The sweet buzz of bees in spring, as they flit around harvesting nectar from blooming flowers, conjures a vision of pastoral fields. The meeting place of man and wilderness; in many ways an apiary is just that. A small piece of the sublime, cared for by a dedicated keeper, which yields golden ambrosia.
The smell of raw honey is unique and deeply complex. It’s made from the essence of the wilds within roughly three miles of the hive. A “Bouquet of Berkshire County” as Joe Moncecchi of Giuseppe’s Wild Mountain Honey calls the local fields and flowers around his home in Windsor, MA.
But beekeeping has gotten difficult in the last decade. In a huge shift from the days when Joe learned how to take care of these fascinating insects, as many as 30-50% of hives don’t make it through the winter. Almost 40 years ago, when Joe was 19, he got his first bees. And that was three years after the equipment needed fell into his lap. He used those three years to study up, mostly from a book so dense that he would struggle to use it even now. Soon enough he was attending local bee meetings, at the time made up primarily of folks in their 70’s up into their 90’s
These days more people are getting into the hobby. Two hives seems to be the understood basic setup, but a dedicated home setup could still yield hundreds of pounds of honey. Joe claims the equipment most folks have could handle a volume upwards of 2,000 lbs. But of course this takes a lot of time and management. The hives need to be checked, maintained, treated, and protected. Every setup, no matter the size, needs a decent electric fence to keep bears from having their way with the bee’s precious product.
In all the time he’s been beekeeping the bears have only gotten in twice, but the most recent time cost Joe over $5k in damages. It’s no small danger, and bear populations have risen in the last 20 years. But that’s not the worst threat, and it’s not why hives die off every winter. Varroa mites make up the most common cause for hive failure, carrying numerous diseases as the parasite itself weakens the strength of the hive.
The introduction of mites can spell disaster for any hive, and because of this, all the boxes need to be checked regularly. Usually this means looking at the brood for signs, and if a hive is too unstable it will need to be euthanized before they spread through the yard. Sometimes the queen can be rescued, and set up with a new nucleus hive to help with the next season.
A nucleus hive, or “nuc,” is the building block for a full hive. Usually it’s got enough space for 2-5 frames, while a full hive will sport up to 10 frames. Joe even tried to farm nucs and found it was just less sustainable than harvesting honey. But back then he could still trust his hives to survive much longer than they do now.
Joe needs roughly 100 hives to support the 7,500 lbs of honey he produces annually, but now that he needs to buy nucs each season (even after growing his own) the business aspects of selling honey have become even more important. This year he had to buy 40 hives to keep his numbers up.
But even with everything operating at peak efficiency he’s found he’s behind on his honey storage.
Usually he likes to have several thousand pounds of honey in reserve as a buffer, before harvesting season fills everything back up, as it is he may need to harvest early to maintain his backstock. Harvesting early doesn’t mean a decrease in volume for the year, but it does mean more work. Pulling frames of honey laden comb, spinning the honey out of each cell, and then replacing them to be filled once more. There is no small amount of labor involved, but lucky he does have some better-than-hobbyist level equipment to help.
In fact he’s been actively addressing the issue of labor for a number of years now. Five years ago he upgraded to a much nicer extractor, in addition to some other shop upgrades. This is instead of building a separate “honey house” (a dedicated building for honey processing) which would have cost upwards of 250k.
The new spinner cuts his extraction time in half, through the use of automated features, larger spinners, and bigger tanks to house the extracted honey in. Joe is currently working four “yards” of between 20-30 hives (including nucs) but to get to his 10,000 lb goal he’ll need to open up an additional space.
Joe’s day job is as an electrician, and when 2020 hit he found he had more time to dedicate to the bees, allowing him to really spruce up the yards and focus on these improvements. His goal is to retire into beekeeping, and while his day trade used to be roughly 60% of his income, it’s starting to tip in the other direction. During the pandemic more folks wanted his honey. The trend towards local producers included his small business, which then led to his lack of backstock. For this reason, among others, Joe doesn’t tend to offer his products in large quantities to folks outside of his retailers. The best way to find his honey is at one of them, including the Old Creamery Co-op!
We have his local honey in stock and on the shelves! If you’d like to try some, come on by, and you’ll easily taste the difference.
Wild Mountain Honey
(413) 684 3663
1170 Flintstone Rd
Find their Facebook here and their products on our shelves!