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From Hive to Honey Pot – Our Visit to Stein’s Honey

September 11, 2019

Thanks to a multitude of children’s stories and parents’ cautious warnings, we are taught at an early age that honey comes from beehives, home to bees. But how does the honey from the hive get into your tea cup or onto your brie tostada? The Premier ProduceOne team was fortunate enough to be educated by experts Bonnie and Bill Stein during our recent visit to Stein’s Honey in Collins, Ohio.

Stein’s Honey started in 1998 with just two hives to pollinate the apple trees in the Stein’s family yard.  “They swarmed, so we started selling honey to family and friends, and slowly branched out to a few local farm markets. The honey was a hit so we slowly added a few hives each year,” Bonnie Stein recalls. The Stein family is now commercially selling over 7700 gallons of honey each year and their hive number has grown to over 900.

Our tour guides first explained to us that each new season starts in spring, when hives that were lost during the winter are replaced. Each hive “needs to be cleaned out and made ready to receive the new bee package, which arrives late March to early April,” Bonnie described. A “feeder bucket” of sugar water is placed on top of each hive to feed the new bees and “give them a boost since a lot of trees are not in bloom yet and they are very hungry.” For most of the summer the bees are left alone to produce honey, except for “periodic checks to ensure there is a good laying Queen to keep building up the work force and that there is no disease in the hive.” 

Once there is enough honey, it is time to extract, and this is the main process we came to understand first hand. Most years there are two extractions, spaced a month or two apart. This year, the extremely wet conditions in June prevented the bees from producing enough honey, so extraction was combined into one mega-harvest.  In short, Bill and Bonnie showed us that extraction means “bringing the full boxes of honey into the extracting house and uncapping and removing the honey for storage in barrels until needed.” But we came to learn it’s not as simple as it sounds. To start, the extraction process is hot! The honey house is kept at 85-90 degrees “so that the honey will flow out of the combs easier,” Bonnie clarified. Wooden frames containing comb from the hives are placed into special machines, which open the comb and then spin the frame to remove all the honey by centrifugal force. “The honey then goes to a clarifier with a hot water jacket, so that the honey sinks and any wax or bees float. This prevents them going into the holding barrel.” Honey is then stored in barrels until it is time for bottling. Thanks to our gracious hosts, we were lucky enough to see this entire process in action. Bill even took us out to the hives themselves. Bees swarmed around us as we watched in fascination from the safety of Bill’s car. Captivated, and a bit overwhelmed, we concluded that bee keeping is a delicate process. It’s not rocket science, but it’s close.

As our tour wrapped up, we were told that once the honey collection is complete, the hives will be prepared for the winter. The bees take the next few months to fill their hive with honey to supply them through the winter as food. Then the beekeepers medicate the hive to help prevent mites or other possible damage.

As all the Stein’s Honey hives are all located in or around Huron County in Ohio, we asked Bill and Bonnie about the benefits of local honey. “Local honey is usually better for you and has a better taste, as it is not overheated to give it shelf life by preventing crystallization. Some of your big honey packers will overheat the honey which tends to affect the flavor. We pride ourselves on producing a great tasting honey that is raw and unpasteurized. I think the way the honey is blended in the extracting process from all our 900 hives adds to the sweet taste,” Bonnie explained.   

What we found even more impressive is they have a no-waste process. “We take care in using the capping’s from the extracting process to make candles and produce beeswax blocks.” The Stein’s then sell the candles, as well as comb honey and cream honey. Cream honey is honey that is forced to crystallize in a quick manner, giving it a butter texture. Bonnie says it is delicious on muffins and toast.

The Stein’s favorite part? “It is very rewarding to work as a family each and every day! Our 3-year-old grandson just received his first bee suit. He’s anxious to get in and help wherever he can.  My older children have moved onto their own careers but continually pitch in when needed. I like to think we have given them a good work ethic that they now carry with them,” Bonnie reflected. “Our middle son Wes has hives of his own and will one day hopefully continue the family tradition! Hopefully with his son Wyatt, who is off to a great start!”

After offering us a taste test and gifting us each with a bottle of their prized honey, the Stein Family sent us on our way. As we discussed all the new knowledge we had accumulated over our visit, we couldn’t help but agree - the Stein Family certainly is making everything a little sweeter.

 

Written by Marianna Marchenko