As I stood on the edge of the lavender field, I felt the gentle hum around me. The warm July sun on my skin and the sensation overwhelmed me that the bees might just lift me right up with them. What is it called when you have both reverence and such curiosity to hold and behold a creature?
It was a perfect birthday, a dream come true, the day we captured the bees. My husband and I took the ferry to visit our apiary friends in Port Angeles. Camera gear in tow, and a little Eloise! We both had dreamed of photographing bees up close for years. Not just bees of course, but a working hive. What a huge gift to be able to do so with the people who produce our very own honey.
My husband, Ky Elliott, has put together a beautiful video offering a glimpse into that special day (you can find it at the bottom of this page). Both he and I suited up (sans gloves), to be up close with those fuzzy little friends. It was magical.
The experience could be summed up to simply just breathing with the bees. Letting the warmth of the sunshine and the many soft little bee bodies landing on our bare hands soothe us. As we got an up-close glimpse into their life, there was something so therapeutic about it. In a way, it seemed somewhat dangerous, and there was a desire to calm ourselves at the approach… yet somehow, I felt welcomed and in that moment it was so right.
At the end of our day photographing the many hives, our friends then took us through the entire extracting process (hands on). The beautiful thing about real locally farmed honey, is there is no processing, rather an extracting all the work the bees have done. Not to simplify what our friends at Miss Bee Haven Apiary do, because what they do is good hard work. With over seventy-two years in bee keeping, Jeremiah and his family offer, in my unbiased (wink-wink) opinion, the best honey we have ever tasted. To put it plainly, the honey is as defined… sweet golden honey in its purest form.
And this is how the story goes…
“It all started with my uncle Rick, and this is how he told the story to me. He started helping the local beekeepers at the age of twelve in Huntsville Utah simply because of mistaken identity. Peter Jensen,
affectionately known in Huntsville as ‘Honey Pete,’ was looking for some help and asked the local church groups and families around if there were any strong young men that needed some work. Someone said to give Rick a call. The Rick they told Honey Pete about and the information they gave were two different Ricks. The Rick they were referring to was a much older kid but someone gave Pete the number of my grandmother’s house because they knew her oldest boy was named Rick…When my uncle showed up, Pete was confused. This was not the Rick he was expecting. I guess he figured my uncle would have to do, and since he showed up ready to work, ‘Honey Pete’ began teaching my uncle Rick about beekeeping. My dad, Lewis Johnson, and his little brother Tony, saw what their older brother Rick was getting to do and like all little brothers, they began to tag along. My dad was eight years old when he started working bees with his older brother and Honey Pete. He is still working hives in the same valley he grew up in today”, shares Jeremiah (owner of Miss Bee Haven Apiary PNW).
He continues, “I started doing bees and helping dad when I was able to prove myself useful and it just so happen to be that I became useful at the age of eight. I would tag along while my dad worked his hives…and my dad would bring me along as he helped many hobby beekeepers around Utah. When I was in Jr. High my dad helped run the Churches honey farm. That’s when we got our first taste of big beekeeping. Beekeepers from all over Utah, Idaho and Wyoming would bring their boxes of honey to us to extract for the Church. We met lots of great people and as we extracted honey we talked bees and learned from them. All this time my dad was also starting to grow his own apiary, Miss Bee Haven Apiary. Mom came up with the name. She made a sign that said, ‘Bee Haven,’ and she put it next to the hive in her country flower garden. As a little girl, my older sister, Lani, use to sell Dad’s honey out of a little wagon around town. On one of these trips, as she passed my Mom’s garden with the sign, Mom said, ‘Good luck little Miss Bee Haven,’ and the name stuck.”
Jeremiah Lewis grew up a country boy. He knew all about working hard, hauling hay, loved riding horses and every country boys dream, to be a cowboy. He shares a bit more about growing up, “Everybody knew everybody in town and everyone would help their neighbors get work done, then would go home and finish up their own chores. Like books and movies of country kids, my siblings and I had barefoot summers growing up. We played in the rivers in our town, catching frogs, building forts, and sleeping outside. We wore hand me down clothes and had holes in our Church shoes. We worked hard, played hard and for the most part, we did it all together. My family was not well off, but we didn’t know and didn’t care.”
According to Jeremiah, being around bees as a child was normal. They had hives in their back yard and were very comfortable with the bees. “They didn’t bother us and we didn’t bother them. We grew a pretty good size vegetable garden and we understood the importance bees had on our food,” he explains. Jeremiah’s family has the opportunity to experience the same kind of lifestyle he experienced as a child. “What excites me the most about our Miss Bee Haven Apiary is it’s a family business,” he shares. Jeremiah met his wife Danika in College through their shared love of basketball. They have two children, a daughter named Ellie who is 6 years old and their son Wyatt, who is 2 years old.
“Ellie is old enough now to help in little ways. She will help me put labels on jars and pour honey. It makes the process twice as long but her helping is the important part. She also helps me feed the bees
in the spring and right before winter. She wears the suit and helps me fill the sugar water feeders but she still is not comfortable enough to really get in the hives with me. She will watch from a distance but I
think as she gets more comfortable she’ll be more involved. Wyatt on the other hand will walk right up to the hive with no fear, no suite, which is not the best. He hasn’t been stung yet and he says he wants
to pet the bees… He’ll learn soon I’m sure…They love telling people we have bees,” Jeremiah shares.
He continues, “…now we are lucky to have Tami Forbes, my Washington business partner, and her family as part of Miss Bee Haven PNW. Our kids get to do so many things that a lot of kids are missing out on now. They get to be a part of something bigger than themselves...to contribute and learn how to run an honest business. They get to see how so many things are connected, and what really matters...to interact with all types of amazing people; Farmers, small business owners, hobby beekeepers, all kinds of customers...They get to see what hard work is and the benefit of it. This is how kids gain true confidence. And if that’s all this business does, then it is well worth all the work.”
We asked Jeremiah to share more about the delicate process of extracting honey. He shares, “Beekeepers work all winter, spring and summer to prepare for honey harvesting. For some people, Christmas is the best, but beekeepers all know that honey harvest time is the most wonderful time of the year.”
He continues, “We get up early, make sure we have all the needed equipment we will need based on previous hive checks. Clean the work space and head out the door. The goal is to take only excess honey from the hives so you don’t hurt the hive by starving it. It’s amazing the amount of honey a healthy hive can produce. We will use a smoker or a scent called bee robber, which helps move the bees down into the lower boxes before we start pulling frames (which hold the honey comb). We pull the frames out one by one, brushing the remaining bees off the frames and put them in the extra boxes in the truck to take back with us…When we get the boxes back to the honey house, which is what we call the shop where we extract, we stack all the hives in a hot room to keep the honey nice and warm so it flows off the frames better. We organize multiple stations and each person has multiple jobs. You have to keep the boxes full of frames stacked neatly by the people who do the first part of uncapping (or removing) the wax from the frames (leaving the honey and comb). Here is where you get to use something that is called a hot knife to help uncap the frames. Every single wax cell on a honey frame has a wax cap the bees build to keep in and preserve the honey. We remove that with the knife that has been heated up...This makes it easier to remove the capping without damaging the rest of the comb wax.
After each frame is cut we pass that on to the loaders who spot check to make sure every bit of honey is exposed. If not, they simply take a fork/picker tool and scrap open the remaining cells. Then they place the cut frames into a machine called an extractor…Once the frames are in the extractor the frames get spun around really fast using centrifugal force to throw the honey out onto the inner walls of the extractor. As the honey runs down the sides of the walls it gathers at the bottom near an exit that is blocked by a gate…Once the honey is strained in the buckets, it is ready to then be poured into their final bottles. This is a very hot and sticky process, but it is what every beekeeper looks forward to.”
Jeremiah’s Apiary runs sixty hives in Washington state, while his family apiary in Utah runs over one hundred hives, though part of their business is to help run and extract from over 1,200 hives for other beekeepers. He explains, “Most of which are for beekeepers that travel all over the country renting out their bees for pollination. For these guys honey is not the goal. Healthy hives full of bees for pollinating is the goal, and hives with too much honey do not make good pollination hives. So, we help them take care of their bees as they come through, whether that’s for the whole summer or just a month while they wait to head to the next state that needs a major crop pollenated. Then of course we extract the honey for them when needed.”
When asked about goals for their Apiary, Jeremiah replies, “We would like to get up to 100 hives in Washington next year, and I would like to eventually get our Washington apiary to the level my families Utah apiary is. More hives, more connections with other beekeepers and of course a lot more connections with local farms for hive placement.”
Jeremiah and his team take pride in the fact that they are old school beekeepers. “We do things right, which takes a lot longer and although it results in less honey, the honey you get is pure perfection,” he expresses.
“Natural raw honey is an amazing super food that is good for you, for the bees and can last forever. A lot of big store honey is not that good for you. Not all, but some of the big honey producers, I call them producers not beekeepers, will do whatever they can to max their profits which usually means the honey is compromised. Raw natural honey is 18% water and many times much less. This is one reason it never spoils. Some big honey producers are allowed 20% water content. They will add corn syrup and or rice syrup to the honey to dilute it and maximize profits. And since these syrups are not all water they can actually add a lot more before the water content gets to 20%, which means less honey. Another thing some honey producers do is all throughout the year they will feed their bees. You should only feed your hives in the spring to help them get started, and then again in the fall after pulling honey. This is why a lot of
honey you see on big store shelves is so much cheaper than local natural honey. They make more and it’s diluted,” Jeremiah shares.
He continues, “You’ve probably also noticed that there is never crystalized honey in big stores? Besides water content level, there are natural sugars, pollens, proteins and other things that keep the honey from never going bad and that allows it to crystalize. As long as the honey is not heated up higher than 100 degrees all those things are safe... his means they heat the honey way too high so its stays liquid. This kills all the good stuff. Honey that is local has pollens, proteins, vitamins and other good stuff that helps with allergies and one’s overall gut health. Look at the labels next time you are in the store. A lot of the honey that is labeled ‘Local,’ is from other states and some from other countries. That’s not local.”
A known issue that many beekeepers are facing today is hive loss. “Colony collapse syndrome, mites and foul broad are all things that have hurt the smallest of hobbyist to the largest apiaries in the world. There are many contributing factors to these challenges but there are three things everyone can do to help out...
Stop using chemical fertilizers and pesticides in your yards.
Plant local native flowers
Buy local honey.
People that truly love beekeeping and care about everything that comes with it need support. Yes, it’s cheaper to buy the fake stuff in the stores then it is to buy local raw honey from the small guys, but all the beekeepers I know put that money to good use. More hives, more bees and figuring out better ways to keep their hives happy and healthy.” Jeremiah explains.
Inspired by his knowledge of beekeeping and his families shared passion that has been passed down, we asked Jeremiah to share more about what he has learned from personal failure and he shares, “There are so many lessons I have learned from failure. In fact, I believe that’s where most knowledge comes from; effort, failure, re-evaluate, effort, failure, re-evaluate, effort then success and knowledge.” He continues, “When I was probably about twelve working hives with my dad. We were working a yard with about fifteen or twenty hives in it. It was the last yard check of the day and I was losing focus and interest for that day. In between yards we take are gloves off and remove the head/face screen part of our suits to get a breather in the truck. Sometimes on hot days we even unzip the pant legs at the bottom of the suite...Well from the truck to the last yard I put my hood back on, put my gloves on but in my haste, I forgot to zip my pant legs back over my boots. This usually isn’t an issue because when you are checking hives in the middle of the day it’s hot and sunny and the bees are flying around. But this was the last yard of the day and it was getting colder and the sun was going down. We were about half way through the yard and the bees instead of flying the whole time began to fly, land and crawl. They found my exposed pant legs and what seemed like all at once I had bees in my suit on my legs and up under my shirt, and they started stinging. Once you start squishing bees not only does it make the other bees more aggressive it sends out a panic scent from the dead bees to the other bees that basically sends out the ATTACK cry to protect the hive from danger. I took off running through the field slapping and scratching and screaming trying to stop the stinging. I was, what seemed like, forever away before my dad when he noticed I was gone. He come over to see what was going on and he saw me crying. My face starting to get really red, and I told him bees had gotten into my suite. He got me back in the truck and we took my suite and most of my clothes off so we could get the stingers out. Luckily, I am not allergic to bees, but with over seventy stingers needing to be pulled out, my body started to overheat. My ears swelled, my eyes went blood shot and I had hives all over my chest, neck and face. It took a while for my body to relax and calmly fight to get the poison under control. My dad cranked up the AC, and put seat back as far is it would go and watched to make sure I was ok. He had me drink lots of water and I remember being really scared before I finally started to cool down. I don’t remember the exact words but basically when my dad saw I was going to be ok he said, ‘You’ll be alright, I have to go finish going through the rest of the hives, are you going to come?’ So, I put my suite back on.” The lesson learned here was, “Don’t lose focus and rush into making dumb mistakes…but the side lesson I learned was from the last part of that story…a lesson in toughness. Always finish the job.”
While a lot more could surely be written about bee keeping, I will end this story here… According to Ellie, Jeremiah’s daughter, “‘My bees make the best honey.’ I mean what else is there to say.”
You can shop our locally harvest honey here.
A few fun facts about bees!
It requires 6 lbs of nectar for a hive to make a round 9.5 oz of honey.
A queen bee will lay 1500-2000 eggs a day in the summer, which is laying her own body weight in eggs every day.
Pure, raw honey is both antibacterial and antifungal and will never expire!
A bee can produce anywhere from 1/12 teaspoon to half a tablespoon of honey in it’s lifetime.
The Queen Bee’s job is to lay as many eggs as possible. She may live up to 5 years.
Drones Bees cannot sting, feed themselves or gather food. Their only job is to mate with the queen and will only live up to one month.
A hive will generally consist of 20,000-80,000 Worker Bees. She begins as a housekeeper, cleaning and keeping the brood/eggs warm. Then becomes a Nurse Bee where her job is to feed the other bees. She will soon become a Builder, where she is able to produce wax, build comb and make honey. Then she will become a Guard Bee, where she will guard the hive from attack and robbers, and continue to fan the hive.
Her final task will be a Forager where she will spend the rest of her life gathering pollen, nectar, propolis and water for the hive.
Jeremiah's Honey Butter Recipe
"My mom, older brother and sisters are amazing cooks. I unfortunately am not. They will use
honey in most of their baking, most things that require sugar can be replaced with honey...My favorite things to use honey on are good old fashioned peanut butter and honey sandwiches, with a pinch of raw pollen. I will put honey on my pancakes and waffles. I really like using honey on some meat marinades for the grill, and off course...the best honey butter you will ever taste. I could eat that on almost anything," he shares.
1 to 1 honey to fresh raw butter
8 tablespoons of fresh raw butter gently melted down
mixed with 1/2 cup of pure honey
allow the mixture to sit at room temperature or refrigerate to reconstituted
Recipe can be multiplied or divided for more or less.
(Video filmed and edited by Ky Elliott)