By Leigh Ann Rutledge
August 12, 2014
|Jeff Rainsberger (left) prepares to remove honeycomb frames from the beehive while Tom Rainsberger uses a smoker to force the bees to the bottom of the hive.
Honey could be nature’s most perfect creation.
From flower to hive to bottle, honey has no additives for coloring, consistency or flavoring and has no actual expiration date. Correctly sealed honey could last for years, decades and even centuries.
How does honey end up in the bottle sitting in your cupboard? I visited with local beekeepers Tom and Jean Rainsberger and their son, Jeff, who operate Rocky Ridge Apiary, to learn about the fascinating world of the honeybee.
Their journey began in 2000 when they purchased two packs of bees. Bees are sold in three-pound bags that include approximately 15,000 bees and a queen.
“Getting started in beekeeping is expensive,” said Jeff. “Along with buying bees and hives, you must purchase other equipment including clothing and an extractor.”
Bees live in a hive which has two major areas: the top portion where the pollen is deposited in the honeycomb and turned into honey and the bottom of the hive where the queen lives and lays eggs.
The beehive or colony is a white square box. The “brood chambers” are the bees living quarters, located on the bottom of the hive. When creating a new hive, the bees are placed in this area. The queen is transported in a “cage” and placed in the brood chambers. The cage is covered with a sugar candy. The worker bees then remove the candy to free the queen.
The queen makes a maiden flight where she mates with up to 1,000 drones. She never leaves the hive again. She lives in the bottom quarters of the hive and is prevented from going into the top quarters by an excluder layer which she cannot penetrate. The queen lies up to 2,000 eggs per day.
There are three classifications of bees in each hive. They are:
Worker Bee: The worker bee begins as a fertilized egg which hatches into a larva. The larva grows into a pupa which matures into an adult worker honeybee. This process takes 21 days. The saying, “Busy as a Bee” applies to worker bees. They gather the nectar and pollen, warm and protect eggs, larvae and pupae and feed larvae. They supply the water for the hive, secrete beeswax and build the honeycomb while also doing menial other tasks. Research shows that a worker bee travels around 55,000 miles to gather enough nectar to produce one pound of honey. Worker bees live 47 days.
Queen Bee: Hive life revolves around the queen. The entire colony would die without the eggs the queen lays. She begins as an ordinary female worker larva, but is fed an extremely rich mixture of food called Royal Jelly. Provided by the young worker bees, the queen becomes larger than the other bees. She is continuously surrounded, protected and fed by worker bees,
A new queen can be produced at any time if worker bees choose to feed a young larva the Royal Jelly. If this second queen is hatched, a portion of the bees usually swarm and relocate.
Drone Bee: A male honeybee, he is larger than the worker bee but smaller than the queen. They are distinguished by larger eyes used to locate the queen during her maiden flight. Drones are expendable members of the colony. Their sole purpose is to mate with the queen. Once they have mated, drones are usually forced from the hive and die. Life expectancy for a drone is around 90 days.
“Once a new colony is established, the bees are fed sugar water every three days for the first month,” explained Jeff. “We check them once a week to be sure the queen has been released and she is laying eggs and to see if the bees are gathering pollen.”
When checking a hive, a beekeeper wears a bee veil which protects the face and neck area and has a shirt-like top to protect the arms and trunk area. A beekeeper also wears sturdy gloves.
A hive tool resembling a crow bar is used to remove the top of hive and to loosen the frames holding the honeycomb and honey. Beekeepers also use a smoker to cause the bees to go to the bottom of the hive. Pieces of denim or pine needles can be placed in an enclosed chamber on the smoker and lit. This produces smoke which, when puffed into the colony causes the bees to be confused and disorganized. The beekeeper moves slowly and calmly to remove the honey and wax covered frames.
Using a hot knife, the frames are placed over a bucket and the wax caps are cut off each side of the honeycomb. The honeycomb is capped to keep the honey from running out of the comb. A small rake tool can also be used to remove wax but must be used with care or it could damage the comb. After the wax is removed, the frames are placed in a steel extractor which will spin several frames at once to remove the honey from the comb. The frames are turned to clean both sides and the honey goes to the bottom of the extractor. After the honey is removed from all the frames, the honey is strained twice before it is bottled.
The wax will also be melted and the honey strained from it. The wax can be used for other items, such as lip balm, soap, hand cream and candles.
Honey can be any shade from light to dark. The color is determined by what the bees are eating; whether it’s clover, flowers or fruits and vegetables.
The Rainsbergers noted people will often ask them to locate a hive to their property for pollination.
The finished product can be purchased, in various size jars, by calling Rocky Ridge Apiary. They also have contact information for other club members who make other items using the wax.
The Rainsbergers are members of the Carroll County Bee Club. The club meets the third Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. in the lower level of Mercy Medical Center on Canton Rd. The club was created in the 1970s and has approximately 26 members today.
The club will conduct a bee school Sept. 20 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Carrollton Church of the Nazarene, 274 Fifth St., NW, Carrollton. Cost is $35 for an individual or $45 for a family.
“Our goal is to get more beekeepers in the county,” said Tom. “We can always use more. We will also be helping a 4-H member set up a hive.”
The youngest member of the club is Cooper Becknell, 5, whose family is beekeepers. Cooper entered honey and a frame in the Carroll County Fair horticulture contest and received two first place ribbons.
The club also mans a booth during the county fair where they sell honey and other related items, including the popular honey sticks. “All proceeds from fair sales go back into education,” Tom said. “We send a ‘big thank you’ to our sponsors. Without them we wouldn’t be able to reach out to the community.”
To learn more or to purchase honey, contact Rocky Ridge Apiary at 330-627-7095.