How to help bees and celebrate National Honey Month
By Laurel Miller
Photographs by The Velox Standard
Konrad Bouffard wants you to embrace the bees. “If you make an effort to understand bees,” says the apiarist and founder of Round Rock Honey, “you’ll appreciate them. I encourage people to spend time observing them by sitting in front of a flowering plant and counting them. Notice how they land, work, gather and interact with other bees, see how much work they put into sustaining that plant. When people are fearful of bees, there’s a clear disconnect with the reality that bees are all around us, just doing their thing. They’re not out there to hurt you.”
There’s never a bad time to support bees and small-scale beekeepers like Bouffard, but September happens to be National Honey Month. Established by the National Honey Board 30 years ago, the campaign draws awareness to the role bees play in domestic agriculture: along with other pollinators like butterflies, beetles and birds, bees pollinate three-quarters of our crops, including livestock fodder. Since Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) was first documented in 2006, it’s become critical to educate the public about the threats facing wild and domesticated honeybee populations including loss of habitat, climate change, pesticide use, disease and pathogens.
Bouffard started as a hobbyist beekeeper 18 years ago; today he and his wife Elizabeth also have an apiary in Rowlett, outside of Dallas. In addition to beekeeping and teaching classes, Bouffard keeps busy harvesting, blending and selling his raw wildflower honey sourced from his bee yards in Round Rock, Lakeway, Bee Cave, Dripping Springs and Rowlett. The yards are surrounded by different plant varietals (bees harvest within a three-mile radius, on average), which then go into each regional blend.
“’Wildflower honey’” is a term that’s applied when a specific varietal makes up less than 15-percent of the blend,” he says. “This time of year, the honey coming from our Round Rock hives is made up of things like sunflower, buttonbush, bindweed, Texas persimmon, bee balm, mesquite and Mexican plum. There’s a science to blending honey varietals; we don’t just throw them all together.”
This year Bouffard will be able to get an extra harvest in October or November, thanks to the late spring rains. Despite the surplus – which will provide more than enough to nourish his bees over the winter when they’re not foraging – Bouffard shares the concerns voiced by small beekeepers worldwide. “Bees – and every other insect –suffer the consequences of our world’s industrialized food system. Unless we all want to be living off gruel, we need to support the work of beekeepers and celebrate the existence of bees.”
According to Bouffard, you can help bolster the bee population by making a few small changes. In addition to purchasing raw local honey from small apiaries, he suggests:
Using honey in place of artificial sweeteners or sugar.
Replace your candles with beeswax versions, ideally, from a local apiary.
Rinsing soda cans or other sugary refuse before disposal. “Secondary or tertiary factors can have bigger consequences for bees; high fructose corn syrup is a death pill for them,” he says.
Plant native beneficial plants in your garden, pots or window boxes; talk to your local beekeeper or county beekeeping association for recommendations.
If you want to keep bees at home, “The proper training is essential and can definitely help the food system and bee population,” says Bouffard. “But if you’re not trained correctly, it can be detrimental.” A great resource is the Texas Beekeepers Association and Round Rock Honey’s own beekeeping course.
Celebrate National Honey Month by throwing a tasting party. Bouffard recommends sampling honey blind and trying to guess what the varietals are by engaging your senses.
Purchase raw local honeys, preferably from the farmers market.
Put each honey in a small dish and line them up; use teaspoons or wooden stir sticks for tasting. If you’re not doing a blind tasting, arrange the samples from mildest to strongest flavor profiles (Not sure? A general rule of thumb is to go by color; darker honeys tend to have richer, more complex flavors ranging from caramelly to medicinal. You can also check out the National Honey Board’s cheat sheet.
Sip still or sparkling water between tastes to cleanse your palate.