They have structured societies. They dance to give directions. Sometimes the workers will revolt and supersede the queen. Other times the queen will choose her own heir. As winter approaches, they kill off those who don't serve a necessary purpose. These are bees. Within these complex societies, liquid gold is made, sweet honey that not only delights our taste buds, but also embodies vast medicinal qualities.
This liquid gold, and the intricate societies from which it is made, has become a thriving business for Tecumseh-based A & B Apiary. Not only has this bee business, which keeps around 50 hives on 35 acres, created a flavorful line of honey, they also offer pollination services to local orchards and bee sales to other beekeepers. "We pride ourselves on knowing what is going on in our hives," said Jessica Alcock who owns
A & B Apiary with her husband Craig. "We keep daily notes and use a flag system to indicate what is going on in our hives, as well as a system to track our queens." Jessica keeps a family tree of each queen and monitors how well each queen does. "I want to breed the best queens possible for new beekeepers," she said.
For the Alcocks, a commitment to excellence means not only understanding the intricacies of keeping healthy hives, but it also means taking measures to ensure that the beneficial properties of honey are not destroyed during processing. Raw honey is known to be a source of antioxidants, it has antibacterial and antifungal qualities, it is believed to boost immunity and ease seasonal allergies. Yet these benefits can be destroyed in commercial processing. "Filtering honey is a pain," said Craig. "It gets cold and sticky. So big manufacturers have big machines that push the honey through filters. When you push it through a filter like that, it causes friction and the honey heats up. That heat means that all the good stuff gets cooked out of the honey."
The Alcocks use a spinning machine that uses centrifugal force to pull their honey out of the frames. They do filter their honey twice to remove chunks if wax, but their filtering process does not create heat. "Other than removing it from the frames and filtering it, our honey," explained Jessica, "is truly raw."
One downfall that consumers sometimes find with raw honey is that it crystalizes. Consumers are often drawn to the always smooth mass-produced processed honey. However, Jessica explained that this perceived downfall of crystallization is actually a marker that the honey is real. "The FDA says you can have a certain percentage of corn syrup within the honey so it doesn't crystalize," she said. "We never do that. So if our honey gets cold, it is going to crystalize. That's just a natural process of honey. There is a level of misconception that has developed around this. Sure it is convenient to have honey that never crystalizes, but we should question why. The reason why honey doesn't crystalize is that it's not real honey." She went on to explain that crystalized honey hasn't gone bad. If honey crystalizes, she suggests heating a cup of water in the microwave for four minutes and then placing the honey container in the hot water bath. This simple step will de-crystalize the honey. "Just don't put the honey in the microwave," she warns, "because remember, that kind of heat will kill all the great qualities of the honey."
One of those great qualities includes allergy relief. Many of their customers swear by A & B honey as a means to ease their seasonal allergies. "If people live within a 50-mile radius of us and are allergic to ragweed or goldenrod or springtime flowering trees, a small amount of that pollen travels in our honey along with the nectar that is made from each individual flower. So what is believed is that if you eat a teaspoon of local, raw honey everyday you are getting a small amount of what you are allergic to. Your body creates antibodies at such a low pace you don't really feel the effects, but over time it builds and people swear they experience allergy relief."
The key, however, to this relief is local honey. To experience relief, an allergy sufferer should search for honey from bees within a 50-mile radius of their home to ensure that the honey is made from the allergy-sufferers actual environment. However, even if you purchase your honey from a local beekeeper, the Alcocks caution that many Michigan beekeepers will migrate their bees to avoid winter. "It is really hard to keep bees alive in Michigan winter," said Jessica. "Fluctuations in moisture and the snow and the wind and the deep freeze makes it challenging. So some Michigan beekeepers will migrate their bees to warmer places during the winter. If they migrate their bees to the California almond fields or peaches in Georgia, you are not getting that 50-mile radius of wildflowers and things you are allergic to. It's actually not truly local." While it takes extra care and preparation to keep bees throughout a Michigan winter, local is important to the Alcocks and they never migrate their bees.
The A & B Honey line is creative and growing. They offer everything from plain honey to pumpkin spice to cinnamon. Their newest habanero honey is currently used on the menu at Twelve Restaurant in Clinton. "The habanero is really sweet then heat," said Jessica. "It's more of a savory honey. It's great on BBQ pork loin or chicken wings," she said. "I think bacon strips dipped in it would be amazing."
A & B Honey line is available for purchase at Kapnick Orchards, DNA Sales and The Boulevard Market in Tecumseh. It is also used on the table and available for purchase at Tuckey's Big Boy in Tecumseh, as well as available to enjoy in your coffee or tea at Musgrove Coffee Company.
A & B Apiary
Matthews Hwy, Tecumseh
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