by Madeleine Peck Wagner
Without a degree in entomology, or even a deep and abiding interest in things that fly, crawl, and cross-pollinate, it might be reckless to say that bees are the hardest working insects in the bug kingdom– but they do seem to accomplish a lot.
Most readers probably know how important bees are to agriculture, forestry, and green things in general. In fact up to 30% of consumable plants are pollinated by bees, many of them adapted specifically for insect pollination.
Beekeeping then, can be viewed as both as a service to the environment, and, a sweet endeavor, rewarded in kind. Jason Grimes and Marlene Gandoza, arguably a very urban and urbane couple (Grimes is one of the owners of TSI), have started keeping honeybees near their Riverside home. Their efforts have been richly rewarded, and so the couple has launched 5 Points Honey.
“Beekeeping started out as a way for us to slow down,” explains Grimes who said the club often forces he and Gandoza to keep strange hours, so they end up rushing around. “[But] with bees,” mentions Gandoza “we have to consciously take our time; they are highly intelligent and sensitive to atmosphere.”
Grimes himself is a third generation beekeeper whose father has captured wild swarms, and who offers steady encouragement to the duo, though they admit that taming wild bees is still far away on the horizon. Currently, they have two hives (a typical hive holds about 40,000 bees), one of Three Banded Italians, and the other, Carniolans. “We chose these types because they are higher honey producers and very gentle.”
“Higher honey producers,” might be an understatement. Gandoza said their first harvest took eight hours, and there was literally “honey in the air…we could taste the sweetness as we breathed.” Then they were up to their ears in the stuff. More than they could eat, and as they began to give away the honey word got out that there was a neighborhood honey producer. Talking about their product, Grimes uses the term ‘neighborhood’ deliberately. “Something is considered ‘local,’ if it is trucked within a day’s drive. By that reckoning, Miami is local,” he says.
He and Gandoza then go on to talk about Europe’s model of a village where one can walk from one end to the other in fifteen minutes, “and everything you need is there.” They say there’s “a kind of simple, old world neighborly tradition of producing things…we value a system of friends who hand craft and make things, food, art, etc…” Clearly, their honey fits this model.
The term used for harvesting honey is called “robbing,” as in to “rob the hive,” and Gandoza explains that she and Grimes have spoken with the state apiarist about how to rob the hive without depleting the honey for the bees. It’s especially important in a winter like this one that has gone on so long. “Our first concern is to keep the hives healthy.”
Grimes then brings up colony collapse disorder—the phenomenon where worker bees from a hive abruptly disappear. Because of this, he says beekeeping is a growing movement, especially in Brooklyn, NYC, where it is against the law. Incidentally, 5 Points Honey is completely legal, “we’re registered, we’re farmers, and we answer to Charles Bronson,” he quips.
However, Gandoza is careful to point out that as valuable as small apiaries are for local environments: “if people want to do it to support the species, or for other reasons, they need to make sure they’ve got the commitment; time, educations and care, because it’s a terrible thing to lose a hive.”
She goes on to talk about her own experiences harvesting honey. “Normally you use your bare hands to loosen the honeycomb, that way you can really feel what is going on, and be careful of the bees.” However, one day she was wearing gloves, and because they dulled her senses, she squished a couple of bees that got caught in the honey. “I was devastated…it felt so bad.” The look on her face as she remembers the tiny deaths is like that of a gardener who has lost a carefully nurtured plant due to carelessness. It reinforces the respect and care she and Grimes bring to their beekeeping.
Grimes and Gandoza are looking forward to a May harvest, but they are careful to not to make any promises of quantity. Currently their honey is served with some of Restaurant Orsay’s dishes, and soon they hope to have small quantities available at Underbelly.
Oh, and the taste? Mellow and slightly floral with a lingering, but not overwhelming sweetness.
To keep up with their bees-ness, follow them on Facebook. Search: Five Points Honey.
The Sweet Life: 5 POINTS HONEY
by Madeleine Peck Wagner