by David Hill & Janet Woodman
Brent Edelen is a 6th generation migratory beekeeper, who lives in Alamosa. Brent harvests honey, beeswax, sells bees and provides bee pollination services all throughout the San Luis Valley, and is a member of the SLV Local Food Coalition. He offers a wide variety of honeys. You can find his honeys at the Valley Food Coop, City Market in Alamosa, and the Monte Vista Coop in their Alamosa store.
There are clover varieties, including a “Starthistle” Clover. For those who love a dark strong-flavored honey he offers a Tamerisk honey. Brent began offering “Grandpa’s Gourmet New Mexico Wildflower” honey online as a value-added business, marketing nationwide now. Check it out at www.grandpashoney.com.
Advantage of raw honey
All of the honey at Simply Honey is unpasteurized, unfiltered, raw honey. During extraction from the comb, the honey is never warmed much above hive temperature—92°F (63.5°C). Some producers pasteurize their honey by heating it to 160°F (71.5°C) to prevent granulation, but in the process, health-supporting enzymes are lost.
Simply Honey winters their bees in southern New Mexico, then trucks them to California in February, then back to NM, and finally back up to southern Colorado for our season. They load the pallets of hives onto semi trucks and drive through the night while the bees sleep.
Each hive contains 500-40,000 bees, depending on the time of year. Population grows in the spring and starts to decline at Summer Solstice, ending up with a very small colony to winter over. Each hive can produce 25lb-180lb of honey per year, depending on the year. Bees collect nectar and pollen, both of which they convert into food. They will fly up to 4 miles to forage.
Simply Honey has had some problem with Colony Collapse Disorder, but his hives have recovered and he says they seem strong now. He’s puzzled about the cause of collapse, and says that although he’s considered many theories, he doesn’t know what causes it.
Brent has encountered Africanized bees south of the San Luis Valley, and says they are indeed aggressive. He tells of driving up to a bee yard that held Africanized bees, where he had to suit up inside the truck before even opening the door, since the bees were bombarding the windshield trying to get at him. He assures us that Africanized bees would not survive San Luis Valley winters.
Organic honey is hard to come by for many reasons, but the main one is pest problems. You may have heard about bees having mites; standard procedure for dealing with mites is to use a pesticide in the hive, but this can weaken the bees, or allow them to lose their resistance to mites. The insecticide can also get into the honey. Instead of using pesticides to control mites, Simply Honey is working on breeding mite-resistant bees and setting up their hives to make them mite-unfriendly. It’s a more time-consuming way of raising bees, but healthier.
Simply Honey’s commitment to sustainability and natural living goes beyond just their beekeeping services. Other projects Brent has in development include a used-cooking-oil-fired boiler for heating water and rooms, passive solar for honey warming, and wind for compressed air which they use to power many of their tools in their bee box repair and production. For more information on bees, please contact Brent directly at 719-850-0255.
Plants with bee appeal
There’s a lot of justifiable concern about invasive and noxious plants, but until we figure out how to eliminate them, bees & beekeepers can take advantage of some. Starthistle is another name for knapweed, a type of thistle widely regarded as a noxious weed. It is, however, a good nectar producer. Likewise, tamarisk, or salt cedar, is also known as a pest, but it’s a high-fructose pest which produces the makings for a lot of flavorful honey.
Other Valley bee favorites are alfalfa, thistles and brown-eyed Susans. Willow, cottonwood, aspen, wild cherry, dandelion and elm are early spring wild sources of food. In the fall, ubiquitous rabbitbrush is valuable because it blooms and provides food after the first frost, when many other plants have retired for the winter. Rabbitbrush makes a dark orange honey.
Another bee favorite, yellow sweet clover, used to be more abundant in the SLV than it is now. Before the days of chemical fertilizer, farmers grew it to put nitrogen into their fields. Seeds escaped, the plants spread, and the bees enjoyed every blossom they found. Chemical fertilizer has now replaced much of the yellow clover, so there’s less of this source of light, tasty honey than before.
It’s a good idea to have forage available for bees from early spring until after the first freeze. Organic gardening is best for the health of the bees; avoid pesticides & herbicides. Keep your plants well-fed and watered, since a lack of either will cause them to produce less, and less nutritious, pollen.
Here are some plants for the SLV climate:
Early spring—apple, cherry, plum, pear, flowering currant, viola, strawberry.
Midsummer to autumn—aster, marigold, echinacea, valerian.
You can visit their website at: http://www.simplyhoney.com/