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> Ultimate Honey Granola March 16 2019

I've never had much luck with granola recipes -- they are either too chewy, too hard, too sweet or there are too many hard-to-find ingredients. When my friend Linda offered to share her recipe for "Ultimate Irresistible Granola," I gave granola one more try, with fabulous results! 

The following is based on her recipe. I left out a few things, like sesame seeds and wheat germ, which aren't things I keep on hand and would make this recipe too much of a reach for me.

Also, Linda goes out of her way to break up the clusters so this is a cereal-like consistency. My granola dream has always been a bar-like result that sticks together but is not too crunchy -- something that can be eaten in the car without crumbs everywhere. You can choose your own adventure at the end to have "Linda-style" granola or mine. It tastes great either way! 

Ingredients

2.5 cups rolled, "old-fashioned" oats

1/2 cup chopped almonds

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup unsalted sunflower seeds (I could only find salted)

1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut

1/2 cup vegetable oil (canola, coconut, whatever, but I don't think olive oil would be good for this)

3/4 cup honey

1 cup total of dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, cherries ... I used just cranberries because it's all I had on hand, but a mixture would be nice)

Instructions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease/spray a cookie sheet unless you're using a nonstick one. 

In a large bowl, stir together the oats, nuts, seeds and coconut. In a small pan over medium heat, stir together the oil and honey, or heat in the microwave. Pour this over the nut mixture, stir to combine and spread evenly on cookie sheet. (Tip: don't wash that large bowl yet, as it will come in handy when adding the dried fruit later.)

Bake about 25 minutes, turning the mixture once during cooking, until nuts and oats are toasted. After removing from oven, add the dried fruit and stir well. (Tip: don't be tempted to overcook the granola because it seems too soft; it will harden when it cools!)

Option 1: Allow to cool thoroughly. If you want a coarse cereal-like texture, stir the mixture a couple of times to break up chunks.

Option 2: If you want bars, line the same cookie sheet with parchment or waxed paper and press the still-warm mixture back onto the cookie sheet in an even layer. You can use your fingers or another piece of waxed paper to really compact the granola so it has a better chance of sticking together in bar form. You can score it while it's still warm to make it easier to get out later. Let cool completely. There will still be lots of crumbs when you remove the bars, but you can sprinkle these on top of yogurt or ice cream.  

Store in an airtight container or bag at room temperature for up to two weeks. 


> Bloom April 06 2016


Each spring when I rediscover our "bloom calendar," it's like walking through the blossoms of the past few years. 

You see, the bloom calendar is the same paper calendar book, dated 2008, where we record each spring's bloom, with each year being a different color ink. For example, 2009 was black pen, 2012 was blue marker and this year is purple Sharpie. 

It's interesting to compare when things bloomed each year, and the difference is amazing. In 2012, when we had an early spring, I recorded on March 25, "black locust still in bloom," suggesting these trees had been blooming for a week or two. Last year, black locust didn't start blooming until late April, a whole month later. 

Last year, on March 29, we had temps in the 20s, while this year cherry trees were in full bloom on the same date. 

Other things find their way into the calendar. In 2009 on March 18 we found five bluebird eggs in a nest, the same day we sowed crimson clover, and on March 29 the eggs hatched. The same year also was a terrible tick year, with a notation at the end of April of "ticks everywhere!"  

Also in 2009, a neighbor brought us a swarm of honeybees he found hanging from a fake floral arrangement at a cemetery, and we caught another swarm on our basketball hoop.

While beekeeping isn't typically thought of as farming, I love how this trade keeps us in touch with Nature. Everything about honey is dictated by the weather. Spring, especially in Middle Tennessee, is unpredictable, so each year we look forward to tasting our spring vintage.

It's the condensed essence of a volatile and unpredictable season, always different and always perfect. 

 

 


> Spider webs September 08 2015



Spider webs are everywhere lately. 

I'm not talking about Halloween decorations in stores, but between the tall grasses of our pasture and bee yard. Every morning the dogs and I ramble a bit while things are still wet from dew, and the sun breaks over the trees. 

I'm guessing there aren't more spider webs this time of year, but I just happen to notice them. 

You see, with the cool nights and hot days, there's an early morning fog that settles on our land, just before the sun comes up. The fog passes over and through the grasses and wildflowers, then the sun stops it in its tracks. Moisture settles on the plants like a clear glaze, before it burns off in the heat.

So, for a window of time on these late-summer mornings, the Earth in this little postcard of land is glowing with fresh light on twinkling plants and webs. 

My favorite plants are the little bottle-brush-like grasses, their hundreds of short, feathery wisps glazed with dew. But they can't compare to the glistening spider webs, their symmetry stringing through the air. 

Most of the webs are shaped in what I think of as "cobweb" style, a center circle or octagon that repeats itself like a pebble in a lake, echoing over and over. Many of these are straining under the weight of the dew, so they look worn out as they span the grasses. They're like tattered streamers at the end of a raucous surprise party, making me think I arrived a wee bit too late.  

There's something reverent and small about these webs. Even in their wet disarray, their simplicity and complexity takes me by surprise. Like much of Nature, they're there all the time, but we don't always notice. 

It just takes certain conditions — conditions in us and around us — to reveal them.  

 

 


> 'Not much to look at' April 30 2015

"Well, they're not much to look at," he said, "but they make good honey."

After moving to Tennessee from coastal North Carolina a few years ago, this was our introduction to the black locust tree. The old man at the farmers market, who asked if we    had black locust honey, added to his description:

"It's just a regular old tree, but in the spring they get these shabby-lookin' blossoms," he said.

This prompted a search to identify the black locust tree. And "shabby" is a good word to describe it, at least from a distance. The blooms hang in a pendulous cluster, sort of like a bunch of grapes, but from far away they look like a bundle of tattered tissues. Up close,    you'll see delicate, white, sweet-smelling blossoms — which I have heard are edible (and sometimes deep fried) but haven't tasted (or fried).

Right now, at the end of April, which is a late bloom for this tree, you can see black locust trees in bloom all over the middle Tennessee area. Native to the southeast, and considered invasive in some    areas, we have seen many of these trees along I-40, and on the edges of fields and pastures, where they haven't yet been crowded out by more aggressive trees.

More importantly, our bees are feasting on these blossoms! Black locust honey is sought after because it is a hard nectar flow to "catch." Tennessee springs are usually wet, and often cold, two things which keep honeybees from foraging this short-lived nectar source. It's a special treat to have black locust nectar filling out the taste of our spring honey, and we're looking forward to finding out what this vintage will taste like.

Black locust trees may not be "much to look at," but their nectar is really something to savor.

 

 

 


> It's not about corners. We don't cut strings. August 01 2014

In some ways, the hang tags for our new Barrel-Aged Honey were a turning point. 

Now, these aren't any old piece of paper with information, mind you. They are the Cadillac of hangtags, complete with scoring, a hole punched in the corner and an elastic string that goes through the hole and — get this! — the string is tied in a little knot. 

These hang tags cost an extravagant 24 cents each. 

If you have a small business and are interested in such details, it's interesting to know we could have gotten the tags for half that. 

But, well, there were little preference boxes on the order sheet, with questions like "Would you like these scored?" Our tags fold in half, like a little book, but we thought, "Oh no, we can do that ourselves."

Then the question, "Would you like holes punched in the corners?" Well, we have a hole puncher, don't we?

Then they asked about the strings. 

"Would you like us to cut and attach the elastic strings for your hang tags? If so, how long do you want them?"

Wait a minute. Did they say "cut and attach," meaning that the hang tags would arrive in turn-key condition, ready to put on the bottles? 

Did they say, "Friend, you won't have to sit up late one night, measuring strings, feeding them through holes and tying knots in them"?! 

Sold.

You see, we've grown a lot lately. While there was a time when we did everything ourselves, some of the best advice we've gotten is to learn to let go. 

In fact, it's easy to micro-manage your small business, but it's not always best. It's important, we've been told, to find your strengths and use them. Equally important is to identify the activities someone else can do.

And let them. 

 


> Not easy being Queen February 13 2014

My “Wizard Of Oz” theory came to mind yesterday. 

We often joke that being small business owners is like dashing around in front of and behind a curtain, doing all kinds of jobs, wearing all kinds of hats. 

The “wizard” of the famous movie was a ticket taker, lever puller, wizard and even,          if you will, a life coach. 

Between Jeff and me, our responsibilities range from keeping bees, hammering together hive equipment, harvesting honey, bottling honey, graphic design, photography, branding, accounting — and sometimes even sales! 

So, imagine my delight to get a letter yesterday addressed to the “Complaint Department.” 

“Well, that’s a new one,” I thought, then opened the letter, wondering what the head of the newly formed Complaint Department should wear to work each day.  

It seems that a customer in Washington received one of our honey sampler crates for Christmas, but one of the jars leaked. She kindly asked for a replacement, followed with best wishes and blessings from God. 

We sent her a replacement the next day, along with two beeswax lip balms (since people in Washington probably need them more than anybody) and a handwritten note.  

I’m hoping that’ll be the end of the Complaint Department, but with growth come other challenges and more hats to wear. 

For example, I got a call the other day from a potential buyer who condescendingly asked, “Are you in a position to authorize samples being sent to us?” 

I wanted to say, “Not only am I in a position to, as in standing over boxes and tape, but I am The Queen Bee and can authorize anything I want.” 

Instead, with a wink at my dog, I said, “I think we can take care of that for you.” 

 

 


> If you plant one thing February 07 2014

I was about to say, "If you plant one thing for your honeybees, plant crimson clover."

But I'm rethinking that already. We have a little land, and Jeff plowed about an acre of it in 2010 and sowed crimson clover seed. We have enjoyed this clover probably as much as the bees have. It's attractive, it's a great nectar source and it keeps other growth at bay.

But there are other plants just as easy that work for small patches of yard or for patios. One of my favorites is anise hyssop. A perennial herb, mine is in full sun and comes back each year. The foliage is a deep green, smelling of anise, and the flowers are a lovely lavender color that honeybees seem to fancy.

Lavender is another perennial that bees go crazy over, but it can be difficult to maintain in Tennessee's wet springs and humid summers. We have about 40 lavender plants that have thrived only because they are in full, baking sun and rocky soil. The same goes for rosemary — bees like the delicate blue-purple flowers, but rosemary likes well-drained soil and lots of sun!

If you're interested in building up the "backbone" of your landscape, and also want evergreens, hollies have almost imperceptible little white flowers in the spring that are a prolific nectar source. The same goes for privet and pittosporum.

All this to say, there's really no need to plant things for your bees. They will fly up to three miles from the hive, and they are designed to forage.

In fact, in much of the Southeast, it's quite easy to help provide for the bees — just put off mowing the lawn a few days. That's our excuse, at least. Ignoring the lawn will probably result in lots of white clover, something the bees really like.

So, I'm coming full circle here. I've gone from "if you plant one thing" to "if you ignore one thing."

See? It's that easy to make honeybees happy.

 

Resources:

Wildseed Farms, a seed catalog that offers regional wildflower mixes. We sowed an acre with the southeast blend a few years ago, and many of the flowers, like cosmos and gallardia, have re-seeded themselves.

Feed the Bees, a Community Campaign — encourages sustainable bee populations by offering bee friendly planting ideas

The Honeybee Conservancy — lots of garden ideas, plus information about bees that burrow

 


> Honeybee facts January 06 2014

There is never an end to the questions we're asked about honeybees! Below are answers to a few of the most commonly asked questions. (We saved the best for last.)

 

• Honey bees fly up to three miles from their hives to collect nectar and pollen.

• It would take about eight honey bee stings for each pound you weigh to kill you.

• Male bees have no stinger and only one job; to mate with the queen. After they do their job they die.

• The honey bee's wings stroke incredibly fast, about 200 beats per second

• A honey bee can fly for up to six miles, and as fast as 15 miles per hour.

•The average worker bee produces about 1/12th teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.

• A hive of bees will fly 40,000 miles, more than once around the earth, to collect 1 pound of honey.

• It takes one ounce of honey to fuel a bee’s flight around the world.

• A honey bee visits 50 to 100 flowers during a collection trip.

• Only worker bees sting, and only if they feel threatened. They die once they sting.

• Queens have a stinger, but they don’t leave the hive to help defend it.

• During winter, honey bees feed on the honey they collected during the warmer months. They form a tight cluster in their hive to keep the queen and themselves warm.

• The queen bee can live up to 5 years and lays up to 3,000 eggs a day during the summer months

• Yes, we get stung.

 

 


> Barefoot in the clover July 19 2013

We hear it all the time:

"You know, when I was a kid, I was afraid to go barefoot in the clover because I'd get stung," people say. "But now, well, I don't see any bees."

Unfortunately, this dearth of bees in the clover is a result of all the hardships honeybees have faced in the past few years. Diseases have wiped out large populations of honeybees, resulting in lawns flecked with nectar-rich clover ... but no honeybees to forage it!

In our Arrington bee yard, things are a little different. We have tons of clover, and there are honeybees all over it. In fact, during mid-summer in Middle Tennessee, many of the big nectar sources have reached the end of their natural season, so we always look forward to the staple of clover to keep our bees happy and fed.

Clover nectar gives our annual summer vintage (harvested in late July or early August) that familiar richness and tang that folks seem to associate with "grandpa's" honey. 

On another note, we also look forward to the clover because it turns into a nice excuse for not mowing. Jeff will come home and say something about the yard looking a little tall. He seems reluctant to start up the tractor, so I say, "Yes, I guess it is, but there's a lot of clover coming up."

"Well, I wouldn't want to cut that down, with the bees and all," he says.

"Yeah, that's true," I say, and we decide that leaving nectar for the bees is more important than having a well-manicured yard (can't exactly call it a lawn).

So, if the front yard of our Arrington apiary starts to look a little wild, don't think for a second we're lazy, or even too busy, because it's neither.

We're leaving it for the bees ... and we're not going barefoot.


> Honey Vanilla Ice Cream recipe July 11 2013

Lots of people have been asking for this, so here it is! Very simple, and no sugar.

Honey Vanilla Ice Cream

2 cups milk (I use 2 percent)

3/4 cup honey (wildflower honey, of course)

dash of salt

2 eggs beaten

2 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon real vanilla extract

In saucepan, heat milk but don't burn or "scald" it. Stir in honey and salt. Pour small amount of warm liquid into eggs; return to milk mixture and cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes or less, stirring constantly. Cool thoroughly. Stir in cream and vanilla. Chill. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. Makes about 5 cups and is delicious on a hot summer evening!

 

 


> NY Mouth asks all the right questions. May 17 2013

We just did an e-mail interview with one of our newest customers, New York Mouth, which specializes in small-batch foods. They asked some fun questions, so here's a sneak peak: 

Where did you grow up? I'm a Carolina girl. 

Was food always important to you, or did you develop a passion for food at a particular place and time? The only thing I knew how to make as a child was biscuits, and I always mashed up the Ritz crackers for squash casserole in the summer. Other than that, I never knew how to cook from elemental ingredients until I joined the U.S. Peace Corps. I served in a third-world African country, where I learned to appreciate freshness and simplicity of ingredients.  Everything was made from scratch, and I learned to cook there.  (Sometimes we had crazy Peace Corps parties where the main event would be to roll out and fry our own corn flour chips and then dip them in our own fresh-made guacamole. Our biggest resource was time, so why not?) 

How did you get into beekeeping? My husband, Jeff, grew up near a beekeeper and was fascinated by it. I knew he really wanted to learn how to keep bees but would never take the leap, so I bought him a bee hive for Christmas 10 years ago. He bought me a stand-up bass the same year, for the same reason. 

Tell us about deciding to go into business – How did it happen?  What made it possible? We've been selling our honey at farmers markets (in North Carolina and Tennessee), and the decision to move from that to a larger market was a result of the reception we've received from these marketplaces. Our customers embrace our commitment to purity, our concern about the fate of the honeybee and our emphasis on the ephemeral nature of honey from year to year. To completely answer the question, our customers make it "possible" every day for us to continue our commitment to sustainable American agriculture.

What do you think makes your product stand out in its category? Our honey is unique in that we celebrate the indigenous plants that produce it and we don't manipulate the harvest and nectar flow to produce a singe-source product.  (Single-source varietals are the ones everyone's heard about, like orange blossom, tupelo, etc.). For example, to offer orange blossom honey a beekeeper is likely involved in commercial pollination. While commercial pollination is necessary, especially in these days of big agriculture and bee shortages, trucking bees to an orange (or almond or apple) grove to perform a service, while exposed to pesticides and herbicides, is not healthy for the bees and not a sustainable method of agriculture. 

>>> Our bees are "free-range." 

While the "free-range" thing started as a joke (because who is really going to stop a honeybee from going where it wants to?), it has come to denote a commitment to healthy, natural nectar sources for our bees. We say that our bees forage everything "under the country sun," and it's true. We're lucky enough to live near a small pick-your-own blueberry farm, but, other than that, our bees forage nectar and pollen from various natural sources, from fruit tree blossoms in the spring to pesky clover and herbs in the summer. 

Also, when we do a regional "sampler," we work with beekeepers like us, who have a commitment to healthy bees and the glory of wild, indigenous nectar sources. For example, our Coastal Spring vintage was made by honeybees enjoying the native gallberry plant (in the holly family) that grows wild along the coasts of the Southeast. It's sort of an unsung hero in the bee world — a prolific nectar source that nobody cares enough about to spray for anything! The bees love it, and they're not exposed to harmful pesticides and herbicides while they forage it.

What’s  your favorite part about producing honey? Least favorite part? Favorite part of having a bee farm is going out in the bee yard after sunset in the summer, when it's still light, and watching the light reflect off the bees as they return to the hive. Least favorite = being sticky!  

What do you see as  your biggest challenges? Our biggest challenge right now is combating diseases, such as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), that are affecting honeybees all over the world. Almost everyone has heard of these problems in one way or another, and we're encouraged when we go to markets and festivals and have customers who are sincerely interested in the fate of the honeybee. (We have wonderful, thoughtful customers who are sincerely curious about our trade and how it affects us and our food sources.)  

What is the most interesting part of owning a business like this? The nature of the honeybee is endlessly fascinating. It's interesting to observe how they work together, how they communicate, how they are cranky on windy days and how the queen bee dictates the mood of the hive (mean queen = mean colony). I could go on and on.

Do you have a funny story to share?  This wasn't funny at the time, but early in my beekeeping days I made the mistake of wearing my beautiful, hand-engraved sapphire wedding ring while in the hives. I got stung on the tip of my ring finger and didn't think about it until I got home, but it was too late. My finger looked like a hot dog with a tight silver band around it. (None of the Google remedies for getting rings off worked.) My doctor said that if there was still circulation in the fingertip I'd "probably be ok," so I toughed it out so I wouldn't have to get the ring cut off. The next day the swelling went down a little, but I couldn't get the ring off for a month. So, the moral of the story is: don't wear rings when you're working in the hives. 

Did you have a role model/mentor/inspiration in the small batch field before you got started? If so, who? An old man named Mr. Smith was kind enough to sell us our first bees in NC, then help us get through that first year, which can be overwhelming. (More about that here.) We try to pass his kindness along by helping other beekeepers get started. 

When you’re not producing honey, you are most likely . . . . Spending time with our daughter, who just turned 8. Unfortunately, though, the life of a small business owner is pretty seamless when it comes to work and personal time! Business and home life sort of intermingle ... but I do cut out some time to read and to write a little. 

Favorite way to use/eat your own product:  We couldn't survive without peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and our favorite treat is goat cheese and honey. I take a 4 oz "log" of plain chevre, roll it in chopped pecans, drizzle generously with honey and serve surrounded by thin apple slices (Golden Delicious is my favorite). This is an easy, healthy treat that's also a nice party or cocktail appetizer. 


> It's official: we're awesome. April 11 2013

Honey goes with lots of things.

Think about it. There's nobody who hasn't heard the words "honey" and "mustard" together.

Or "honey" and "barbecue."

That's why our honey was included in Bespoke Post's April "Box of Awesome."

Each month Bespoke Post, a monthly subscription service, curates a box of high-end and, well, awesome stuff from all over the world. Each box has a different theme; for example, there's been a "Weekender" box, a "Shave" box and many more. 

Our honey is offered in the "'Cue" box. As in barbecue. Click on the photo above to read about the other great products in the box. There are specialty corn chips, cedar grilling planks and other seriously awesome things.

Oh, and don't forget to check out their "Behind the Brands" spotlight. All the products Bespoke Post features have an awesome story too. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


> 'You are what you eat.' October 16 2012

Sylvia Ganier reminded us of this last Sunday during the second annual    Fall Festival at her Green Door Gourmet farm in Nashville.

She was tasting our seasonal honeys, along with our friend and fellow beekeeper Jay Williams, and I told her how folks seem surprised to learn  that honey changes with the seasons.

You see, when sampling our spring and summer vintages, I tell customers what the honeybees were foraging when they made each harvest. For example, our spring vintage tastes floral and light because the bees were foraging spring-blooming plants, like apple, pear and black locust trees.

Our summer vintage has a bigger, more herbal flavor, probably because bees were foraging lavender, rosemary and, of course, the ever-present clover.

The store at Green Door CSA (pictured here) features local products ranging from cheese and honey to granola and body care products.

"See?" Sylvia said. "It's true for bees too. You are what you eat."

She has a unique perspective on this, since her farm is dedicated to helping her customers eat healthy, organic, local foods. We are thrilled to work with her, and tickled to learn that our honey makes an occasional appearance in her CSA boxes. (If your shopping for the holidays, we just delivered our limited-edition 2012 Honey Sampler Crates to her farm. Get 'em there and avoid shipping costs!)

She also has a lovely grocery on site, where she offers local foods, from milk and cheese to salsas and skin care products. In addition, her new events barn is already booking vintage-style country weddings. Learn more at greendoorgourmet.com.

 

 

 


> Honeystand June 13 2012

My daughter, who is 7 years old, is a little entrepreneur.

School's out, and she's selling our raw honey by the road, lemonade-stand style, with her trusted customers putting their money in a metal coffee can marked "honey money."

She would love to sit by the stand all day, with her German shepherddog at her side, I've insisted this would be too much for the poor dog, so we rely on honesty.

This honeystand is where we re-use our glass jars — some of them a little scratched — and sometimes you may find a selection of sizes to choose from, all for a flat rate. This near-wholesale price is available only at our TruBee Honey "outlet" and only because we want Lillian to learn the value of hard work and the reward of earning money.

The scene is this:  a rolling country highway — a nice, scenic road that's become a bit of a byway. During weekdays, TN 252 is a secret corridor between Murfreesboro and Cool Springs. On the weekends, it's a delightful, curvy ride for cyclists and bikers, with many of the latter on their way to Arrington Vineyards, only two miles away.

This honeystand is an experiment in trust, human nature and marketing — or lack of. We haven't done anything to promote Lillian's honeystand, but when she pulls her red wagon with wood panels out to the road, counts her inventory and arranges the jars, she often has customers pulling in the driveway immediately.

Our country neighbors, folks who have lived here all their lives, are curious. "You ever been ripped off?" they ask in subdued voices. (Our secret's safe with them.)

"No," we say, "but sometimes people leave extra."

That's the truth. We've had an extra dollar here and there, a few IOUs on business cards (which were fulfilled in two or three days) and even a few people have left small stuffed animals for the owner of the honeystand. (Anyone with a little girl knows how these go over.)

If you find yourself in Middle Tennessee, meandering along Wilson Pike (TN 252), then you're welcome to look for the honeystand. It's open on sunny days only, most of the time, because 7-year-old girls are creatures of whimsy and because Lillian doesn't want her chalkboard signs to get wet. Usually the honey is in a red Radio Flyer wagon, and sometimes it's accompanied by Jeff's old Ford 8N tractor (not for sale, boys, not for sale).

Lillian also accepts empty glass jar returns here. Just put them in the grass next to the wagon, and we will sterilize and re-use.

Also, Lillian has expanded her inventory this year. She thinks kids really like honey straws, since she does, so she makes bundles of five straws and sells them for $1 a bundle. Jeff and I think this is an awesome energy burst for all the cyclists we see pedaling up and down the road, but her target market is other kids.

This is her thing, and we're proud that she's thought of a way to reach new customers. So far, she's sold only four bundles.

But you've gotta start somewhere.

 

 


> 'Put 'er there.' June 07 2012

That's what Daddy used to say to me.

"Put 'er there."

He'd stride into the room after work with his coat hooked over his shoulder.  He'd hold out his hand and wait for me to shake it.

Hard.

No limp noodle hands allowed, not even from a little girl.

"This is important," he would say, and I went along with it, gradually learning the "right" way to grip a palm, how to squeeze it like I mean it.

This came back a few days ago, on a delivery day. It was a new stop, a restaurant in West Nashville, where I took an order of bulk honey to the back supply room. One of the chefs was there to confirm the order, and he held out his hand.

I shook it, and he reared back a little and smiled.

"Now that's a man-shake!" he said.

I laughed and we talked about the value of a good handshake. He related an experience in Alaska when he offended a burly woman by offering a wimpy handshake.

I told him I also can't stand the little polite clasps some men offer me. I also get a kick out of shaking someone's hand, finding it limp, then feeling it tighten immediately when they realize a "real" handshake was expected.

How telling.

Of all the lessons my dad taught me, this is one I recall frequently as a small business owner. Handshakes are important. With that immediate contact of skin and pressure, I learn a lot about my customers — and they about me — right off the bat.

So, if a parents' merits are judged by the behaviors they manage to cultivate in their kids, I guess Daddy gets some big credit this Father's Day. He'll be getting a shipment of our spring honey and Beeswax Rub, two of his favorites.

He also might like to know that — every so often — I stride into the living room, corner my daughter and say, "Put 'er there."

Some things are worth passing along.

 

 


> Spring harvest ready to eat May 29 2012


Just a three days ago, the honey pictured at right was in a hive.

Colonies of honeybees gathered and tended nectar and pollen, organizing their days by what was in bloom.

We've been doing that too. Throughout this glorious early spring, we've watched what the bees are interested in, what they're foraging here in     Middle Tennessee.

We did this because you want to know what's in your wildflower honey. You want to be able to savor, as much as we do, the transitory nature of each drop of nectar — and each grain of pollen — that the bees found to create this unique harvest.

In fact, if you search the tag #2012springhoney on Twitter, you'll find our "bee menu" reports, where we've documented the changes in nectar and pollen flow throughout the spring.

For us, this intimate knowledge seems to make the honey taste even better. We hope you think so too.

 


> Danger: Live Bees May 20 2012

My favorite time in the bee yard is is late afternoon, from the vantage point of an empty, overturned hive box or bucket. Low, golden light illuminates the little bodies of our honeybees, hurtling themselves to and from the hive, intent on their purpose.

While beekeeping sounds romantic, it's actually a lot of work, and beekeeping wisdom is only learned the hard way.

For example, don't wear rings while beekeeping. This particular lesson, pictured in the making at right, happened last summer. It was a small sting, just on the tip of the finger, but by the time I got home it was too late.

A frantic call to my doctor resulted in taking Benadryl for the allergic reaction and ibuprofen for the inflammation. Another frantic call to a firefighter friend (also a beekeeper) included practical advice too.

"If you need to cut the ring off, come here to the station instead of to the ER," he said. "It won't hurt, but it might be traumatic."

Lucky for you, you don't have to endure this fear-factor nonsense to enjoy pure, raw honey. This is our busiest time of year, as the Southeast comes alive in the sunshine and rain.

In fact, hopefully very soon we'll have a big announcement — that our 2012 Spring Honey is ready to order!

It will be full of light, sweet nectar from early spring fruit trees, rogue blackberry blossoms and country privet. There even will be a touch of the elusive black locust tree.

And, in case you were wondering, I don't wear rings anymore while beekeeping. Last summer, I felt lucky to lose neither my finger nor my ring, so I won't repeat that mistake twice.

It also might help to wear gloves.

 

 


> Great balls of bees! March 19 2012

 It's that time of year again:  Swarm season.

You may have seen this natural phenomenon, which starts as a whirlwind of bees, kinda like on "Winnie-the-Pooh," and ends with a ball of living bees hanging from a tree branch or moving into a wall.

Here's why it happens.

In the spring, honeybee colonies grow quickly, and sometimes they run out of room for the queen to lay eggs. Whether they are living in a hollow tree or in contrived hives, when the queen bee says, "We need more room!" the colony follows. (As it should be.)

This movement is called a swarm, and honeybees tend to swarm in the spring. We often get calls from people who have a swarm in their yard or in a wall of their home.

If you see a swarm, enjoy it! Not many people get to witness this phenomenon. And don't be afraid; honeybees without a home are at their most docile when swarming. Their only thought is to protect the queen, somewhere in that big     ball of bees, and they will not attack you as long as you don't attack them.

For beekeepers, preventing swarms involves constant monitoring of the hives to make sure there's enough room for eggs, larvae, honey, etc. If things are looking tight, a beekeeper puts another box on top of the hive. Beekeepers are usually happy to capture swarms; this means free bees (no pun, really) for the apiary and a nuisance removed for the homeowner.

 


> 1 tsp = work of 12 bees February 07 2012

This tidy package, one teaspoon of honey, contains the life's work of 12 bees.

That's right. Twelve honeybees hurtled under the country sun and over fields of indigenous plants to gather nectar for just one of these straws.

So, you really should savor it!

Stir them into tea, enjoy a burst of natural energy during a workout, or sooth a sore throat with our raw, wildflower honey. We've sold 'em to flight attendants, office workers, workout workers ... and lots and lots of kids.

We offer them in bulk — for retailers to display in our signature jar — or in clear packages of eight.

 


> Beekeepers hate to waste stuff January 30 2012

And every time we harvest honey, we're left with buckets of beeswax "cappings," the layer of beeswax that honeybees use to seal their honeycomb.

So, our unbleached beeswax is sharing the limelight with our honey now, making its debut in our new Beeswax Rub. We started making it for dry     skin, but market customers and friends have come up with all sorts of new  uses for it — from conditioning leather belts and butcher blocks to using it      on dreadlocks (to condition without too much "slip") and de-squeaking drawers.

We hope you (or your customers) can enjoy it too. It's made of only five all-natural ingredients, and that's including the lavender and rosemary essential oils.

 


> Look around, Dixieland. January 27 2012

That's right.

According to Bon Appétit magazine, the South — and its culture of no-holds-barred, we're-not-afraid-of-you food — is hot. If you want fearless, experimental flavor with sentimental devotion to real, tangible ingredients, this is the place to be.

The February issue of Bon Appétit fearlessly takes on the South, in all its bigness, leading the cover with nothing less (or more?) than fried chicken.

In the "New Southern Pantry" feature, what the foods have in common is that they are traditional southern favorites which come from the earth, like pecans, peanuts, cucumbers and sweet potatoes, but with a twist:  hell-fire and spice in the pickles and jelly, chili in the chocolate, sweet potatoes turned to hot sauce. Taste, taste, taste!

What's wildflower honey?

While TruBee Honey is thrilled to be on the shelf with these products, we don't feel as innovative. In fact, some might think us simple because we don't haul our hives around on trailers to collect high-dollar nectar from orange, tupelo and sourwood trees.

But, sometimes, simple is good. Traditional, even. Our bees enjoy nectar from indigenous southern plants — like passionflower and those pesky, pokey blackberry brambles creepin' on everybody's fences.

We don't dictate the diet of our "free-range" bees, and our honey changes every season because of it.

Bon Appétit described our honey as "nuanced," because it always changes. We'll see that and raise it: our raw wildflower honey is so unique, so special, that each distinct vintage is a flavor never to be repeated in Nature again.

Come to think of it, that's what Bon Appétit is getting at. Delicious, hip, of-the-moment flavors, but with old-school ingredients — that's what today's southern foods are all about.

 


> Here's why we're special. November 17 2011

During an interview with a Bon Appétit writer yesterday, it came down to   this:

"What makes TruBee Honey unique?"

As I told her, there are two answers. 

First, it's about the bees and the type of honey they produce. We joke that     our honeybees are "free-range," as if you could tell a bee where to forage     for nectar, but in some ways this is true.

We offer wildflower honey, not honey from a single nectar source. (Think orange blossom, tupelo and sourwood, where bee hives are farmed out to "catch" the nectar flow.) There's nothing wrong with these types of honey, but a multi-source diet is healthier for the bees, and we like the unpredictable nature of each vintage harvest.

You see, since the location of our hives rarely changes, the variables affecting TruBee Honey are things like rainfall and heat. Simple forces of nature. Bees don't go out in the rain, so a wet, cold spring will limit their exposure to nectars from spring-blooming trees, like many fruit trees. But then there might be a lush wild clover crop later that summer, or abundant wild aster in the fall. So, each year is different.

The second way our honey is different is how we process it. In a nutshell, we don't process it. Sure, we extract the honey with a centrifuge, which slings the honey from the combs into a stainless steel tank, but we don't do much after that. We don't pasteurize or boil it, and we don't filter it. If you hold our glass honey jar to the light, you can see different-colored bits of pollen suspended in golden honey.

The pollen also seems to rise to the top and stick to the lid of the jar. We encourage you to lick the lid (like the old Yoplait yogurt commercials) so you get to enjoy every bit of pollen packed in your jar!

Of course, there are many other reasons why we're special. I have a knack for finding four-leaf clovers, and Jeff works harder than anyone I know. We also have a wonderful little girl who likes living in the country and an old dog good at finding skunks but not catching them.

While that's not what the Bon Appétit writer wanted to know, those things make our honey special too. We like living simply and providing a simple product that's unpredictable and ephemeral — each year and each vintage a combination never to be repeated.

--------------------

A few articles about bees and honey:

"Most store-bought honey isn't honey at all, tests show" / source: MSN

"Studio Libertiny's vase made by bees" / source: Inhabitat.com

 

 

 


> What are the chances? August 23 2011

Last week, Jeff took a day off work so we could drive around Middle Tennessee and do some work on some of our hives.

It was a long, hot day, which finally ended on Sneed Road, where we have two hives in separate locations.

After the last one, we went through a gate on a horse paddock, collapsed in the car, drank our last drops of water and got a mile down the road when I saw it. 

It was climbing up the side of Jeff's driver's seat, slowly making its way to the top, near his head. I stared for a second or two, wondering (hoping) I was wrong. But I wasn't. 

"Um, Jeff, there's a queen bee crawling up your seat."

"What?!"

I don't know if he thought I was kidding or mistaken, but he didn't believe me. I scooped it onto a white coffee filter (doesn't everyone have those lying around their pick-up trucks?) and showed him. She was a beautiful, almost all-yellow Italian queen bee.

So, now the question:  Which hive did it come from?

We pulled over and retraced our steps. Sometimes we wear protective suits and sometimes we don't — depending on the hive. Jeff had gotten in the truck once with his suit on, just to move it a little ways, so we figured the bee had gotten in then.

So, we took a guess, and hoped it was right. Back through the gates, into the paddock, with a queen bee wrapped in a coffee filter. I gently lifted the lid, too tired to bother with protective clothing, and dropped her on a top frame. She disappeared inside the darkness of the hive, and I quietly hoped I was putting her back in the right kingdom. If this was the wrong hive, she would be killed by the existing queen, and another of our hives would be queenless.

We've laughed about this a good bit. I mean, what are the chances of that? We struggle sometimes to even find the queen bee, and then for her to wind up crawling around in our truck seemed impossible.

A week later, I checked on all the same hives, and was pleased to find healthy, mature queen bees in all the hives. So, we put her back in the right place. It was really a lucky guess, a stab in the dark motivated by tiredness and the proximity of the last hive we visited.

Still, it was a fascinating look into the odds of something happening, the enigma of chance. There are about 50,000 honeybees in a single, healthy colony in the middle of summer. And the mother of all of them — the one bee needed to lay eggs and lead the hive — ended up in our pick-up truck.

Instead of beekeeping last week, maybe we should have played the lottery.


> 'I am a beekeeper.' July 22 2011

On a flight to Atlanta yesterday, I sat next to a talker.

That's OK, because, even though I took a book, chatting keeps my mind off feeling queasy. After nonsense talk about his dual residency in Kentucky and Florida, and his daughter's harried life as a "traveling RN," he said the inevitable:

"So, what do you do?"

His question stopped me. I haven't been asked that in a while. In fact, I haven't been asked that since Jeff and I decided to go "all in" and give this beekeeping thing a full-time chance.

The weird thing was, I had to choke back the automatic response:  "I work in newspapers." This has been my easy answer to such questions — at schmoozy chamber functions, at parties, on planes — since starting at a McClatchy paper in 1997. This answer has cozily covered all the bases, since I've done everything from writing obituaries to laying out and editing page 1A.

When I opened my mouth to respond, I was thinking. Beekeepers don't find themselves at things like chamber functions, so I didn't have a pat response. Also, how would I explain the leap from newspapers to bees? From news and words to bees and honey?

The man on the plane looked at me, waiting for my response, but I was still hesitating. Did I really want to get in to what might be a long and self-centered explanation? I don't like the sound of my own voice, and I didn't want to be That Person — the one whose voice carries over the roar of the jet engines, annoying everyone on the plane.

Still, I owed my new buddy a response, so out with it:

"I am a beekeeper," I said, feeling as if I'd said something like, "I make horseless carriages."

I watched his face change from confusion to recognition ... to something looking like admiration.

"Is that right?" he said. "I think that's neat! You know, my grandfather kept bees."

"Oh, really?" I said.

"Yeah, he had about 40 hives," he said, remembering. "He did it after he retired. He worked all his life in newspapers."