The saying "busy as a bee" is quite a literal expression on our veteran and family-owned bee farm, Register Family Farm. Every season the journey of producing our raw honey starts all over again in our home located in the Florida panhandle. It is an all-hands-on-deck operation to make sure that we are giving our honeybees the ideal conditions to produce the best honey in the greatest quantity possible.
Diversity in Honey
The creation of our honey starts with lots of help from our bees (over 1,200 beehives)! It is also completely dependent on the timing and quantity of nectar production of the bloom the bees are searching for. The diverse taste of our honeys is a result of the different nectars the bees collect from the blossoms of bushes, trees, and field flowers closest to them at any given time.
We currently sell two types of honey: Wildflower and Tupelo. Our wildflower honey is a very special honey with a diverse mix of nectars from all the blooming plants the bees visit throughout the season. This gives the honey a wonderful complexity of flavor and a wide variety of pollens.
All In The Family
Not many people know how much has to go into the production of honey. Before we started raising bees in 2012, we, too, remember waking up in the morning and pouring it straight into our tea and onto our biscuits without giving it a second thought. Yet, we soon realized that the process of keeping bees and producing honey is far from simple. Register Family Farm would not be what it is today without the devotion of each member of the family. During a honey flow, we work day and night, as it is a race against the clock to extract as much honey as we can and get the empty honeycombs or “supers” back on the hives to give the bees room to produce as much honey as they can. The guys sometimes work 20 or more hours a day during the busy season, which is spent racing bees hives to the ideal locations for the next honey flow and pulling and extracting honey as fast as possible.
As one honey flow is winding down and another is coming into full bloom, we have to pull honey during the day and move those hives once the sun goes down (all the bees are in the hive at night) to the ideal location for the upcoming bloom. We have to prepare many of the locations by cutting grass, brush, or otherwise clearing obstacles. This is often done at night as we are setting the bees down in the bee yards.
Being in a bee suit is hot at night, but even hotter during the day making proper nutrition and hydration a necessity. We have to find the time to eat several meals and drink gallons of water a day to get the job done. Our wives (and Momma Register) prepare coolers packed with food that we take with us while we are working. They are typically filled to the brim with roasted chicken and salad, hard-boiled eggs, homemade granola bars, protein shakes, and a cold pasta dish among other things. Beekeeping for us is truly a family affair.
One of the many great things about being honey producers is that we have the opportunity to choose the absolute best honey that is made in this region and sell it with a Register Family Farm label, which allows us to consistently offer our customers the high quality, delicious honey they expect and love.
The Seasonal Honey
We started pulling the honey from the Popcorn or the Chinese Tallow, which takes several weeks. Closer to the end of June, it is time to move the hives to the cotton fields, while some hives are moved closer to home to make a split. In the beekeeping business, a split refers to separating the bees into two or more groups.
We take a stronger hive and pull the brood, or honey bee eggs out and place them in a new box with a queen. The box is moved at least two miles away to a new location so that we can start a new hive. We then must feed them sugar syrup and pollen substitutes because this isn’t a lot of bees around this time of season, as it is closer to the start of the summer growth period.
The food supplementation is given to the new hive until the bees become of age. Feeding the hive until it is of age quickens the process and gives the hive what it needs to build up. It takes much longer for them to build up if we let them tend to their selves. We are hoping that the weather is going to improve for the cotton and hopefully they should be starting to bring in a little bit of nectar now. We’ll see how they are doing next week.
Last year was not good, because it rained far too much. We’re hoping this year will be better, but there has been somewhat of a drought so far, which isn't good. We had some rain and so we'll see what Mother Nature brings. Regardless, this time of year is difficult for beekeeping to get a lot of work done due to the rising temperatures.
Thankfully, we aren’t up all day and night anymore, as we have already moved the hives to the cotton fields after staying up for several nights. Things have settled down a bit for us after visiting the cotton fields, which is nice because the rush of the spring bloom is very busy for us.
Cotton's kind of a long, drawn out process so it allows us to slow down a little bit and give us a chance to catch up on other farm operations. Our dad is working on repairing broken boxes and equipment, for example. We're also trying to build more storage space for keeping equipment safe from bad weather. Therefore, the added storage can improve our logistical situation back at the house, and on the farm. That's kind of what's going on at the moment.
The Importance of Popcorn Trees
In addition to providing our customers with premium honey, we are also passionate about preserving the environment. The popcorn trees are not only important for the production of honey, but they serve a major purpose in our environment as well. The popcorn tree is the last good nectar-producing and pollen-producing source that we have here before the summer growth period here in the Florida panhandle.
It's very important to keep the bees healthy over the summer time, and have them get off to a good start. Bee farmers and hobbyists are able to capitalize a lot on from the popcorn or the Chinese Tallow trees, but a lot of communities are trying to eradicate them. I understand why many people want to rid their yards of them, as they are super invasive and have virtually taken over the wetlands, while disrupting the whole ecosystem on the whole Gulf Coast. Yet, the one benefit to them is that they are good for the bee population and they do a great job at keeping the bees healthy going into the summer. Therefore, we try to capitalize on that and seek out those places where the trees are for the benefit of the bees and ourselves.