The sound of bees humming is audible all around at the Straight from the Hive bee farm where a number of hives are literally buzzing with activity.
Richard Lercari, the beekeeper who runs Straight from the Hive, is very much a bee person. He has a bee hat and wears bee socks and speaks about his interest in bees.
“I’m totally fascinated by bees,” Lercari said. “I can spend all day just watching the entrance to the hive.”
Lercari used smoke in order to make the bees think about abandoning the hive, which makes it easier to check the combs. The potential of a thunderstorm that day, he said, also makes them more likely to be placid because they can sense weather.
He said the bees won’t sting unless they feel threatened by somebody taking a swipe at one of them.
Dressed in his heavy bee suit on a hot morning, Tuesday, June 8, Lercari is checking each individual hive component for the queen. He goes through each individual panel until he finds her and points out the white dot on the bee marking her out. The panels are covered with bees and there are close to a hundred in that hive alone.
But Lercari said that bees will safely coexist with him until he has to start extracting honeycombs.
“They are not pets and they have only one thing in mind: survival of the colony,” Lercari said.
He says that he checks the hives frequently to see if the queen is laying eggs and how much of the brood, the male bees, have hatched.
“You’re supposed to talk to the bees. You’re supposed to confide in them about important parts of your life,” Lercari said, saying that doing so was a beekeeping tradition.
Lercari said he got started beekeeping because he got interested in using honeycomb for cooking.
“It wasn’t that big of a stretch to go from cooking food to making honeycomb,” Lercari said.
If you happened to drive along Route 28 past the Susquehanna SPCA this afternoon, you may have noticed what looked like an invasion of moon men. Actually, it was the 4H Homesteaders of Hartwick Seminary, intent on retrieving a swarm of bees that invaded the walls of the animal shelter, then recreating the hive at the nearby home of Leatherstocking Bee Co., whose owners, Tammy Van Buren-Duke and Luke Denbleyker, also advise the 4H club, many of whose members are part of Tammy and Luke’s blended family. Getting ready for the operation are, top photo, from left, Tanner Griffin, 13, Noah Denbleyker, 10, Tiffany Pagillo, 16, and Hannah Denbleyker, 13. Inset, Luke examines the hive for the queen bee; if the queen could be found and put in the portable hive, the rest of the swarm would follow her. 4-Hers and their advisers were all impressed by the way bees work together. “They all coordinate to help the hive,” Tammy said. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
For Otsego County beekeepers like John McCoy, fall is the sweetest time of the year – the honey harvest.
McCoy, owner of McCoy’s Pure Raw Honey, overlooking Oneonta from Route 28, is in the middle of what the industry calls “extraction” – he collects over 2,000 frames from his nine beekeeping locations throughout Otsego County and culls the sweet nectar he built his business on.
“This year, we’ve got a lot of goldenrod honey, mixed with a little of the knotwood,” he said as he placed the dripping frames in the extractor. Bees were buzzing everywhere. “It turns it dark, but it’s delicious honey.”
After the dripping frames are collected from the hives, McCoy puts them first into a machine designed to “uncap” the honey comb. “Bees seal each cell with wax,” he said. “This scrapes off all the wax.”
The wax is collected in a vat underneath, which is spun for up to two hours to separate out any additional honey. The wax is then sent to a plant where it is cleaned, processed and pressed into blocks, which McCoy sells to sealant, cosmetic and candle makers.
Now uncapped, the frames – dripping honey freely – are put into an extractor. “It’s like a Ferris Wheel,” said McCoy. “The extractor spins, and the honey comes flying out.”
Twenty-one frames can fit into the extractor at one time, with each extraction yielding up to 60 pounds of honey. The honey runs down into a sump tank, then is pumped through a filter into a larger bulk tank. From there, 55 gallon drums are filled and the honey is bottled and sold.
“When I was in junior high, I did a science fair project on bees,” he said. “I took that project to the Otsego County Fair and won $10, then went down to Montgomery Ward and bought my first hive.”
A printer by trade, he has turned an avocation into a business since he retired more than a decade ago.
In August, McCoy put up the summer honey, which comes from wildflowers, strawberries, raspberries and sweet clover. “You can’t tell the bees to go to just one flower,” he said. “They go wherever they like.”
But he admits that this year’s summer yield wasn’t as strong. “You can have the best, healthiest bees, but if the flowers aren’t producing, there’s nothing you can do. Mother Nature is in charge of all that.”
He lost a lot of bees in the particularly cold winter, and is concerned about the effect Genetically Modified seeds will have on future yields. “Monsanto has a lot of control over this,” he said. “And it’s not good for the bees – or for us.”
But the fall honey harvest has brought bounty. “We average about 10 tons of honey total.” he said.