Restaurant Notes extra: Bluffton beekeeper Dean Gerber has one honey of a hobby

Gerber demonstrates with a hot knife how he shears off wax from the honeycomb, revealing the honey inside the frame. He leaves enough honey for the honeybees to survive during the winter months. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
Dean Gerber of Bluffton raises honeybees for a hobby. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
The United States has 3,600 known bee species. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
Honeybees head out to find nectar to feed the hive and also return with some pollen. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)
Dean Gerber shows the wax-capped honeycombs in frames. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)

As autumn’s chill settles in it’s nice to have a hot cup of tea, and to sweeten it with a big of honey.

It reminded us of our trip last month to Dean Gerber’s farm in Bluffton. He raises bees not as a pollination business but strictly as a hobby. We spent a little time on his farm with other Indiana Master Naturalists during our annual conference in October. During the visit we saw him extract honey from the comb, ate some treats made by his wife with honey and tasted the differences in honey that he’s collected from around the world.

Gerber provided a handout from the University of Minnesota Bee Lab. We’ve heard of bumblebees, honeybees, mason bees and sweat bees, but not cuckoo, masked or leafcutter bees. There are more than 3,600 known U.S. bee species.

And while we should give thanks to bumblebees, it’s the honeybees who do most of the pollinating in the insect world. Without them, we wouldn’t have a lot of foods. California almond production is dependent on honeybees, so thousands of hives are shipped to the state.

“If they don’t have enough honeybees, they won’t have a crop,” Gerber said.

Foods that require pollinators, not just honeybees but others including flies, moths and hummingbirds, are strawberry plants, tree fruits and blackberry bushes, according to the Purdue Extension.

Pollinating is a “side business” for the honeybee, as Gerber described it. As honeybees collect nectar, they’re picking up pollen and carrying it to other plants as well as back to the hive.

Honeybees collect three substances:

*Nectar: They use it to feed workers in the hive. They store it in combs, fanning it with their wings to evaporate the water content to about 17 percent, turning it into honey.

*Pollen: They bring it back to the hive, and it is “used as baby food” to raise the brood.

*Tree sap: They make it into propolis, a resin, that they use to glue their hive together.

“It takes 10 bees their entire lifetime to make 1 teaspoon of honey,” Gerber said.

To collect 1 pound of honey they’d have to visit 2 million flowers, he said.

Showing the hive frames filled with wax-capped honey, Gerber took a hot knife and shaved off a layer of wax. The frames were then put into an extractor, where they were spun around and Gerber drew flowing honey out through a tap.

Honey provided the right sweetness for pumpkin cookies, cinnamon cookies and oatmeal raisin coconut cookies served to guests and didn’t leave a cloying sweetness to the pink lemonade like sugar does.

Gerber has honey from Zambia, Israel, other countries and different states. Each has a different flavor, taking on elements from the plant’s nectar that the honeybees collected.

He doesn’t take all the honey from his bees. He leaves some that they’ll eat during the cold months.

WHAT’S ALL THE BUZZ?

See information about the Northeastern Indiana Beekeepers Association (Fort Wayne/ Allen Co. and surrounding counties) at www.neiba.info.

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