Monday, April 10, 2017
Connecting to Our Food System: Beekeeping and Honey Production
At The Chef's Garden Culinary Vegetable Institute, we are deeply committed to better connecting with our food system – and this includes our own honey production. We nurture its miraculous creation by tending bees with hives tucked carefully into our spruce trees, surrounded by an abundance of sweet nectar.
Executive Chef Jamie Simpson oversees the honey production and harvesting, and he shares how “we take our time. We pace ourselves and it’s really a beautiful process.” And, since this season ushers in the fourth year of honey production, the time seems right to share our journey so far.
How to Beekeep in Accord with Nature
To learn how to beekeep, Jamie spent time driving around the farm with John Schick, a local science teacher and experienced beekeeper who tends 40 hives. “He taught me about sun placement of hives,” he says, “plus how to appropriately place hives and so much more. It takes years to get a full grasp of what to do and he showed me the ropes. I still talk to him often.”
Bees selected by the Culinary Vegetable Institute are an Eastern European breed that adapts well to the unpredictable climate of Northeast Ohio. These hardy bees can survive long winters and have an amazing ability to self-adjust nutrient content based on the availability of nectar. As these honey bees choose what nectar to ingest, the taste and color of the honey changes.
“We’ll be picking up more bees now,” Jamie says, “picking them up in Amish country. The queens will already have been bred by drones and are already producing larvae, so they will be transported separately and then gently added to the hives. Eggs as tiny as microscopic grains of rice will be added to each cell in each hive with each queen laying more than her body weight in eggs each day. The queens know exactly what to do, so our job is to make sure they all have enough food, to keep them as happy and comfortable as we can.”
Whole Honey Frames
Jamie has also collaborated with the Amish in another beekeeping way. He wanted to ensure that the end product would have an artful presentation for chefs to display, so he created a vision in his mind and then spent countless hours talking to welders, woodworkers and artists to find a way to translate that vision into reality. His journey led him to drive through Amish country where he saw a small white building with a sign reading “Cabinets.”
Walking inside, Jamie met a young Amish man who was paralyzed from the waist down, surrounded by extraordinarily well-crafted cabinets. This man lies on a rolling bed, on his stomach, keeping his toolbox under his pillow, using this challenging position to create incredible pieces of functional art: cabinets and dressers. Working together to develop an appropriate frame, this man now hand-crafts individual frames for the Culinary Vegetable Institute that can hold approximately five pounds of honey each, and that allow the wholesome and delicious end product to be tastefully and artfully displayed in buffets, pastry cases, cheese carts and more.
To put the amount of whole honey found on just one of these frames in context: this is the result of as many as two million flowers and 55,000 miles in flight time, with an individual honey bee making about one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.
Beauty of Nature’s Abundance
“Now that I witness this amazing process,” Jamie says, “I will have a bee hive the rest of my life in some capacity. When you are tending bees, you can’t think about anything else but that hive. You need to be that focused.” Bees themselves are excellent role models for focusing on the moment, with some bees assigned to watch the babies, others to feed them. Still others have the job of scouting out good sources of nectar and then communicating distance and direction of quality locations to nectar-collecting bees through a beautiful series of dance movements. Initially, nectar is transformed into hive wax; later, to honey.
Jamie and the other chefs at the Culinary Vegetable Institute will use this year’s honey to create unique dishes and The Chef’s Garden will sell whole frames of honey for beautiful presentations by chefs. Honey will also be available in more traditional packaging. We invite you to continue to follow along our honey production journey in this blog.