Our Guide to Midwest Honey Finds
The Sacred Lives of Bees
Bees are nature's miracle workers. Buzzing from bloom to bloom, they pollinate plants (including 80 percent of our crops), guaranteeing food for themselves, us and just about every other creature on the planet, if you go deep on that whole circle of life thing. But honeybees have been under threat for 30 years, due to parasites, pesticides, habitat loss and a mysterious phenomenon called colony collapse disorder. That makes the thousands of professional and amateur beekeepers around the Midwest superheroes. And you too. Buying local honey, shopping organic, cultivating a bee-friendly yard—every little bit helps.
Nineteenth-century apiarist (translation: beekeeper) Lorenzo Langstroth invented the stacked-box hives most popular in the U.S. (top left). The design allows beekeepers like Val Jorgensen of Jorgensen Farms in Westerville, Ohio, to check on the bees and harvest honey with minimal disturbance.
Smoke calms honeybees, masking their alarm pheromone, so Jorgensen can safely pry loose the lid (top right).
Bees construct wax comb in wooden frames, then fill the cells with honey, made by passing nectar from bee to bee, then fanning it with their wings. They make more than they need, but a responsible apiarist always leaves honey to sustain the colony (lower left).
"I love honey fresh out of the hive," Jorgensen says. "Straight up by the chunk or spoonful." (lower right) To eat comb, pop a bit in your mouth and chew to release the honey. You can spit out the wax or chew it like gum until it disappears.
To make flavored honey for drizzling on pancakes and toast or sweetening tea and salad dressing, just put a flavor agent— say, dried chilies, pink or black peppercorns, rosemary, sage, lavender, vanilla pods, cinnamon sticks, or whole cardamom or cloves—in an empty jar. Top with honey, poking with a chopstick to incorporate. Let sit three to 14 days in a cool, dry place. When you like the flavor, strain the honey. Fine print: Under the right conditions, moisture can breed bacteria. If using fresh herbs or citrus, the safest bet is to simmer the honey with the sprigs or zest. Let cool, taste and repeat if you want more flavor, then strain into a jar.
We tasted 'em. We loved 'em.
Hickory Wood Smoked Honey, Nebraska For a hit of campfire aroma on biscuits, cornbread, roasted veggies or chicken. $18. fatheadhoney.com
Spicy Honey, Kansas Packs a tingle, not a burn. Use anywhere, but especially on an egg sandwich or pizza. $24. firebeehoney.com
Sea Salted Honey, Ohio First thought? Tastes like butterscotch. Slather on croissants, waffles or vanilla gelato. $14. brightonwoolandhoney.com
Honey Sticks, Missouri Go full Pixy Stix and slurp like candy, in flavors like Blackberry, Lemon Tart and Cinnamon Fireball. $8 for 16. messnerbeefarm.com
Goods: Bee Mine
Show your pollinator pride (or just reap the benefits of them) with cute accessories and functional products.
1 Patches and Stickers From a Michigan artist, for laptops, backpacks and more. Patches, $5; stickers, two for $6. bridgettejones.net
2 Rose Candles Chemical-free and hand-poured on an Indiana farm. From $5. eaglecreekapiary.com
3 T-Shirts In sizes for even the wee bees in your colony, from South Dakota. From $26. naturesupplyco.com
4 Tea Towel Almost too pretty to dirty and stitched in a northern Michigan shop. $18. poppythings.com
5 Lawn Sign If you have flowers and skip chemicals, shout it out loud. $28. wirtheimdesignstudio.etsy.com
6, 9 Bar Soaps and Bath Bombs Made from farmstead honey and beeswax in western Iowa. Bombs from $1, soaps from $6. bountifulblossoms beecompany.com
7 Wood Conditioner Rub this Michigan balm into butcher block cutting boards to polish and protect. $8. thegreatlakesbee company.com
8 Beeswax Wraps Cover dishes or wrap food in reusable cloths made in Illinois. From $10. nothingfancysupply.com
10 Hand Sanitizer Blended in Missouri and perfumed with honey, lavender and tea tree oil. $13. messnerbeefarm.com
Encourage bees and other pollinators, like butterflies and hummingbirds, by growing diverse flowers, fruits and vegetables that will bloom spring through fall. Include Midwest natives like black-eyed Susans, swamp milkweed, and coneflowers, and plant in clumps—bees want a hearty buffet, not a lonely hors d'oeuvre. Avoid pesticides and herbicides. And resist swatting. Because who wants to come back to a party where the host does that?
Beestra Bee Nursery, Missouri Hang this ingenious bee house near your garden in early spring. Native bees will crawl into the tubes to lay eggs. Similar products made of bamboo require annual cleaning to fend off parasites, but the Beestra is made of paper and all-weather cardboard (cleverly folded from the box it ships in). Just recycle and replace each year. $20. beefoster.com