Do you know that honeybees travel about 55,000 miles and gather nectar from approximately two million blossoms just to make one pound of honey?
Honeybees have been around for some 30 million years, and are one of the most important pollinators in Oregon agriculture, increasing crop yields and producing better produce, according to reports from beekeepers.
“Honey is such an amazing food,” says Jeremy Mitchell, who owns Flying Bee Ranch in Salem. “The most notable thing is it never goes bad.
Honey has been tried and tested over thousands of years. Researchers have found honey in Egyptian tombs, thousands of years old. One of my bucket list items is to taste honey made from the nectar of plants that existed thousands of years ago.”
Honey also has medicinal benefits, and is eaten and applied topically for a variety of health issues, he says.
“We still have customers who use honey for the treatment of ulcers and allergies, and for wound care,” says Mitchell, an Oregon State University graduate who left his city of Salem job in March to become a full-time beekeeper. “Honey is a great natural Band-Aid as it is naturally anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. The low moisture content and high acidity of honey prevents bacteria and other organisms from growing in it.”
He had one customer who was burned over 80 percent of his body and applied honey regularly to his skin to protect it from infection.
Mitchell’s passion for beekeeping started when he enrolled in an entomology course at OSU and his professor recommended the Master Beekeeper’s program though OSU Extension.
Excited about bees, he searched an online classifieds site and purchased two beehives and a variety of beekeeping equipment.
“Everything I needed to get started,” he says. “The gentleman selling the beekeeping equipment was a former professor of mine in Amity who cut me a good deal.”
A year later, Mitchell started a company, Beeline Honey. He caught 10 swarms of bees the first summer and 10 more the following summer.
“That resulted in more honey than I knew what to do with,” he says. “Beekeeping can be an expensive hobby, and I was at a point where I needed to reduce the number of colonies or figure out how to afford to keep them.”
With his girlfriend Delsey Maus, and grandfather Ray Porter, Mitchell put together enough honey jars to take to the first Saturday Market in Aumsville. The trio netted about 20 sales that Saturday in 2014, and that was the start of Beeline Honey.
With the passing of his great uncle, Wayne Porter, who owned Flying Bee Ranch with his wife Kathy, Mitchell purchased the ranch and became a beekeeper full time.
“I have loved every minute of it,” he says. “I work far more hours, have no more pension, and don’t get to go home just because it’s 5 o’clock, but the rewards of working for myself, being a beekeeper full time, and interacting with our customers is far more rewarding than any 8 to 5 job I’ve ever had.”
Beekeeping, Mitchell says, is “tough work.”
“Sometimes I work seven days a week and I’m up at 2 or 3 in the morning regularly during the summer time, moving bees around Marion and Polk counties,” he explains. “The bees are best moved in the early morning when it is dark and the air is cool.”
With the help of his family and girlfriend, Mitchell produces 15 varieties of honey annually, depending on the crops he is able to pollinate in a year.
“Of the honeys we have in stock, my favorite is pumpkin,” he says. “I’m one of ‘those people.’ I like pumpkin pie, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin spice cereal, pumpkin spice beer, pumpkin cookies and ice cream — the list goes on and on.”
Mitchell adds, “Don’t ‘bee’ fooled. The pumpkin honey has no pumpkin spice in it.”
In fact, all of Flying Bee’s honeys are naturally flavored and are not adulterated in any way. The flavor of the honey comes from the nectar of the plant, he says.
“Our most exotic honey isn’t actually a honey but rather a nectar or sap from the agave plant,” he says. “Our agave syrup is a natural product that is less viscous than honey, but used just the same. It’s sweeter than some honey and is a great substitute for sugar.”
Mitchell says Flying Bee’s honey gets lots of positive feedback, including “best honey ever.”
Flying Bee’s honey is sold every Saturday from April to October at the Salem Saturday Market, open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; at the farm, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, at 5180 Lardon Road NE, Salem; and online at flyingbee-ranch.net, which lists all the honey varieties.
“A new self-checkout feature is set to launch by the end of the year,” Mitchell says of online purchasing. “And look for our new farm store opening this winter.”
Keizer residents Jean and Claude Hunter also sell honey, which they purchase from local beekeepers. The couple has owned and ran Hanna’s Honey for 30 years, operating out of a licensed facility at their home.
“Hanna’s Honey has its roots in our love for honey, and our discovery of the unique varieties of Oregon honey that are available,” Jean Hunter says.
Hunter’s “aha” moment to sell honey came while visiting a commercial beekeeper that produced more honey than he could sell himself.
“We were out at his facility one time when the honey was being extracted, and its deliciousness was way beyond the highly processed honey that could generally be bought in stores,” she says. “At that time, a mutual friend of ours and the beekeeper started to sell three varieties of the honey and named it Hanna’s Honey. After several months, he moved on and we took over. Right from the start, we have wanted to bring local Oregon honey to the consumers.”
Hanna’s Honey’s best seller is its honey sticks, “honey candy in a straw,” Hunter says.
“Honey is nature’s sweet,” she adds. “Fireweed and buckwheat are two of our exotic products.”
Hanna’s Honey is sold by a number of local retailers, at produce stands, and via mail order.