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Beekeeping at Airlie: what’s the buzz all about?

For the first time, we are thrilled to offer our very own honey for sale. Available in 2, 5, and 12 oz. jars, guests can now take home a special memento of Airlie, 100% natural and straight from our organic garden. But what of the process? Let’s backtrack a minute, and start at the beginning, with beekeeping. A trend you’ve surely heard buzz about, especially in urban areas where the practice was widely banned until just a few years ago. At Airlie, we have had bees in the Organic Garden since its inception (1998) primarily to promote pollination. To learn more about our journey from beekeeping to jarring our first batch of honey, we sat down for a chat with Kim Terry, Landscape, Grounds, and Organic Garden Manager – and Beekeeper Extraordinaire.

 

How long has Airlie had bees and how did it start?
While the Organic Garden has always had bees, we started the (production) hives last year. The main purpose is to pollinate the crops at (neighboring) Airlie Berkshire Farm.

 

How many bees does Airlie have?
Currently, the garden has 13 hives. Each hive may have 60,000 bees in the summer.

 

How much honey did Airlie produce this year? Are there good years / bad years for honey?
This was our first year to harvest the honey. We bottled 115 pounds of honey. Many factors influence how much honey you will get. The biggest factor is the weather. Bees stay in the hives when it rains or if we have a cold spring so less yield. If you have honeycomb to use from the year before it saves time for the bees.

 

Did Airlie purchase its bees or do they naturally gravitate to the hive from the organic garden – or both?
If you are lucky, you might catch a swarm of bees. Most bees are purchased. Airlie originally bought its bees from local beekeepers. We lost 1 hive last year. To replace we bought a queen (from Hawaii – see video above) and made a hive from the bees on property.

 

Is the harvest process scary? Is it tough to navigate with all that gear on?
I suit up when I work with the bees because of my allergies. Many people wear shorts and a tee shirt. I did wear my bee suit because there were a few stray bees when I was harvesting. We use a 20 frame extractor to get the honey off the comb, and 5 gallon containers to store the honey in from the extractor. A couple of weeks later we bottled the honey.

 

How is the honey used by the Culinary team at Airlie?
Our honey will be made available to all of our chefs and incorporated into dishes (and drinks!) served at Harry’s, as well as in the Airlie Dining Room, and private catered events. Individual jars will also be available for purchase.

 

Does eating local honey really help with allergies? Or is that more of an urban legend?
I believe it does help with seasonal allergies. The nectar and pollen comes from local flowers, trees and clover. By ingesting small amounts you may build up an immunity. Either way – it tastes delicious and is better for you than table sugar when used as a natural sweetener.

 

Do you have any tips for someone who may want to start beekeeping?
I went to beginning beekeeper classes before I began. I knew nothing about bees other than to run when one was chasing me. They have mentored me along the way. Find someone that lives near you to mentor and/or find a beekeeper association locally. Do not rely on You Tube or the internet. As the saying goes, if you ask 10 beekeepers a question about bees, you will get 10 different answers.

The are 6 main stocks of honey bee. the Italian bee, the German bee, the Buckfast bee, the Russian bee, the Carniolan bee, and the Caucasian bee. There is also the Africanized bee. The queen we added was a Carniolan. Each bee stock have different characteristics like temperament, temperature hardiness and likeliness to swarm, just to name a few.

Honey also comes in different colors and tastes depending on the source the bees gathered the nectar from. It can vary from year to year. Our honey at Airlie is delicious! Very light in color.

I started at-home beekeeping last year, and currently have 8 hives. It is definitely an enjoyable hobby, and I would encourage everyone to give it a try.