How sweet it is…
It all started with a 4-H project that William “Bill” Hummer did as a kid. Next thing you know – and after graduating in 1996 with a degree from LSU in entomology and pest management — Hummer and his dad became fulltime beekeepers and honey producers.
While his dad has passed away, the son has kept the family business buzzing so to speak. Hummer, who is an expert in the life of bees, maintains 700 honeybee colonies. In a ragtag collection of low-slung cinder block buildings on the outskirts of Bossier City, Louisiana, he and his coworkers process 250 drums of local Louisiana honey that sell in area grocery and warehouse stores and online.
“You should eat a little of your local honey every day,” Hummer says, holding a big plastic pipe filled with unfiltered honey. The honey is pumped from one tank to the next, passing through three increasingly fine filters to remove debris. “Because honey contains your area’s pollens, it can help with allergies.”
Hummer grabs a wooden frame filled with honeycomb and dripping honey. He sets the frame into a machine that neatly cuts off the wax tops of the honeycomb chambers allowing the honey to drain out. As he works, dozens of honeybees, many that appear to be in their last moments of life, crawl or fly about lazily. When one lands on his neck and stings him, he barely flinches. “It just feels like a little pinch,” he says, smiling. “If they climb on your leg, just stomp your foot like a horse to knock them off.”
Those of us wearing sandals nervously watch the bees on the sticky floor. Hummer tells us that any female bee that’s fed royal jelly during the first 36 hours of her life will become a queen capable of reproducing. The workers in a hive are all female. The males, in contrast, do nothing except breed with the queen. Lest you think male bees have it all good, thing again. Once their breeding duties are over, they die. And any males left in the hive in the fall are simply kicked out and left to parish.
When a hive becomes too crowded, bees form new colonies. The old queen leaves with a bunch of the bees to find new accommodations. Within a day, a new queen emerges in the old, now less-crowded hive, and the cycle continues.
Sometimes Hummer adds new queens to his European bee stock. A new queen, depending on her lineage, can cost between $20-200. In a commercial hive, a queen usually lives a couple of years; in the wild 7-14 years. When Hummer gets new queens, he keeps them isolated and evaluates them, watching for how carefully each female tends her brood. The best queens are then introduced to hives.
Hummer shows us a tub filled with dead honeybees and pieces of what looks like brownish paper. It’s honeybee propils, something the bees use for caulk. “This has anti-microbial properties,” he explains, picking up a piece of the sticky debris and rolling it between his fingers. “In some countries, it’s used in folk medicines and it sells for as much as $25 a pound.”
In the United States, honey propils sell for $6/pound and is often used in naturopathic medicines. Historically, the material has been used by string instrument makers. Hummer sells some of his propils to a local violin maker who uses it to varnish his instruments to make them sound like Stradivarius violins.
Twice a year, they “pull” the honey. The early spring (March to mid-June) the honey comes from largely clover and willow and is light in both taste and color and very sweet. Honey harvested in the second pull (mid-June to September) comes from later-blooming plants and is darker and more robust flavored. To achieve a honey that has a consistent taste and color, Hummer & Sons blends honey from different harvests.
They sell liquid, cream, and comb honey. The cream honey is crystallized honey that’s heated to a low temperature and has liquid honey added to it. “While it doesn’t have any cream in it, it tastes creamy,” says Hummer. “That’s because it melts instantly as it hits your tongue.”
Hummer & Son is looking to expand their web-based sales, including honey mustard and honey barbeque sauce. What started for this honeyman as a kid project has become a passion. “I get to go outside every day,” he says grinning. “I don’t have to stay in an office and push paper. Instead, I go outside and play with the bees. And that’s really fun.” —BH
Hummer & Son honey is available online.
Hummer & Son Honey
287 Sligo Rd.
Bosier, LA 71112