3 questions with Randall York of Cloister Honey
A beehive isn't a typical gift, but that's what Randall York received four years ago as a Christmas present from Joanne Young. An interest in, and understanding of, the winged insects, coupled with a love for the sweet natural fluid they produce, led the two to acquire more hives — they now have a total of 40 — for their own honey-making biz, Cloister Honey (http://cloisterhoney.myshopify.com). Current products include traditional wildflower and tupelo honey, whipped cinnamon, lemon and chocolate (in addition to seasonal pumpkin spice and chocolate candy cane flavors) honey, and infused vanilla and arbol pepper honey. York maintains marketing and works on the bee front while Young is the creative brains behind the growing company, whose products can be found at Atherton Mill and Market, Green With Envy, Reids Fine Foods, Dean and Deluca (regional and national) and other locations and restaurants.
Creative Loafing: When is the harvesting season?
Randall York: Summer is the primary harvest for this part of the nation. The bees stay year round in the hive, regardless of the temperature. But their primary time for gathering nectar and pollen and putting up the stores is from early April to mid-fall, and the vast majority of their honey production is in the April, May and June time frame.
What happens to the bees in the winter?
They just try to keep the queen warm and try to stay alive. They form a cluster and the colder it gets, the tighter the group of bees gets. When it gets to be 15 degrees, the center of that hive is still 85-90 degrees. On days when it gets to be above 50 degrees, they all come out to go to the bathroom and to pull out the dead bees, because every day a couple hundred bees die and others are being born. It's an incredible cycle. They keep things very clean.
How often do you get stung?
Some days I can open 20 hives and not get stung. And some days, especially now when they're kind of cranky — when it's cold and there's not a lot of food out here — I can get stung 15 times in 10 minutes, easily. You just learn to take the stingers out quick and you learn to treat the bees with respect. They really cause you to focus. You learn not to go banging around the hive, but to handle the hive very gently and to work around the bees. Typically, I don't wear gloves because I can get a better feel for the frame and move things around easier without them. It's a big confidence booster when you start sticking your fingers into 60,000 bees and don't get stung.