Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Alfred bee man

As a follow up to my last post, I decided to interview the one and only beekeeper in the Village of Alfred- Mr. Thomas McDowell.
During his college years, Mr. McDowell studied biology with a specific focus in mammalian behavioral ecology. This is what led him to discover his interest in bees. He loved watching and studying the way animals interact, specifically the behavioral codes of bees.
When Mr. McDowell moved to Alfred, around 1985, he had the perfect opportunity to take his fascination with bees and make it a physical proposition. Soon after moving into the house that he still lives in, he noticed a strange happening going on in late July. On the outside of his home, a swarm of bees had taken to nesting. He talked to the local beekeeper at the time and the beekeeper said there was no way they would make it through the winter if Mr. McDowell decided to capture the swarm now, in early August. He decided to give it a shot anyway. Tom built a Styrofoam “hive” around the swarm onto the side of the house. Miraculously the hive survived the winter- and the rest is history.
As I had recently found out Alfred was a pretty busy bee hive. Bees were a crucial part of Alfred State’s research and the reason Honey Pot Candy was founded. It is surprising that not more beekeepers are found in the Village.
Starting out Mr. McDowell only had one hive, realizing soon enough that it was just too risky not to have more than one- he expanded. It is very common that a hive will not survive the winter, especially in a climate like Alfred. In 1986 or 87’ he started with one hive, slowly building his way up to the 12 that he has today. This year, all 12 have survived the winter, probably because it has not been too brutal. All his hives consist of Carolinian Queen Bees, which he receives from a company in Georgia. Mr. McDowell prefers this species because of their calm, non-aggressive behavior. In the beginning of his practice, every year Tom would receive a whole hive of bees from Georgia but now just prefers to purchase the queens and split his old hive to create a new one.
The average amount of honey Mr. Mc Dowell will receive depends on how good the season is. The amount can range from 30 -100lbs of honey from individual hives. On average about 60- 70lbs of honey is gathered from each hive during a normal season. The way to receive the honey from the hives is a rather tricky process. There are two ways to take the honey; it depends on what type of honey you want. One can just take the entire honeycomb- honey and wax, or one can extract the honey from the honeycombs. The processes involve an entire suit of protective clothing and special equipment to keep the bees away. One has to scare the bees away from the hive, hoping that they will return after they have been pushed away from their home. While they are gone, it leaves one with enough time to go into each hive and remove the frames. One would take a hot knife and cut the honeycombs away from the frame leaving the empty frames and putting them back into the hive. The other way to just get pure honey with no honeycomb is the slice the caps off the honeycombs and put the entire frame in a barrel. The barrel will than spin and gravity will extract the honey from the combs and force it toward the outside of the barrel, dripping down into a collecting agent.
Something I found very interesting while looking at different types of honey was the fact that some of them can be artificially flavored with clover, orange, blueberry or naturally flavored. I did not quite understand how the natural flavoring happened so I asked Mr. McDowell to elaborate. It is possible to take a hive of bees to a specific location where there is a grove of particular flowers or trees. If there is a large quantity of a specific flower in one place, the bee will only collect pollen from that one species- resulting in a natural flavoring of the honey. Therefore, if a honey has a naturally orange or clover flavoring it is because the bees only took pollen from those particular plants.
Mr. McDowell sends his honey out to friends and family, sells it at local stores like Kinfolk and the Quest Farm produce stand in Almond, and of course keeps some for him. As stated, Mr. McDowell, “Loves honey, specifically honey combs (eating the wax and all). There is nothing better than eating an entire honeycomb on top of toast or an English muffin.”

1 comment:

  1. How did you hear about Mr. McDowell or meet him? Did you know him before? Had you seen the hives before you met him?

    Also, where is his farm?