By SARAH LIDEEN, Staff Writer, [email protected]
Five years ago, Randy Scott of Alexandria had a unique opportunity.
“I decided to start raising a few bees,” said Scott, owner of Scott Family Honey.
Throughout the 80s, Scott had been purchasing local honey from a friend, where his interest began to spark to make his own honey.
Enlisting the help from a friend that had been in the bee business for 60 years, Scott was able to get started.
“It works best if you have a mentor to help you,” said Scott.
With queen bees laying over 1,000 eggs per day, Scott now owns 30,000 to 50,000 bees at any given time during the summer months, and produces 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of honey each year.
To get started, Scott said that at least two hives are needed for comparison, equipment to extract the honey from the comb, and to begin the process by May 1 of the year.
“You usually buy bees from another bee keeper,” said Scott. Bees typically come from Texas or California as they are warmer climates that bees thrive in.
Scott said that a person just starting should expect lower results during the first year, only yielding enough product for a single family home for one year.
“Our first year we had enough where we could eat some honey,” said Scott. “To start off with, we just wanted to raise some bees, but it’s grown. I would like to grow more to distribute.”
Scott stated that a person would need over 500 hives in order to distribute and make a living from their product.
During the summer, his 50 hives occupy six to eight hours of his time per week, but winter months take a lot less care. Hives are clustered together and wrapped with tarp to lock in heat until mid-March when they are unwrapped.
“Separating the hives and inspecting them is the first step. If they need more feed you give them some sugar water and pollen if they’re low,” said Scott.
The peak of the season comes in July.
“It’s the best honey producing month where the nectar flows the most,” said Scott.
By mid-August, the honey is ready to be taken off of the comb, leaving about 80 pounds behind for the bees to live off of over the winter.
The wax cap that covers the comb is removed and put in a machine called an extractor. Scott’s machine fits up to 8 combs, and can remove the honey within 15 minutes.
“The centrifugal force forces honey out of the comb,” said Scott.
Wearing a protective suit and gloves helps when dealing with the bees, although not everyone opts for this method as they are still able to sting through the protective layer.
“I try to be relaxed around the bees,” said Scott, as this lessens chances of being stung.
Although bees do not hibernate, the colder it gets the closer they move together, keeping the temperature inside the hive at about fifty degrees, according to Scott. Their wing muscles are also slowed down to a vibration, which can maintain heat.
If a hive gets too crowded, a queen bee will take half of the hive with her to a new location. Queen bee cells are left behind for a new one to be created, a process accomplished through nurse bees, also known as worker bees, feeding the cell royal jelly and up through the bee’s entire life span.
“The most challenging part of the job is keeping the bees alive in the winter,” said Scott.
However, Scott said that being outside, producing honey and getting to meet new people at farmers markets makes it all worth it. Scott said that some people have claimed that honey cures allergies and take it on a regular basis.
At the 2011 Douglas County Fair, Scott’s honey placed first in the light honey category.
According to the Web site, www.honey.com, the United States produces 45 percent of the country’s 300 million pounds of honey consumed each year; the remainder is imported. With mass honey production, the honey is heated to produce faster, then pressure filtered, which can remove the benefits of honey. Locally, the only tampering that is done to the comb is the removal of the wax.
“Locally produced honey is the best honey because you know where it comes from,” said Scott.