Artisan Beekeeping and Honey Collecting in Northeast Georgia – Marcella The Cheesemonger International Guilde des Fromagers
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Artisan Beekeeping and Honey Collecting in Northeast Georgia

Monroe explaining the bee colony to The Man

Monroe explaining the bee colony to The Man

The Man and I spent a good part of the early fall in Northeast Georgia, a rural area nestled along Interstate 85 before you cross into South Carolina. The weather was mild, although dry and the land in need of rain. Our stay allowed us a time to explore; ferreting out the region’s artisan food producers.

One Saturday morning we ventured into Canon, Georgia, a small town of less than eight hundred and home of Blue Haven Bee Company. We arrived early as Monroe Brown, owner and beekeeper, turned the “Closed” sign to “Open”. He was alone in the store that morning, the rest of his family and crew were at the Dahlonega Fall Festival selling their luscious honeys.

Arriving early gave us the opportunity to visit with Monroe and receive both a personal tour and tutorial… sort of a  “Beekeeping and Honey 101”. It was delightful and informative. (I attended a Honey and Cheese seminar this past summer at the ACS Conference in Sacramento and garnered enough “bee knowledge” to be dangerous… but not necessarily knowledgeable…)

Beekeeping and honey collecting for the Brown Family began as a hobby more than a decade ago, with bees in the backyard. Monroe and his son, Andrew, started beekeeping for fun… although “fun” seems a strange word to me considering they were hanging out with these little creatures that could sting and make life quite miserable if they took exception to intruders messing in their honey pot… In 2013 the Brown Family turned this backyard hobby into their full-time work and opened the Blue Haven Bee Company. The name comes from Monroe’s great-grandparents’ retreat which they called “Blue Haven” after the blue haze of the mountains near their home.

In the foyer of their store, which is part of the warehouse and production center of the business, a functioning beehive greeted us. A tube led from the hive to the outside allowing the bees to come and go, gather pollen, bring it home, make their combs and fill them with honey.

One of Monroe's Colonies

One of Monroe’s Colonies

The bee colony’s society is fascinating. There is a queen who lives as along as five or six years. She begins laying eggs in the spring, most of which she fertilizes to become her worker bees. But with a simple flipping of a switch in her Fallopian tubes, she produces a few unfertilized eggs. These unfertilized eggs become the drones, whose sole purpose in the colony is to “service” the queen. Drones don’t gather pollen; they don’t make honey; they sit around awaiting calling up by the queen. At some point, the queen stops producing eggs for the season and the worker bees, who have been doing all the heavy lifting and are by this time annoyed about supporting the lazy good for only one thing drones, shun them and drive them from the hive. All-in-all, not a bad solution to a universal problem… check out what the female Praying Mathis does to the male after mating… but I digress…

The worker bees do the work, traveling as far as two miles each way to find the pollen needed to make the honey. A typical hive contains 20,000 bees. Monroe and Andrew keep more than one hundred hives which they move from location to location as the area flora blooms and produces pollen. Pollen gathering begins early in the spring when the first trees bloom and continues as warmer weather produces more flowers and other pollen-bearing flora. The life of the worker bee is less than two months, closer to six weeks, and in the colony there is never rest for the weary… death may be welcome after a life of all work and no play… excepting for the queen and the drones…

Monroe offered us several tastings which included Sourwood, Wildflower, Orange Blossom and Gallberry. My favorite was Sourwood and The Man’s favorite was Orange Blossom. We bought flasks of Sourwood, Orange Blossom and Gallberry, which Monroe suggested would be a perfect honey pairing with blue cheese.

Sourwood Growing Area

Sourwood Growing Area

Regarding Sourwood… Monroe and Andrew secured the rights to use a location in the North Georgia Mountains during the two weeks the Sourwood Trees bloom. (The Sourwood is an important part of Appalachian culture and can be found as far north as Pennsylvania and as far south as the northern part of Florida.) Monroe and Andrew transport hives and leave them to do their magic during those weeks, not knowing if they will return to find honey. In 2013, the hives came up dry but this year, the bees produced honey on the same land that in 2004 produced “The World’s Best Honey” in competition. Naturally, Monroe would not disclose the location… Wikipedia provided this picture of the area in the US where the Sourwood grows… narrowing it down for any of you who would like to locate this treasured land.

We learned “Wildflower” honey gets its name because the exact flora pollen gathered is unknown and may come from several locations and flowers. As mentioned above, the worker bees travel miles to find pollen and in the late spring and early summer, wildflowers of many species grow together making it impossible to distinguish one flower from another.

The Man asked Monroe if the bees became aggressive when he and Andrew collected the honey. While they don’t appreciate the intrusion, the bees know Monroe and Andrew and for the most part, ignore them. However, I’d like to note, they wear protective gear when gathering the honey. The Man shared this with his brother, Mike Wright (Beer Enthusiast, who was interviewed by Spaulding Gray), who in turn had his own bee story:

My house is built on a big lot, 200 feet deep, with lots of eucalyptus trees and flowering plants. On the back property line is a storage shed for tools and other odds and ends. One day I noticed there was quite a number of bees flying in and out from the back of the shed.

I should say that I have never been worried about being stung by bees feeling that if I don’t bother them they won’t bother me. This has worked for me as long as I didn’t step on them.

I walked around to the back of the shed and found they had built a hive in a space under the floor. I watched for a bit as they flew in and out, they passed over and around me in the process. Since my neighbor’s house was only about twenty feet away from the hive I decided to have it moved. (In light of what has happened to bees in general in recent years I wish I hadn’t.)

I called “the bee guy” hoping that he would be able to move it to one of his hive areas. The interesting part of the story is that while I had been able to walk among the bees and watch them with no problem, as soon as “the bee guy” and I approached the hive area the bees became very agitated and started “attacking” us and we had to beat a hasty retreat. Both of us were stung, me once, him a couple of time. Something about his persona upset the bees…Or maybe it was some sort of exterminating agent on his clothes.”

2014-11-02 14.43.22Sourwood Honey is light amber in color and the flavor explodes in your mouth and lingers, leaving you aching for more. The flavor is intense; a pure honey-on-steroids flavor with a rich aroma that captures your senses the moment you open the bottle. Sourwood is highly prized by honey lovers and produced in limited quantities, when available. It’s a 4 Paw Honey.

Orange Blossom is considered a “Classic” American Honey. It’s bold, sweet citrus flavors caught The Man’s fancy… yep, he swooned… As would be expected its color has a mellow orange tint. Another 4 Paw Honey.

The Gallberry Honey is more intense in flavor; a flavor I remember from eating homemade biscuits as a child at my Gramma’s farm in South Georgia. A separate review of Gallberry will follow soon paired with another North Georgia artisan discovery: Nature Harmony’s Elberton Blue Cheese.

All of Blue Haven Bee Company’s honeys are 100% natural, raw and unfiltered (removing only the legs, wings and bits of the dead bees).

You can Follow Blue Haven at twitter and “like” their Facebook Page.

 

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