From honeycomb and creamed honey to beeswax candles and sweet confections, all manner of bee byproducts were on display Saturday during the Maryland State Beekeepers Association’s 113th annual Fall Meeting and its 84th Honey Show in Parole.
Monica Schmitt loves all things bees, and is spreading that love through an organization she founded in 2019 which serves veterans and first responders in Maryland, including Anne Arundel. Mission Beelieve offers a beginner bee-keeping course, mentors and continuing education. It is therapeutic.
Schmitt said one popular line among participants is “hands in the hive, keep me alive.”
“What we’re trying to do is help veterans and first-responders redirect their negative thoughts through beekeeping,” she said.
Schmitt entered honey harvested by Mission Beelieve beekeepers into the competition Saturday in multiple categories. It won first in the water white/extra light honey category. Schmitt said the color of the honey depends on the forage used by the bees. Buckwheat produces dark honey, while the flowers of the black locust tree produce very light-colored honey, first thing in the spring.
She said to get the most color-less honey, she is constantly watching the hive, where she collects honey from in the early spring.
Anne Arundel Beekeeping Association member Allan Storm said the taste of honey is subjective, and some people prefer the taste of certain forage flowers over others, so when judging they do not assess based on taste. Storm has a tattoo of a beehive on his arm.
“Each of the floral sources have a different taste,” he said.
The honey is judged on the quality of packaging, the appearance of the honey in the jar and the fill of the jar. It is tasted to see if it has fermented or has been heated. When honeycomb is judged, either independently or cut into a chunk and put in a jar of honey, Storm said they are looking for even, straight cuts, even sizes of honeycomb and that every cell is capped with beeswax.
The show is also a chance to learn from other beekeepers, Storm said. Saturday he learned a new labeling technique from Ryan Smith, President of the Anne Arundel Beekeeping Association. Smith used wood veneer and a laser cutter to make a wooden label.
“That’s all the work of the bees,” Smith said.
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Smith said the Anne Arundel club has more than 170 active members. Beekeeping has gained some popularity during the coronavirus pandemic, as people searched for hobbies to complete at home.
Smith said he got into beekeeping at first because he was having trouble finding local honey. He has stuck with it because it helps him relax.
“Bees sense your behavior and if you’re scared, they sense it. So you kind of have to relax a little bit and calm yourself down as you’re working in there,” Smith said.
He likes watching the hives, which seem chaotic until you adjust to the pace and organization of a hive.
“They know exactly where they’re going, what they’re doing. Bees are dancing, saying where food is. Others are cleaning out cells. Others are putting pollen away,” Smith said.
Smith said to help bees in Maryland, people should consider planting flowers that bloom late in the year, as most of the bees forage blooms in spring. He said dandelions are an important food source at the start of spring.
“They are often bees first food after winter,” Smith said.