Delmarva’s Honey Harvest

by Dana Kester-McCabe

September is a key harvest month for Delmarva farmers. Their efforts would not be nearly as successful without pollination help provided by one small insect. Humans and honey bees have been collaborating since ancient times.

Helping with a honey harvest is one of those old fashioned traditions of rural life that everyone should experience at least once. Recently Pat Hendrickson and I went to visit our friend Scott Duncan to do just that. Scott, who lives in Quantico, Maryland; is by his own description a hobbyist. His operation is relatively low tech compared to commercial honey operations. But they and he use the same practices that have been around since prehistoric times.

photoHarvesting the honey begins with the proper protective clothing, and a little smoke to keep the hive calm. Boxes containing the bee colony are opened, and the frames with the honey comb are removed. After brushing off any attached bees, the frames are brought inside. Beeswax caps are sliced off. The frames are spun to free all the trapped honey which is then portioned out into jars. The frames are then cleaned up and returned to the colony boxes.

Watching this process is fascinating. The honey harvest reminds me that all species have the potential to work in blessed collaborative community. But when you smell that fresh honey, there is only one thing you can think of. As author A.A. Milne said through Winnie the Pooh: "The only reason for being a bee that I know of is to make honey.... And the only reason for making honey, is so as I can eat it."

Visit a local farm stand this Fall and try some of their locally produced honey. It will be delicious and good for you too, and you will be enjoying the fruit of an ancient ongoing collaboration.

Some Honey Bee Facts
  • September is National Honey Month

  • There are lots of different kinds of bees. We tend to see mostly bumble bees and yellow jackets, which also help with pollination. The honey bee is smaller than these other varieties.

  • Honey bees will live in almost any protected place they have access to: attics, garages etc. but in nature they prefer hollow tree logs. Beekeepers have developed a system of boxes that honey bees seem to do well in.

  • According to the American Beekeeping Federation and a 1999 Cornell University study "the contribution made by managed honey bees hired by U.S. crop growers to pollinate crops amounted to just over $14.6 billion."

  • Commercial beekeepers transport large hives to farms to help with pollination efforts.

  • The role of the honey bee in the world's agriculture could become even more important as bio fuels become more widely used.

  • Contemporary beekeepers struggle to keep ahead of many problems that can destroy their hives, such as parasite mites and moths. They also are mindful to leave enough honey for the bees to eat through the winter and provide a supplemental supply of sugar water.

  • Though their contribution is important, Queen Bees and drones do comparatively little compared to the worker bees which defend and maintain the hive, as well as gather nectar and pollen and produce their food: the honey.

  • The art of beekeeping is an ancient one. There are cave paintings of prehistoric people harvesting honey.

  • Since ancient times, honey has been used as a sweetener in many foods as well as in medicinal remedies, particularly for treatment of the common cold and the treatment of seasonal allergies.

  • The flavor of honey varies depending on which plants the bees gather nectar from.

  • Beeswax is used for candles, medicines, cosmetics, polishes, silver casting and many other products.

Delmarva Area Beekeeping Resources