The Cost of Honey

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On facebook a woman named Lynn posted this after I posted about this year’s bountiful honey harvest:

As an avid consumer of local honey (in living in various parts of the country) I’ve been shocked at some of the prices I have seen in Chicago for plain raw wildflower honey, not specialty varietals. 10 bucks a lb and more. i’m used to paying half that or less in Colorado and upstate NY. What is considerd a fair price here? I’ve spun honey with a small producer and know what kind of labor is involved. How do you price yours? This is not meant to be combative at all. I’ve just been really shocked. I’d very much like to support your business, help the bees, and sweeten my coffee. Thanks.

I’ve been thinking about how to answer this question all year. I know that I work hard, my intern Abby works hard, and my bees work EVEN HARDER than both of us, but I know people will balk at the cost of my honey, which will be around $15 a pound (for comparison, I just bought a little over a pound of blueberry blossom honey for $5 in Michigan.)

I really, strongly, whole-heartedly value the work involved in making this project happen. I want people to feel the same way. I want them to know my story and know what their money is going to.

Here’s me starting to answer that question:

To begin, I just want to describe what specialty honeys are (like “orange blossom honey.”) Specialty honeys usually come from bees that are transported by truck to pollinate monoculture crops of things like oranges, apples, blueberries, or fields of crops (clover, buckwheat). In monocultures there isn’t anything else in bloom around the crop, so the bees feed from only that plant. “Plain” wildflower honey in Chicago comes from bees that forage whatever they like. I think it’s better for the bees than single-source varieties because they’re getting a wider variety of food in their diet which benefits the health of the colony. Chicago honey is: Linden trees! White sweet clover! Dutch clover! Honey locust! Buckeye! Catalpa! Kentucky Coffee Tree! Black Locust! Mint! Salvia! Thistle! Bindweed! Sunflower! Dandelions! Every other flower you see in the garden… I’ve seen my honey bees on a passion-fruit flower!!! These are just a small number of the plants that go into the honey made here in Chicago. Personally, I think this is waaay more interesting than single-source honey.

For most of the year, Bike a Bee is just me, one girl, on a bicycle 2 days out of the week visiting and caring for my 15 hives located all over the city. Currently I have an intern, Abby, and she is the greatest. The cost of honey isn’t just taking it from the comb and bottling it — that’s not hard at all, it’s the fun part! — its the hundreds of bee-hours and (wo)man-hours spent making it happen. It’s borrowing a car to drive to Indiana to pick up packages of bees in spring. It’s working during the hottest hours on the hottest days to check on the bees (hot, sunny weather is the BEST for opening up a hive). it’s buying a queen when a hive is queenless. It’s timing everything juuuust right so I can add supers to help my hives grow HUGE during the peak nectar flows. It’s paying close attention to trees and flowers to know what’s in bloom and what my bees are eating. It’s carrying 50lb honey supers up 3 flights of stairs to my apartment. It’s staying up at night and worrying about my hives in the dead of winter during a cold snap. It’s buying meals and beer for my volunteers and friends whose help has been invaluable. It’s unexpectedly spending an afternoon capturing a swarm. It’s getting stung, it’s sweat dripping off my nose, it’s hurting my arms and dropping stuff on my feet! It’s falling asleep at sundown after a long hot day. It’s losing 7 of my 10 hives over the winter because of the heatwave/drought combo last summer. It’s heartbreak, it’s picking myself back up and doing it all over again.

Not to mention the work done by the tens of thousands of bees inside of a beehive. One single worker bee will produce only 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her 3-week lifespan. She needs to visit about 400 flowers per foraging flight to fill up her nectar crop with nectar. Once the nectar is regurgitated and partially digested by several worker bees in the hive and placed into comb, the colony monitors the humidity and temperature of the hive closely to evaporate the water in the nectar, bringing the water content from 93% to just around 30%, to prevent fermenting. Once it’s at that perfect ratio, they cap it over with beeswax. Oh! and honeybees need to eat a lot of honey to produce wax to build honeycomb… 5 drops of honey = 1 drop of wax. 

Growing food is hard. Tending livestock is hard. Honey that is cheaper but still of the same quality is usually that way because the beekeepers have MANY many hives, lots of laborers/employees, electric-powered honey extractors, and have probably been doing this for years and years. Bike a Bee is not about the profit, and I don’t care if I personally make money off of this fun project, but I’d love to have money to continue doing this and not have to spent my own personal income on it. If I can sell honey and then use that money to buy a new hive for a community garden who wants one next year, then I will be very happy. Heck, if I could pay an intern I’d be overjoyed.

Part of supporting local food projects is paying a fair price for the product being sold. Fair is arbitrary, of course, so I hope this will help you understand why I price my honey this way.

July 16th 2013 · 9 notes
There are just SO MANY great bicycle-based businesses and projects sprouting up all over Chicago. It’s got me so excited, and of course I want to be friends with ALL of them. Here’s the ones that come to mind that I think everyone should know about. SUPPORT THEM!
Recycle-o-Bike
There are ways to recycle electronics in Chicago, but you have to drop your stuff off AND do it at very specific times. Even for obsessive recyclers like me, it can be hard. This new project will pick up your electronic waste and recycle it for you! Follow them on Twitter
The Brew Hub
Iced coffee and iced tea on a cargo bike. What more do you need to know? Sara is making the rounds in low-caffeinated zones like Metra stops. I love this idea and had been thinking about how someone should do this for a while. Glad to see its happening! Yeah! I cant wait to run into her. Tweet @ChiBrewHub.
Chicago Cargo
Brandon of Chicago Cargo and I have been friends for a couple of years now. He’s the guy who I point to when anyone talks to me about cargo bikes. He sells Bullitt cargo bikes, fixes ‘em, mods ‘em, and is very generous in his knowledge. He’s helping out Recycle-o-bike, and he’s helped me two years in a row with bee stuff. Contact him if your business wants to transport goods by bike, too. He is the best.
ROADIECAB
This shiny new fleet of rickshaws is unlike any other pedicab you’ve ever seen or ridden in. They’re organized and neighborhood specific. They’re super involved in the Logan Square community. You can find them at any Logan street event, like at the farmer’s market or one of any street festivals, including one they themselves planned just recently. Rob, the founder, has helped and offered help to Bike a Bee on several occasions, and I’ve used his services when my body has been unable to ride a bike. If you see these guys, HAIL ‘EM! Or tweet at them. Easy as that!
Urban Street Window Works
Scott and his business partner look really badass on their site but they amongst all the other Nicest People In The World who ride bikes in Chicago. Urban Street Window Works cleans windows, repairs windows and installs anti-graffiti film. They carry ladders and crazy extending squeegees, all by cargo bike (Bullitts, to be specific). I hired them to clean the windows at my old office. Their pricing is similar to what you’d pay other businesses who do it by truck, so why not hire these awesome guys? If you’re a business with a storefront, it’s really a no-brainer.
<3
Thanks for reading this post. If you see any of these bikes and their riders around town, say hi and support them. Little bike businesses like all of us put it all on the line—our bodies and financial livelihood—mostly because we love what we do and love it even more when we do it by bicycle. 

There are just SO MANY great bicycle-based businesses and projects sprouting up all over Chicago. It’s got me so excited, and of course I want to be friends with ALL of them. Here’s the ones that come to mind that I think everyone should know about. SUPPORT THEM!

Recycle-o-Bike

There are ways to recycle electronics in Chicago, but you have to drop your stuff off AND do it at very specific times. Even for obsessive recyclers like me, it can be hard. This new project will pick up your electronic waste and recycle it for you! Follow them on Twitter

The Brew Hub

Iced coffee and iced tea on a cargo bike. What more do you need to know? Sara is making the rounds in low-caffeinated zones like Metra stops. I love this idea and had been thinking about how someone should do this for a while. Glad to see its happening! Yeah! I cant wait to run into her. Tweet @ChiBrewHub.

Chicago Cargo

Brandon of Chicago Cargo and I have been friends for a couple of years now. He’s the guy who I point to when anyone talks to me about cargo bikes. He sells Bullitt cargo bikes, fixes ‘em, mods ‘em, and is very generous in his knowledge. He’s helping out Recycle-o-bike, and he’s helped me two years in a row with bee stuff. Contact him if your business wants to transport goods by bike, too. He is the best.

ROADIECAB

This shiny new fleet of rickshaws is unlike any other pedicab you’ve ever seen or ridden in. They’re organized and neighborhood specific. They’re super involved in the Logan Square community. You can find them at any Logan street event, like at the farmer’s market or one of any street festivals, including one they themselves planned just recently. Rob, the founder, has helped and offered help to Bike a Bee on several occasions, and I’ve used his services when my body has been unable to ride a bike. If you see these guys, HAIL ‘EM! Or tweet at them. Easy as that!

Urban Street Window Works

Scott and his business partner look really badass on their site but they amongst all the other Nicest People In The World who ride bikes in Chicago. Urban Street Window Works cleans windows, repairs windows and installs anti-graffiti film. They carry ladders and crazy extending squeegees, all by cargo bike (Bullitts, to be specific). I hired them to clean the windows at my old office. Their pricing is similar to what you’d pay other businesses who do it by truck, so why not hire these awesome guys? If you’re a business with a storefront, it’s really a no-brainer.

<3

Thanks for reading this post. If you see any of these bikes and their riders around town, say hi and support them. Little bike businesses like all of us put it all on the line—our bodies and financial livelihood—mostly because we love what we do and love it even more when we do it by bicycle. 

June 25th 2013
The nighthawk is one of the most fascinating urban birds. Back when I lived out in the burbs and my siblings and I would go stay at our dads 5th floor condo he used to point out to us this weird bird that flew around at dusk. He had some goofy name for it, like night sparrow or something, but we would watch it make this circuit around the neighborhood. It did this for hours. 
Soon enough my dad figured out that it was a nighthawk. We&#8217;d hear it come back year after year, maybe it&#8217;s still claiming that territory.
Now that I live in the city, I hear nighthawks everywhere. In my head I have a fantasy that each Chicago neighborhood has it&#8217;s own nighthawk. I really grew attached to the Logan Square nighthawk and tried to go outside to hear it every night, using it like a little anchor to keep my anxieties and worries in check&#8230; consistent things, ya know.
Anyway so even for a while there I registered &#8220;@logansq_nighthawk&#8221; on twitter and would tweet &#8220;byrrrt! byrrrt!!!!&#8221; whenever I heard its weird, buzzing call as the sun was setting. I&#8217;d also tweet stuff like &#8220;playing with the chimney swifts around the monument tonight!&#8221; Eventually I needed the email for something else and cancelled the account. No one ever knew. It never had any followers though.
So this evening as I walked back from Brent&#8217;s street I stopped to watch one flying over Central Park and Fullerton-ish. Soon another one came in and they started swoopin&#8217; at eachother. The sky was light enough for me to see how they flew&#8230; big wings lilting like monarch butterflies, I had no idea they were so graceful.
Listen here to get to know it&#8217;s sound, maybe you&#8217;ll hear one in your neighborhood: 

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Nighthawk/sounds
(photo by http://www.doegirl.com/portfolio/drawings.html)

The nighthawk is one of the most fascinating urban birds. Back when I lived out in the burbs and my siblings and I would go stay at our dads 5th floor condo he used to point out to us this weird bird that flew around at dusk. He had some goofy name for it, like night sparrow or something, but we would watch it make this circuit around the neighborhood. It did this for hours. 

Soon enough my dad figured out that it was a nighthawk. We’d hear it come back year after year, maybe it’s still claiming that territory.

Now that I live in the city, I hear nighthawks everywhere. In my head I have a fantasy that each Chicago neighborhood has it’s own nighthawk. I really grew attached to the Logan Square nighthawk and tried to go outside to hear it every night, using it like a little anchor to keep my anxieties and worries in check… consistent things, ya know.

Anyway so even for a while there I registered “@logansq_nighthawk” on twitter and would tweet “byrrrt! byrrrt!!!!” whenever I heard its weird, buzzing call as the sun was setting. I’d also tweet stuff like “playing with the chimney swifts around the monument tonight!” Eventually I needed the email for something else and cancelled the account. No one ever knew. It never had any followers though.

So this evening as I walked back from Brent’s street I stopped to watch one flying over Central Park and Fullerton-ish. Soon another one came in and they started swoopin’ at eachother. The sky was light enough for me to see how they flew… big wings lilting like monarch butterflies, I had no idea they were so graceful.

Listen here to get to know it’s sound, maybe you’ll hear one in your neighborhood: 

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Nighthawk/sounds

(photo by http://www.doegirl.com/portfolio/drawings.html)

June 15th 2013

Honeycomb Art

This artist works with honeybees to create these interesting sculptures. 

October 5th 2012 · via butterstinker
Yesterday after beekeeping I scraped clean a deep super that was ready to be retired. The comb was old and papery, but I was able to salvage some beeswax and useful propolis. I melted down the wax and was able to get about 4oz of wax out of the hot slumgum. This wax isn&#8217;t quality enough to use in candles or in body products, but it&#8217;s still good.
Today I ended up selling the chunks to Tati Cycles, a pretty amazing bike shop in Wicker Park that values quality and the history of well-made bicycles. I have confidence it&#8217;ll be put to good use!
http://instagram.com/p/PR7jJjJJVJ/

Yesterday after beekeeping I scraped clean a deep super that was ready to be retired. The comb was old and papery, but I was able to salvage some beeswax and useful propolis. I melted down the wax and was able to get about 4oz of wax out of the hot slumgum. This wax isn’t quality enough to use in candles or in body products, but it’s still good.


Today I ended up selling the chunks to Tati Cycles, a pretty amazing bike shop in Wicker Park that values quality and the history of well-made bicycles. I have confidence it’ll be put to good use!

http://instagram.com/p/PR7jJjJJVJ/

September 7th 2012 · 1 note