As 2020 has underscored, keeping the supply chain flowing with man-made goods hasn’t been easy. When it comes to nature’s supply chain, bees demonstrated reliability. Afterall, human use of honey goes back 8,000 years. The wonder of bees’ work is found in keeping trees, flowers and other plants healthy. Bees play a vital part in every aspect of the ecosystem.
Beekeeper and Pure Texas Honey owner Chris Kohnke has a great appreciation for what bees do and thinks you should too or else everything from almonds, vanilla, oranges and carrots would disappear from the food chain. In fact, more than 90 percent of the leading global crop types are visited by bees. “No bees, no plant-based food,” said Kohnke.
While Kohnke’s focus is on bringing honey to the market, he believes that understanding the process of how honey is made gives people a better understanding of the importance and complexity of a bees’ world. Kohnke does caution that honey harvesting is not only fascinating; it is work.
Bees enjoy sweeteners too
Making honey all starts when bees forage in Spring when the flowers bloom. Kohnke says that is variable based on weather. “It is usually about three months,” said Kohnke. “Some operators feed their bees all year long with sugar syrup. Bees do not care where the sugar comes from. You can put a Coke can next to a bee box and they will make honey from it.” They are not fed when they are making honey.
Bees will seek out true “wildflower” to make honey from whatever blooms that they like. “Once they find a flower nectar source they are happy with, they will make honey from it until they find something else,” said Kohnke. “They spit nectar back and forth into each other from their honey gut and then deposit it into a cell.”
Honey-making is a team effort
He explains that the cell is made from wax excreted from a gland in their abdomen. There is a team of ladies who all have specific roles. Some build the wax and then the “field bees” dump what they have collected into the wax cell. “Then another group of ladies fans it until it is super-saturated,” described Kohnke. “Another group of girls then fans out and caps the cells, so they have honey for the winter.”
For his part, Kohnke manipulates the process to get them to make more than they need. “Myself and all the beekeepers I work with are self-sustaining beekeepers,” said Kohnke. “We leave honey on them, so they have their own food. We do feed a supplement in winter to ensure they are healthy and happy in the Spring (so they can make plenty of real honey).”
A bees’ life is to be busy
Observing all this action is entertaining for Kohnke who finds fun in watching his bees work so hard. “They actually work themselves to death,” said Kohnke. The average lifetime for a worker bee is six to eight weeks when they are producing. “My favorite part is tasting the honey as I extract. Each frame of honey may be different depending on where the girls sourced their nectar. Sometimes I just watch them fly.”
Deep roots in producing honey
As his employer Blockbuster Video was dissolving, Kohnke needed to find another form of work. He began paying attention to the work of his father-in-law, Rodney Walker, a retired etymologist from the agriculture extension service of Texas A&M. “Rodney is a relatively serious beekeeper, he keeps a large number of bees,” said Kohnke. “Rodney had always wanted to sell his honey on a bigger scale. I stepped in, and it took off. He also is in contact with many of the beekeepers that operate in Texas and introduced me so I could sell their honey as well.”
Kohnke finds himself among fourth generation Texas beekeepers focused on producing varietal honeys from 1000+ colonies in the Texas Post Oak Savannah, the Blackland Prairie, and the Hill Country. “In an effort to supply our clientele with more options, we also source premium varietal honeys throughout the U.S., Mexico and abroad,” said Kohnke.
A good move
“Pure Texas Honey and Chris have really been well received at the market,” said John Carey, farmers market manager. “The market’s offering would not be the same without him. Chris is responsible for a lot of repeat customers year-round.”
Indeed, you can say that those new and familiar with the market are stuck on his honey.