Sweet Honey in the Raw

Photo of Todd and his crew by Kate Corrigan
Todd and his crew

Written on

March 01 , 2008

Todd Hardie is shy and quiet, but when asked about his favorite subject–bees–he is eloquent and full of great information. Todd has been keeping bees since he was a young boy. His knowledge about bees, honey, and apitherapy–the age-old tradition of therapy from the beehive–seems boundless. And his passion and commitment to sharing that knowledge with others comes through in his business, Honey Gardens Apiaries.

Started by Todd 30 years ago, Honey Gardens on Rte. 7 in Ferrisburgh has been selling raw honey since its inception. Although it’s not as popular as the “runny” honey found in those plastic bear-shaped containers, thick, raw honey is thought to aid the digestive system, strengthen the immune system, promote overall respiratory health, and help fight seasonal allergies. At first, Todd had more raw honey than he could sell, so he was forced to heat some of it and turn it into the liquid honey that many consumers want. However, he hated ruining the health benefits of his honey by heating, so he was pleased when the demand for raw honey finally caught up with the supply.

Now, Todd sells only raw honey, except when it becomes so crystallized that there is no other way to get the honey out and into jars than to heat it into a more liquid form. Because Todd does not like heating his honey, it must all be packed into jars before it gets too crystallized; the Honey Gardens staff can sometimes be packing honey as much as 20 hours a day in busy periods–not as convenient as spacing the work out over the year, but well worth the effort for the extra flavor and health benefits.

Honey Gardens also makes and sells Elderberry Honey syrup to combat colds and flu and to strengthen the immune system. The syrup includes echinacea and propolis in its pleasantly short list of ingredients. Propolis, in case you don't know, is another product of bees. The name means before (pro) city (polis), and is made by bees using resin from pine and poplar trees to stop up the holes in their hives. This keeps wasps from stealing the honey, and keeps the hive warm. Some propolis may be found on the frames (the part of the beehive that the honey is stored on), but if a beekeeper wants more propolis, he or she can leave a feedbag on the top of the hive, with the cover open. The feedbag will be filled with propolis as the bees close up the opening.

Propolis is an antibiotic, a viricide, and a fungicide. Honey Gardens sells a propolis spray for use on sore throats, inflamed gums and mouth sores, cuts, burns, and stings. They also make a Honey Propolis Salve for dry skin, chapped lips, cuts, bug bites, and stings. The tincture is made, as are most tinctures, by using alcohol to pull the “good stuff” out of the propolis. Todd also uses apple cider vinegar in his propolis spray and his Elderberry Honey syrup, for these reasons: it is medicinal, keeps crystal honey liquid, balances pH, preserves without refrigeration, and is available locally.

Todd pulled some bee pollen out of the freezer for me to look at–little balls of bright orange, yellow, brown, and green. He sprinkles it on his oatmeal every morning. It is an almost perfect food containing enzymes, minerals, vitamins, and lots of energy; marathon runners eat bee pollen. The bee pollen that Todd sells is from Colorado. There are not enough bees and large fields of flowers here to sell northern bee pollen commercially.
What other great bee products am I forgetting? None of your beeswax! (Sorry.) Beeswax mixed with olive oil is my favorite hand treatment. Beeswax candles are beautiful, smell wonderful, and burn longer than petroleum or soy candles. Todd tells me they also make negative ions, so it’s like being around a waterfall or in the shower–the ions purify the air. Bees make wax using their honey–eight pounds of honey for one pound of wax–and use it to build the honeycombs they store their honey in.

Most of these products are part of traditional Eastern European apitherapy–therapy from the beehive. But there is at least one more apitherapy treatment I should mention. Though many would be surprised to hear it, even bee stings are therapeutic. Todd has a small figure of the human body in his office above the Honey Gardens shop. It shows the body’s meridian lines with hundreds of Chinese characters marking the spots where stings can help heal a variety of aches and ailments, including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain, and more.

Honey Gardens also gives away packets of clover seed with each purchase, in the hopes that people will plant clover and other plants that are beneficial to bees. The monocultures on many of our nation's farms–nothing but one type of nectar for miles–is comparable to a one-food diet for a human. Without the variety of nourishing plants that strengthen them, bees in America have become too weak to fight off mites and disease. I myself have plans to start growing elderberries and other plants that will provide bees with a better assortment of food for their immune systems. There is a list of beneficial plants you can grow, along with more great information on bees and apitherapy, at www.honeygardens.com.

Every summer Honey Gardens sells elderberry plants to the community. They also have beekeeping classes every May, mead-making classes, and instruction on how to make old fashioned drinks and herbal tinctures. Honey Gardens also teams up with Shelburne Vineyards to brew their elderberry honey wine, “Melissa,” as well as blueberry and black currant honey wines, or meads. Todd has kindly shared one of their mead recipes (see sidebar). It takes only 30 minutes to make and just six weeks to ferment! These drinks could actually be a form of apitherapy themselves.

If you’re like me, you may be seriously considering getting your own hives. I asked Todd the best way to start. “Help your local beekeeper,” he said. “There is lots of work to do and they can help you learn how to do it.” Also, the Vermont Beekeeper Association has great free classes all year (see www.vtbeekeepers.org). And check out Middlebury author Ross Conrad's book Natural Beekeeping, an organic approach to raising bees.

Lastly, you can now see Todd in action on the big screen. A filmmaker in Charlotte, Jan Cannon, has made a film about Todd and other beekeepers. The first showing is planned for Friday, April 25 at
7 p.m. at the Ilsley Library Meeting Room on Main Street in Middlebury. Check honeygardens.com or future issues of Local Banquet for upcoming screenings and locations. The film will also be available for purchase at honeygardens.com.

Photo of Todd and his crew by Kate Corrigan

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Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.

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