Why We Live on Honey Hill

For most of the almost six decades our family has lived on the north edge of Sidney, I have called our place Honey Hill. I wrote about the origins of the name in a 1966 column, the year Sidney’s Boy Scouts got interested in bees.

Their Scoutmaster was my husband Robert who took the troop on a field trip to visit beekeeper Ben Hall on his farm near Farragut. The boys watched as Mr. Hall opened a hive and pointed out the queen, drones, and workers.

He explained that there are about 45,000 bees in a hive. If the hive gets too crowded, the bees raise a new queen and part of the brood swarms with her. They might land in a tree branch or under the eaves of a house in search of a spot to begin a new hive.

The queen lays as many as 1,500 eggs a day. Each goes into a cell in the wax honeycomb. When they hatch as larvae, the nurse bees feed them. Once fully developed, they take their places to help the hive continue. They are guard bees, wax makers, housekeepers, and honey gatherers. In the summer, a worker bee lives about six weeks and makes about half a teaspoon of honey.

“My bees produce most of their honey from clover blossoms,” Mr. Hall told the boys. He harvested honey from the hives in the spring, but after early July left them alone to build up a honey supply to last the bees through the coming winter.

In his honey shed, Mr. Hall explained how he took frames of honey from the hives. With a hot knife he cut the caps off the cells made of beeswax, then put the frames in an extractor to spin out the honey. He returned the empty frames to the hives so the bees could fill them with honey again.

Our son Craig announced that he wanted to raise bees. “If I have enough hives, I can sell the honey and earn money for college,” he said. He was eleven years old at the time. The project went so far as Craig and his father acquiring an empty hive, but it sat in our backyard unused.

Then a neighbor called. She said a swarm of bees had collected on a branch of the plum tree next to her porch. Robert asked his son wanted to get the bees for his hive. Craig could not have been more excited.

They knew from Mr. Hall’s demonstrations just what to do. They laid newspapers on the ground and placed their empty hive directly beneath the bees. They were not afraid because they knew that swarming bees rarely sting. After sawing the branch from the tree they carefully lowered the swarm onto the newspapers.

Now it was the bees’ turn to know what to do. A few crawled into the narrow doorway at the base of the hive, soon to be followed by a steady stream as the rest of the bees dutifully tramped into their new home. Craig spotted drones and workers but did not see the queen. The swarm was so calm that he knew the queen had to be in there somewhere.

After giving the bees a few hours to settle into their new confines, Craig and Robert lifted the hive into the pickup and drove it to a spot out by our garden shaded by an apple tree. In the coming days the bees flew out to gather pollen from blossoms in a nearby clover field. Craig left all the honey in the hive for the new community.

The next summer Craig was joined by his brothers to care for the hive. They added hives until there were six in all. It was a wonderful and educational hobby for all of them. They reached the point where they could harvest enough honey for our needs and to share with family and neighbors. They even filled jars and sold some of that golden treasure.

Craig never reached his goal of paying for college by keeping bees, but the experiences he and his brothers had were priceless. In honor of all of that, we were happy to name our home Honey Hill.

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Here’s a tasty vegetable dish that relies on the sweet taste of honey. I published this recipe along with the story above in 1966.

Honey Beets

Sliced, cooked beets

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

½ cup vinegar

5 whole cloves

¾ cup honey

1 Tablespoon butter

Combine cornstarch and water, stirring until dissolved. Mix in the honey. Add cloves. Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat, stirring, until thick and clear (about 5 minutes). Add butter. Pour over beets. Let stand 15 or 20 minutes. Reheat if necessary just before serving. This can be made with canned beets, well drained, as well as with fresh home-cooked beets.

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