Bouncing from flower to flower, bees might seem a little bored collecting pollen to produce honey from the natural enzymes in their bodies. Putting aside what bees may be thinking as they drone on through their daily existence, Bedford Beekeeper Tom Cohn clarifies this evolutionary miracle that comes in a secretion that is anything but bland.
“It’s mother nature at its best,” he says.
Mr. Cohn began as a bee keep 20 years ago in northern Westchester and has yet to let go of the fascination that first stung him. Moving to Bedford 12 years ago, he’ll tell you honey is mostly the product of the bee’s environment. “The taste of the honey is very much a reflection of what is in bloom and the nectar flowing within a mile and a half of the hive,” he says.
On the other hand, no matter how sweet the environment of most super market bought honey, its true value in taste and health benefits are sacrificed to processing. “A large producer of honey is going to want to get maximum yield,” he says in which sugar processed syrup dilutes the mix.
His honey, which is available locally in places like Scaglio’s Market in Katonah and Bedford Gourmet, is the real or raw deal. Health wise, raw honey is nothing to sneeze at. Susceptible to the local varieties of pollen, a person can ingest the honey milked of those same flowers and have the bee’s byproduct act as sort of an immune booster to their system.
Of course, the bees must bear some of the fruits of their own labor to sustain both the bee and the keeper. Bees produce honey as a food source of their own and each incoming brood must be fed. “You have to leave some honey, you can’t take it all,” he says.
In addition, bees store honey in winter when we think they have all died or flown south for the winter. “The bees eat honey, generate body heat and keep the hive warm through the winter,” he says, and that can amount to about 40 or 50 pounds he must surrender back to each hive.
So part of the art is honey redistribution, as is balancing the fruitfulness of the local environment versus the number of hives. “You can’t have a hundred boxes full of beehives in the same area because they’ll all be competing for the same forage, and you’ll end up with lots of weak hives,” he says.
Down to six hives himself, he describes his current operation as a “manageable hobby” that still suffices to supply enough retailers to his liking. The decrease comes of choice not from the worldwide problems bees are facing.
For his part, he can’t really tell if his Bedford bees are linked globally to their struggling kind across the globe, but not solving the mystery might have people someday sitting around describing the tomato to their grandchildren. “We’re going to find ourselves in a real challenge,” “he says, as world food production is already effected, he adds.
Nonetheless, his bees carry on as always and exhibit indifference to his frequent approaches. “As long as you’re calm, respectful of the bees and watch and listen to them you can see that they are comfortable with your presence,” he says.
It means the occasional sting, but this doesn’t warrant the aggressive imagery they’ve always been tagged with. “They’re just flying around trying to collect pollen and nectar, and that’s all there is to it,” he concludes.
Rich Monetti interview of Tom Cohn