MENDON, Cache County (AP) — As a swarm of bees zips around him at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour, Martin James walks toward boxed crates stacked on top of each other with no fear. After all, he has a beekeeper's mask and gloves on and has been doing this since he was about 8 years old.
James grabs the box and opens its top. With his hand, he pulls out a rectangular honey comb, and out come about 15,000 honey bees, covering the comb to make the sweet nectar. They have been lured inside with the help of his sister, Kelli Bess, who is straddling a copper canister that omits a smoky substance. The substance is meant to coax them to become "protective" of the combs and more docile.
It's a typical day at Slide Ridge Honey in Mendon, or as James likes to call it, "Chaos!"
Family-owned Slide Ridge Honey has been open since 1994. The business' products go beyond just the classic case of the sweet stuff — their bees make honey to be used in lip balm, lotion, jams, jelly and vinaigrette.
"Who has a better job than me?" James asked. "Nobody."
Their company's products have caught the eyes of some top-notch chefs.
Executive Chef John Murcko stopped by Slide Ridge Honey when he hosted a select number of food journalists in a tour of artisan food purveyors of northern Utah May 15. Murcko owns the award-winning Talisker Restaurant Collection in Park City.
And when James and Bess recently attended the Fancy Food Convention in San Francisco, which included more than 1,400 food vendors worldwide, they were ranked in the top 10 vendors by a San Francisco Chronicle food critic.
For now, being on the cusp of "bee season," from June to August is keeping Slide Ridge Honey busy.
Slide Ridge has several nooks of bee crates and those crates are being reared by the queens. The queens raise the colony, which will produce the honey.
James said Slide Ridge Honey prides itself raising its own queens on site. Usually, he said, honey manufacturing companies will buy the queens from vendors in states like California with a rich bee population.
"It makes us more independent; and for the consumer, it makes us more sustainable," James said.
In the off season, James and another sister, Karla Shelton, will drive down the highway in their mother's semitrailer, transporting the honey bees to the San Joaquin Valley in California for pollinating almonds trees in January through February. Then it's home again in March to unload the honey bees into bee yards across northern Utah, bringing in a honey crop during the spring and summer months.
For as long as he can remember, honey bees have been on James' mind.
At age 8, James talked his mother into attending a class with him at Utah State University on beekeeping. Martin and his dad build his first hives so that he could spent the next several years as a hobbyist beekeeper learning all he could about beekeeping.
As an adult, James wanted to take his hobby to the next level. So his wife, kids, parents, and four siblings all took a part in helping to build 100 hives into 2,400 in five short years — and it's still growing.
As for what draws him to an insect most people flee from?
"They're industrious; they're always working. They're in touch with the season," James said. "They're fascinating; I don't think there's anything better than honey or honey bees."