1 of 4
Photos by Sarah Cook.
Brenda Belcher works with the honeybee hives outside her Hoover home. Garden Honey Bee products are at Organic Harvest in Hoover and Lily Magnolia Boutique, inside Riverchase Galleria.
2 of 4
3 of 4
4 of 4
Brenda Belcher sells her honey and wax products around Birmingham.
Thousands of little workers fervently buzz behind Brenda Belcher’s Hoover home daily.
From sunup to sundown, they labor tirelessly, making sure every task is completed with care.
Most don’t throw in the towel until their dying day.
And although their lives are all work and no play, their product is pretty sweet.
“They get the job done. They don’t have a problem with taking care of business,” Belcher said of her tiny workers, who individually weigh no more than a 10th of a gram and measure between 12 and 16 millimeters in length.
The workers are honeybees, and Belcher is their keeper.
Belcher, owner of Garden Honey Bee, began beekeeping about five years ago. A self-proclaimed “city girl,” Belcher said she never envisioned becoming a beekeeper. But after studying the insect and learning about its intricate, diligent work ethic, Belcher said she became fascinated with the species.
“I began to read and research and just went full speed ahead with it,” she said.
Belcher started off with just two garden hives. However, word began to slowly buzz that she was keeping bees, and that’s when inquiries swarmed in.
People plagued by seasonal allergies began reaching out to her — asking if they could have some of her homegrown honey to help soothe their ailments, she said.
“I found out how many people have really tough allergy problems in the South,” Belcher said. “I actually had people who would seek me out [for honey]. It was an eye opener for me.”
One thing led to another, and before Belcher knew it, her two hives multiplied. Today, Belcher’s backyard boasts rows of hives buzzing with activity.
“It’s very interesting,” she said of the science behind beekeeping, which can be traced back thousands of years.
Belcher noted honey has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs.
“It just turned into an amazing hobby. I learned how much people love honey,” she said.
Buzz Behind Beekeeping
Much like wine, honey flavor and color is determined by its source — which for bees is any plant that produces pollen or nectar. Belcher’s bees will fly as far as five miles in search of these two elements.
“Because we’re on the side of the mountain, it drops off miles and miles down,” Belcher said of the surrounding vegetation. “So it’s untouched. There’s no spraying, no pesticides — just total clean vegetation, and that’s kind of rare.”
Depending on the sources, Belcher said the honey might crystallize quickly or slowly. (Crystallization is the process by which honey changes from a liquid to a semi-solid state with a granular composition.)
“The Tupelo bloom never crystallizes,” Belcher said as an example. “The exact opposite of that is the cotton bloom. It makes a great honey, but the old saying is ‘You’d be lucky to get it bottled because it just crystallizes so quickly.’”
Even though time can affect the composition and color of honey, Belcher said the sweet substance never spoils. All you need to do is pop it in the microwave and give it a good stir for it to look fresh again.
However, because people are used to golden-colored honey that has a consistent texture, she said commercial honey is often filtered and stripped of its natural ingredients in an effort to preserve appearance.
“So what they’re doing is basically removing all that stuff that’s really good for you and making it so they can quickly bottle it, put it in the grocery store and it won’t go to crystal for a long, long time,” Belcher said.
If honey is relatively unfiltered, Belcher said a long list of benefits could be found in the substance.
Belcher once received a thank you note from a man in Denver who was an amputee, and he said her honey-based soap worked wonders for his skin.
“He wrote me and said that with his burns, it was hard to find a soap that he could cleanse himself with,” she said. “He said that it [the soap] changed his life.”
Smorgasbord of Sweetness
Aside from harvesting honey, Belcher said she also has a passion for infusing the natural sweetener.
Some of her flavors include wildflower, orange blossom and jalapeño. And along with soaps, she makes an array of bath and body products including lotions, balms, scrubs, beard oil and mustache wax.
“It reminds me of cooking,” Belcher said of experimenting with different flavors and uses of honey. “It’s very fulfilling.”
When considering the work ethic and sweet product of the honeybee, Belcher said there is a lot to be learned from the hardworking insect. And because honeybee populations have suffered a decline in the past few years (the phenomenon has been dubbed the “colony collapse”), Belcher encouraged others to take up the hobby, too.
“They will literally sacrifice themselves for the good of the hive,” she said of the honeybee. “And I just think about this, and think if man did this practice and followed what’s good for others, how much better off we would be.”
Garden Honey Bee products are at Organic Harvest in Hoover and Lily Magnolia Boutique, inside Riverchase Galleria. Belcher also makes appearances at Pepper Place farmers market.
For more information on Garden Honey Bee, go to gardenhoneybee.com.