As you walk by the McClaughry Farms honey booth at the Tahoe City farmers’ market, a sandwich board states: “16 oz. of honey requires 1,152 bees to travel 112,000 miles and visit 4.5 million flowers.” That’s a lot of bees working hard to provide pure, unfiltered and delicious local honey.
Patty Spiller has been selling Gary McClaughry’s honey at farmers’ markets in Tahoe City, Truckee and Auburn for a few years now after a mutual friend told her that there was no good honey in Tahoe. The friend suggested Spiller should “go talk to Gary.” So she met him at his bee farm in Grass Valley and soon took over selling his honey at Tahoe markets. The honey she provides ranges from clover to coriander varieties in all (bear) shapes and sizes.
“The hard work these bees go into in collecting honey
is pretty phenomenal. Local honey is pure.
There’s a balance there that’s so special.”
As a beekeeper herself, who has lived in Alpine Meadows since 1971, Spiller has much respect for the business of bees. She keeps a few hives in Kingvale where the workers have plenty of food to forage in the blooming local wildflowers and native shrubs. At most farmers’ markets she brings 20 bottles of the special Tahoe Blue honey made from the Kingvale bees, but it sells out quickly.
“I nicknamed it Wild Forest honey. It’s sweet, thick and amber-colored, almost chewable,” she says.
Spiller is relatively new to beekeeping; she has only been doing it for six years. She used to be a massage therapist in Tahoe until one day she visited the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center near San Francisco and decided to learn about beekeeping. Spiller took a series of classes in a five-month timeframe and then started going to Nevada County Beekeepers Association meetings.
About five years ago, she got a mentor and started working his hives until she felt comfortable managing her own. So she bought her first 3-pound box of bees and the queen from A to Z Supply in Grass Valley, a place with all of the beekeeping supplies you could ever need. There is even a rentable honey shed where beekeepers can use the centrifuge to spin honey.
Spiller now manages her own hives under the name Harmony Honey Co. and spends her time in the Sierra at farmers’ markets selling McClaughry Farms honey. “It’s nice to be self employed,” she says.
Bees are usually sold in mid-April and May, but then sales are cut off as bees get busy foraging. As we come into summer and the flowers start to blossom, bees begin their work of collecting pollen and protecting the queen.
Bees will only go about 2 miles to forage, so if the hives are close to blackberry bushes, then you can pull a more berry-tasting honey. Spiller says that blackberry honey is easier to get because there is only one harvest of it versus the manzanita or star thistle variety. The bees are busy doing their one job throughout the summer: pollinating more than 90 different fruits and plants all over Northern California and producing honey through mid-August.
Spiller keeps her bees in Grass Valley in the winter, where the temperatures are moderate and the bees can live off of their own pollen and honey in the hives. They won’t go out in below 55-degree Fahrenheit temperatures. “We’re only bandits of bees part of the year on pollen,” she says.
Of the few beekeepers I’ve met, it’s obvious that there is a true respect and deep appreciation for the bees. The agricultural industry depends on honey bees to pollinate up to $15 billion worth of crops per year. And bees are fragile: they are susceptible to disease, starvation in drought years and a plethora of other problems. Bees are probably an integral part of the circle of life more than we realize.
When I ask what the hardest part of beekeeping is, she quickly replies, “The loss (of bees). Losing a colony of bees is the hardest. You want them all to live, but they just don’t.”
Finally, I ask, what people should know about buying local honey. “It tastes good. The hard work these bees go into in collecting honey is pretty phenomenal. Local honey is pure. There’s a balance there that’s so special,” she says.
Spiller can be found selling McClaughry Farms honey at Tahoe City’s Thursday morning farmers’ market, Truckee Thursdays evening farmers’ market and Saturday mornings in Auburn.
By Kayla Anderson
For more information, contact Harmony Honey Co. at (530) 581-2942 or [email protected]