Please, Bees!

Green Goddess Honey from Joan and Carl Chesick’s farm was a staple at the 2010 West Asheville Tailgate Market. Just as they’re waiting to see how many bees survive winter, you have to wait until later this year to get a taste of their popular honey; they sold out around the holidays. Photos courtesy of ASAP

For lovers of local food, the new year is off to a sweet start — sorghum and honey are the first featured local items on Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s Get Local calendar. For the area beekeepers behind the sugary stuff, 2011’s snowy, how-low-can-it-go start isn’t exactly ideal.

“There is a little finger crossing involved,” admits Jon Christie of Wild Mountain Apiaries and Beekeeping Supply in Madison County. By early November, he had readied his bees for the coming cold. But, he notes, “Sometimes you can do everything right in preparing your colonies for winter and still not come through with live bees.”

Christie has seen his fair share of winters as a beekeeper. Seven to be exact, not counting the years he spent as a child around his father’s hives. And he’s weathered them well. Over the past seven years, his operation has grown from just three to more than 100 hives.

This past year was a good one. “I had more hives than ever and made a great honey crop,” he shares.

Wild Mountain Apiaries offers up a variety of honeys, including the rare regional specialty and perennial favorite sourwood. “The majority of sourwood honey is produced here in WNC and eastern Tennessee,” he says. “We generally only get a sourwood crop every two to three years.”

And that’s okay with him. “There are other [varieties] which I like just as well, maybe even better,” he notes. “Basswood — or Lin as it is known locally — is a very fine honey. It’s golden in color and gives a buttery citrus sensation often with a slight minty aftertaste.” He also includes black locust on his list, which he says can be clear and is thus often mixed with the darker honey of the tulip poplar.

Like many local beekeepers, Christie manages his hives without the use of hard chemicals; he opts to use and raise good, diverse genetic stock, divide his colonies often and turn to herbal essential oils instead.

Carl and Joan Chesick’s honey is Certified Naturally Grown. The couple own and operate Green Goddess Farm in West Asheville. “You can’t absolutely control what a honeybee will bring back to the hive (they fly for three miles), but you can control what you put into the hive as a beekeeper,” Carl says.

It’s a certification he’s proud of. In fact, he’s generally proud of Asheville’s beekeeping scene and beekeepers — he seems to know, or know of, all of them. “We have more natural beekeepers than anywhere else in the world, I would think,” Chesick beams. “People here are interested in saving bees.”

Chesick sees flocks of inquiring and new beekeepers at the Beginning Bee School every year; the Buncombe County Beekeepers Chapter, of which he’s the director, hosts the annual event. This year’s school takes place March 12 and 13 at the Folk Art Center, and those behind the event have hopes of extending it by offering follow-up, hands-on educational opportunities for attendees into the summer, once the bees are out of hibernation.

While he credits Ashevilleans as being the type to embrace and preserve bees, he also credits Asheville and WNC with being an ideal honeybee place. “The honey flow starts in February and continues through the end of October. A lot of places are more short term.” Thus, there’s a buzz about Asheville. That buzz, he hopes, will help make our area “the center of the world for honeybee interest and projects.” He acknowledges that’s big talk and big thinking. “But,” he says, “there’s no reason why it can’t be!”

Although Chesick and Christie are playing the waiting game, you can still enjoy the fruits of their labor — well, of Christie and other area beekeepers; Chesick is all sold out until later this year. Wild Mountain Apiaries’ sourwood, basswood and wildflower blend are available at the Downtown Market in Asheville, Stacie’s on Main Street in Weaverville, Good Stuff in downtown Marshall and the Wild Mountain Beekeeping Supply store in Madison County (directions on the website). Christie also has beeswax, beeswax candles, propolis, propolis tinctures, fresh frozen bee pollen, nucleus colonies and queens for sale. Chesick, too, sells nucleus bee colonies and other value-added supplies.

For more information about Wild Mountain Apiaries and Beekeeping Supply, wildmountainbees.com. To reach Carl Chesick, call 779-7047 and find more information about Green Goddess Farm in ASAP’s Local Food Guide at buyappalachian.org. Learn more about Asheville’s Beginning Bee School at wncbees.org. Find out what’s in season this month and beyond at asapconnections.org/getlocal.

— -Maggie Cramer is the communications coordinator at Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (asapconnections.org). Contact her at HYPERLINK “mailto:maggie@asapconnections.org” maggie@asapconnections.org.

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