can’t produce the nectar, even if it produces flowers.
In a good year where the honey flows, beekeepers can get two harvests, one in the early summer and the other in the fall. And while Reid hears good reports from customers and fellow beekeepers throughout the state she’ll wait until the fall to assess this season’s honey harvest. But so far, it’s looking sweet.
Marilou Suszko is a food writer from Vermilion. She is the author of Farms and Foods of Ohio: From Garden Gate to Dinner Plate and The Locavore’s Kitchen.
Baking and Cooking with Honey
Search her cupboard but you won’t find a bag of granulated sugar in Margaret Reid’s kitchen. Honey is the sweetener of choice whether it’s for baking cakes or making a batch of chili.
“Honey is a natural humectant,” said Reid. “It pulls moisture and makes breads and cakes moister. About the only recipe I can’t use honey in is Buckeyes,” the classic peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate. Reid stirs honey in barbecue sauces, salad dressing and smoothies. When using it for baking she points out that there are modifications to consider.
She suggests when substituting honey for sugar, reduce the amount of liquids such as milk or water in the recipe by ¼ cup for each cup of honey used and add ½ teaspoon baking soda for each cup of honey used in baked goods. Because honey is essentially sugar, baked goods will brown more quickly so reducing oven temperatures by 25 degrees is also helpful.
For additional information on using honey in the kitchen, go to the National Honey Board’s website.
Reid’s Apiary and Bee-tique
15754 State Route 775
Willow Wood, Ohio 45696
• There are about 4,000 beekeepers in Ohio.
• If your honey crystallizes, simply warm the jar in a pan of water to melt the crystals.
• Spring honey is usually lighter in color and smoother than the darker, more intensely flavored fall extractions.
• Every one to three bites of food you take are a direct result of pollination.