By Joy Neighbors
September is National Honey Bee Month, the perfect time for a family trip to Hunter’s Honey Farm in Martinsville.
Tracy Hunter manages this fourth-generation family beekeeping business and oversees more than 500 hives throughout the Hoosier State.
The business began more than a century ago when Tracy’s grandfather, Gilbert Perigo, started his own hives to pollinate his father’s fruit orchard. Soon Gilbert was handling 800 hives along with teaching. After retiring in 1951, Gilbert went to work as the Chief Apiary Inspector for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. His daughter Marian began with a dozen hives and Tracy, her son, learned beekeeping at a young age by helping both of the. When Tracy graduated high school he took over the family apiaries. His children are now grown and involved in the business when they are available but not on a full time basis, so today, Tracy along with beekeepers Sarah Shively and Tony Mincey manage around 500 hives. According to Tracy, the Beekeepers of Indiana have around 2,000 members so there are probably another 2,000 individuals keeping bees on a hobby bases throughout the state.
Making honey is a complicated business for those bees. On average a worker bee will produce 1/12 to 1/16 of a teaspoon of honey during its lifetime. When you consider that each bee flies more than 55,000 miles and taps around 2,000,000 flowers in order to produce that seemingly tiny amount, you can appreciate how many bees it takes to collect 10 pounds of nectar that it takes to make one pound of honey.
The condition of the hives and health of the queen and worker bees are very important to having a successful business. In order to swarm (or populate) a hive, Tracy explains that you must shake the bees into the empty hive. Once in, replace the top and wait until after dark, when the bees have become comfortable and taken up residence, to move it to a location with very little foot traffic.
Beekeeping also has its own language with terms like propolis, which is wax-like substance bees use to patch and sanitize their hives. The nurse bees create Royal Jelly solely for the Queen. Bee pollen is the pollen that comes from the flowers that the bees collect. It is also known as “Nature’s Most Perfect Food.”
The honey process is kept as natural as possible at Hunter’s Honey Farm, which means their honey is never pressure filtered or flash heated.
Honey comes in several forms including liquid, comb, cut-comb, solid, which includes granulated or crystallized, and chunk. The flavor of the honey comes from the type of flowers visited by the bees. Darker honey will have a more robust flavor than the lighter milder tasting honey.
If you’re interested in seeing what beekeeping entails, take a tour and discover the secret lives of bees, and the hierarchy of the hives. There are three tours available and all are given by a beekeeper who can answer your questions. One tour includes a visit to the honey house, another takes you up-close to an active hive, and the third is a hay wagon tour around the entire farm. There’s also an observation hive in the gift shop where you can see all the action. Beginning beekeeping classes and starter kits are available at Hunter’s.
Although honey is their primary focus, Hunter’s also produces a variety of hive-related products that use pollen, beeswax and propolis. Looking for a special gift or want to expand your knowledge about honey? Check out Hunter’s Honey of the Month Club where each month a different flavor of varietal honey is shipped to your door. You can also visit the gift shop online for lip balm, candles, honey soap and beeswax facial creams. And don’t forget the honey-infused food like honey mustard, honey barbecue sauce, honey teriyaki marinade, and that delicious honey caramel corn. You can even purchase a square of the honeycomb.
Although the annual Hunter’s Honey Farm Fall Harvest Celebration scheduled for September has been canceled this year due to COVID-19, plans are still in place for the Christmas tree sale, which starts the day after Thanksgiving. The farm has 65 acres of hardwood timber and grows around 4,000 Christmas trees. You can select from fresh-cut Douglas and frasier firs or choose and cut white or Scotch pine. And to sweeten the memories, a warm cup of honey apple cider will be waiting after you’ve selected your tree.
With autumn upon us, Hunter’s Honey Farm provides plenty of delightful cool-weather activities to keep your family engaged, and all can be enjoyed at a safe, social distance. So grab the grandchildren and hit the road for a sweet adventure to Hunter’s Honey Farm.
Hunter’s Honey Farm
3440 Hancock Ridge Road
Tours are available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.