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Our Beekeeper Neighbor

Although it was only midmorning, the July sun beat down on us like a red-hot hammer as we crossed Plainfield Pike to Dustin's house. Dustin Taylor of Granite Apiaries is our neighbor, helpful farmhand, and beekeeper extraordinaire. His knowledge of the bees and other local flora and fauna is encyclopedic, and he produces some of the finest honey I have ever tasted. We were crossing the street to get a special inside look at Dustin's honey harvesting process.

The buzzing of the bees greeted us as we first entered the backyard, followed by Dustin greeting us with a simple "hello." The sound intensified as we neared a heart-shaped granite birdbath from which many of the bees were sipping. Like us, the bees need extra drinks of water in the simmering July heat. Dustin explained that the birdbath was made by his grandfather, and is the inspiration for his business name and logo of "Granite Apiaries."

Above, honeybees sip water from the granite heart-shaped birdbath.

Above, the logo for Granite Apiaries features bees drinking from a granite birdbath made by Dustin's grandfather.

Granite chunks also topped the beehives that we saw as we entered deeper into Dustin's yard. The hives were tucked away amidst the woods, protected and shaded by the deep green of the trees, many of which also serve as a nectar source for the bees early in the spring.

To begin harvesting the honey, Dustin added pine needles to a metal smoker and applied smoke to the hives. When we asked him about this practice, Dustin explained that the smoke makes the bees think there is a forest fire, which causes the bees to go into the hive and start to eat the honey. The smoke also disrupts chemical signals that the bees use to communicate with each other. Smoke makes it safer to open the hives.

Above, Dustin smokes his hives to calm the bees in preparation for harvesting honey.

After smoking the hives, Dustin opens the lid on one and pulls out a few frames to check on them. They haven’t been capped off yet, so it’s not time to harvest the honey. He checks another hive and removes a frame that has a golden coating of wax over the honeycomb. This frame has been capped off and is ready to harvest. “Time to pay the rent,” Dustin jokes, as he continues to remove finished frames from various hives, loading them into a wooden box on a metal wagon.

Dustin shows off a finished frame which is full of honey and capped with wax.

Finished frames are loaded into a wagon to be brought to the house for honey extraction.

The next stage of the honey harvest takes place inside Dustin’s house, where he scrapes the beeswax off of the top of each frame of honeycomb, releasing the lovely amber honey beneath. A plastic tub catches the wax and some of the honey, to ensure that nothing is wasted. Finally the frames are loaded into the round metal extractor, which acts like a centrifuge to draw out the honey from comb. Dustin cranks the handle of the extractor by hand, spinning the frames of honeycomb inside. Translucent golden honey flows from the spout of the extractor, filling the air with a sweet floral fragrance.

Dustin scrapes the wax off of the honeycomb.

After the wax is scraped off, the frame of honeycomb is loaded into the extractor.

As Dustin spins the extractor, honey drizzles out from the spout into a bucket.

From here, some of the honey will be bottled as is, while the rest will be bottled after bits of wax and pollen are strained out. Dustin distinguishes these two products with the labels of “filtered” and “unfiltered.” He will also melt down the beeswax and use it to produce candles and lip balm. Dustin also makes bars of lye soap in shapes of bees and beehives to sell alongside his honey products. I love that his soap is unscented as I am sensitive to fragrances. I can even use it to bathe my cat, as he has an even more sensitive nose than me.

Having Dustin as my neighbor and farmhand has helped me to better understand how to protect bees and other pollinators. Seeing his bees frequently seeking water during the drought this summer has reminded me of the need to provide shallow water sources for bees to drink from, which also benefits birds, frogs and many other helpful critters (click here to read more about this). I note which flowers the honeybees prefer as I go about harvesting flowers for bouquets, pausing occasionally to gently flick a bee off of a bloom that I need to cut. I leave imperfect blooms on the plant as long as possible before deadheading to feed the bees. Usefulness to bees is one of the factors I now consider when picking out flowers to grow on our farm. The bees help greatly with pollination needed to produce squash, peppers, cucumbers and other vegetables on our organic farm, so we try our best to help them in return.

Purchasing products from Granite Apiaries and from Sterling Organic Farm helps us to keep caring for bees. Dustin’s products can be purchased at the local farmers markets here in Eastern Connecticut, specifically the NECT farmers markets (more info below). He hopes to also attend winter farmers markets this year, and I will update this blog post with information on those markets if he does attend them. He also sells his honey, soap, lip balm and beeswax candles in his front yard at 1077 Plainfield Pike in Oneco CT.

Farmers Markets that Dustin Attends

Killingly Library (Danielson) Saturdays 9:00-Noon

Putnam Riverview Marketplace Mondays 3:30-6pm Brooklyn Commons Shopping Center Wednesdays 4-6pm Plainfield Early Childhood Center Tuesdays 4-6pm

Honey for Sale is a painting of Dustin's honey stand at 1077 Plainfield Pike, created by local artist Marnie Reynolds. Check out her Facebook page linked here and her Etsy store linked here for more of her beautiful art.

Sterling Organic Farm is a USDA certified organic farm in Oneco, CT. We grow and arrange flowers for weddings, events and for everyday bouquets. Check out our flower CSA for the best deals on a weekly flower subscription. We grow a wide variety of organic vegetables available through our vegetable subscription CSA. Click here to learn more about our wedding flowers, and click here to learn more about our CSA shares. 2021 CSA shares are now available at a discount for a limited time.

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