As the Beehive State, Utah has a historic connection with bees and honey. In the past few years, interest has also surged in beekeeping as a hobby. Perhaps it's due to the tough economy and the natural foods movement, which have also spurred people to plant gardens, home-can and raise chickens. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that there are between 139,000 and 212,000 beekeepers in the United States. Most are hobbyists with less than 25 hives.
Backyard beekeepers say they do it for the wonderful honey, because it's interesting and fun, and to help support the bee population, which has been declining.
"If you want to save the world, be a backyard beekeeper," said Frank Whitby, a faculty member of the University of Utah School of Medicine and amateur beekeeper. As Salt Lake City's official beekeeper, he cares for two hives on the roof of the downtown library along with a group of Boy Scouts. He also has hives in his back yard, in a community garden and on property in Alta and Heber.
The idea of beekeepers saving the world might sound a bit dramatic, but bees are the unsung heroes of the world's food supply, and their declining numbers are a cause for concern.
An estimated one of every three bites of food is dependent on pollination provided by bees, said Gwen Crist of Slow Food Utah. That includes fruit and nut trees, melons, vegetables and field crops such as alfalfa. Slow Food Utah, which supports local, sustainable foods, hosted a Honeybee Festival last month to draw attention to the importance of bees. Beekeepers such as Whitby spoke in workshops, and bee-related purveyors had booths showing honey products, books and beekeeping information.
"Bees are really in trouble now, with diseases and Colony Collapse Disorder," said Crist. "From a food perspective, we would like to see the preservation of bees. From a flavor perspective, bees add to our diversity of food with more flavor and variety, and of course, honey tastes good."
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, the number of managed honeybeehives is half of what it was in the 1950s. Beginning in 2006, beekeepers began reporting losses of 30 percent to 90 percent of their hives. This mysterious phenomenon has been termed Colony Collapse Disorder, where worker bees abruptly disappear from their hives.
Scientists have advanced several theories about the causes: pesticide use, disease, environmental changes, genetically modified crops and the system of shipping bees around the country to pollinate large one-crop fields, such as the almond groves in California.
Whatever the reasons, Whitby and Crist said people can help honeybees survive — and thrive — by keeping their own backyard hives, or by planting native plants that are good sources of nectar or pollen for bees to feed on.
You don't have to live out in the country to have a beehive, said Whitby. "The urban environment is perfect place to keep bees. There's a diversity of plants to forage around in the city, as opposed to large agricultural fields of one single crop. I encourage people to keep bees wherever you live."
About 200 people attended the recent workshops offered at the Honeybee Festival, and many of them said they already have hives.
Some younger beekeepers have turned a hobby into a family business. Thirteen-year-old Nathan Huntzinger of Logan said he and brothers, Sam, 12, and Ben, 9, started raising bees as part of a home school project when he was 8 years old. Their dad, Craig Huntzinger, works in the USDA Bee Lab at Utah State University.
"Then we had lots of honey and thought what do we do with all of it?" Nathan said. "So we decided to sell it at the farmers market. We had to get all the licenses to do it, so then we decided to do all this other stuff, too."
By "other stuff," Nathan was referring to rich, chewy honey caramels, honey-roasted almonds and beeswax lotion bars, lip balm and candles. He said his mother, Kami Huntzinger, makes the products, "because we are not allowed to because we don't have food-handler permits. You have to be 14 to get one."
They call their business Bees Brothers. Nathan said they have 12 hives — two in their own back yard, three at their aunt's place, "and a bunch more in some of our friends' back yards."
They sell their products at the Cache Valley Gardener's Market in Logan, the Richmond Farmers Market and to Caputo's Market in Salt Lake City.
The boys said their earnings have helped pay for family outings and Boy Scout camping trips.
Sam said eating the honey is his favorite part about beekeeping. And yes, getting stung is one of the downsides.
"I've already been stung once this year when our bees were swarming," Sam said.
The brothers recently received a $400 micro-grant from Slow Food Utah, which offers funds for local, small-scale food producers. The brothers will use the grant to produce comb honey, which still contains pieces of the hexagonal-shaped beeswax cells of the honeycomb.
"While at the Cache Valley Gardener's Market, we have had several people ask about comb honey," said Craig Huntzinger. "The boys now are pretty familiar and competent with the basics of beekeeping. Nathan suggested we try something new and make comb honey. It requires a different management with the bees and some equipment we didn't have. Nathan started looking into it and we figured we could start saving up and do it next year. Then someone told us about the Utah Slow Food grants, and we thought the comb honey project would be a nice fit, and help us do it this year rather than next year."
Ashe McFionn of West Valley City is another beekeeping hobbyist, with five hives. He is a member of the Wasatch Beekepers Association
"It's fun, you learn so much," he said. "Our whole yard is planted with bee-friendly flowers. And without the bees, people aren't going to have any food."
He sells his raw honey to local health food stores and coffee bars. (He points out that raw honey shouldn't be consumed by children less than one year of age because of the botulism bacteria. The more developed digestive systems of older children and adults generally destroys the spores.)
Chris Rodesch, a University of Utah professor, began keeping bees in 2007. He is now the Salt Lake County bee inspector and consults with people who want to get started.
"I keep hives to be in closer touch with the natural world around me, and to come in contact with the people who also enjoy being in touch with their environment," he said while speaking at the Honeybee Festival. "My hot tub is filled with bees all the time. I'm fine with it, but not too many people want to join me in the hot tub."
According to the Utah Beekeepers Association, all persons who keep bees in the state of Utah are required to obtain a license from the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. The current cost of the license is $25 per individual/business; the application for the license can be found at the UDAF website.
Whitby offered some tips for people interested in getting started:
Find out the ordinances for beekeeping in your city. He said Salt Lake residents can have up to five hives on a "normal-size" residential lot, but he recommends starting with just two hives so that you can compare how they're doing. Salt Lake City's ordinance is available at www.bees202.wordpress.com.
Don't put a hive in a conspicuous location that would make it an "attractive nuisance," with kids.
Most of the time, bees will come and go about their business and don't molest people. "They aren't aggressive like yellow jackets," he said.
Honeybees will thrive in practically any sort of man-made beehive. They can be made from plywood, cedar or pine.
"One hive can produce 100 pounds of honey in the summertime, no problem," he said. "Once you taste your own honey, you will not want to purchase ordinary store-bought honey."
Provide a water source that's one millimeter deep or less. "The worst time for neighbors is in the springtime when they are looking for a lot of water," Whitby said. "The hive wants to ramp up production, but there are no flowers to forage on. If there's a water source nearby, such as your neighbor's pool or hot tub, they will train to it."
Don't use pesticides on your plants, as they can wreak havoc on bees. "Soapy water sprayed on a plant helps control a lot of pests," he said. "I think bees are more healthy in the city than in agricultural land where a lot of pesticides are used."
Valerie Phillips is the former Deseret News food editor. She blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com.
Honey Soy Glazed Salmon
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Nonstick cooking spray
1 to 2 pounds salmon steaks or fillet
Stir together honey, soy sauce, garlic powder, pepper and lemon juice. Heat a charcoal or gas grill. Place the salmon fillet skin-side down on the grill. Cook on high heat about 5 minutes, then flip over. Brush the glaze on the already-grilled side of the salmon and cook an additional 5 minutes, or until salmon is almost cooked through. Flip the salmon again and brush the other side with the glaze. Cook an additional 1 or 2 more minutes. (Don't cook too long or the glaze will burn.)
— Valerie Phillips
Homemade Honey Ice Cream
1 pint heavy cream (2 cups)
1 cup half-and-half or whole milk
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mix together cream, half-and-half, and honey on very low heat until honey melts. Stir.
Turn off the heat when honey is melted and add vanilla. Taste and add more honey if desired. Place in the refrigerator to cool
Pour mixture in an ice cream maker and follow manufacturer's instructions.
California Honey Barbecue Sauce
Makes: 21/2 cups
1 cup honey
1 cup water
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 cup chopped onion
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Combine honey with remaining ingredients. Simmer until sauce thickens, about 40 minutes.
— National Honey Board
Classic Honey Mustard
Makes: 21/2 cups
11/4 cups fat-free mayonnaise
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon vinegar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon onion flakes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
In small bowl, whisk together all ingredients until blended. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
— National Honey Board
TYPES OF HONEY
RAW HONEY: This is generally regarded as honey that is unheated, unpasteurized and unprocessed. Most supermarket-style honey has been pasteurized (heated at 161 degrees F or more, followed by rapid cooling) and filtered so that it looks cleaner and smoother, more appealing on the shelf, and is easier to handle and package. Pasteurization kills any yeast cell in the honey and prevents fermentation. It also slows down the speed of crystallization in liquid honey. On the downside, when honey is heated, its delicate aromas, yeast and enzymes are partially destroyed. Hence, raw honey is assumed to be more nutritious than honey that has undergone heat treatment. Raw, unfiltered honey looks milkier and may contain particles and flecks of bee pollen, honeycomb bits and broken bee wing fragments. It also granulates quickly. You can re-liquefy it by putting the jar in a hot water bath. In March 2011, the Utah Legislature passed a state law to define and regulate the labeling of "raw honey" as "honey that is as it exists in the beehive or as obtained by extraction, settling or straining, that is minimally processed and not pasteurized." The honey can be heated to a lower temperature and still be labeled as "raw."
Comb Honey: Comb honey is honey in its original form; that is, honey inside of the hone comb. The beeswax comb is edible.
Cut Comb: Cut comb honey is liquid honey that has added chunks of the honeycomb in the jar. This is also known as a liquid-cut comb combination.
Liquid Honey: Free of visible crystals, liquid honey is extracted from the honeycomb by centrifugal force, gravity or straining. Most of the honey produced in the United States is sold in liquid form.
Naturally Crystallized Honey: Naturally crystallized honey is honey in which part of the glucose content has spontaneously crystallized. It is safe to eat.
Whipped (or creamed) Honey: While all honey will crystallize in time, whipped honey (also known as creamed honey) is brought to market in a crystallized state. The crystallization is controlled so that, at room temperature, the honey can be spread like butter or jelly.
Sweet facts about honey
Some resources for beekeeping enthusiasts and wanna-bees:
National Honey Board at www.honey.com
Utah State University's site includes Utah beekeeping laws, management practices, and a list of county bee inspectors and beekeeping associations at utahpests.usu.edu/bees/htm/honey-bees
Utah's Own lists honey producers in Utah at utahsown.utah.gov/list.php?id=68&name=Honey%20Producers%20and%20Products&user_type=Member
Frank Whitby's Beekeeping blog at www.bees202.wordpress.com3 comments on this story
Wasatch Beekeepers Association at www.wasatchbeekeepers.com
Abeez Honey of Spanish Fork offers hobby beekeepers tools, equipment, bees, pollination services, and honey at Abeez www.abeezhoney.net
Utah Beekeepers Association at www.utahbeekeepers.com
Utah County Beekeepers Association at www.utahcountybeekeepers.org
Hansen Hives & Honey in Salt Lake City offers wildflower honey, comb honey, beeswax and bee removal services at hansenhives.com
Harvest Lane Honey in Grantsville offers beekeeping supplies at www.harvestlanehoney.comPollen sources