Honey industry buzzing in Southern Arizona

Holly's Little Farm produces a variety of honey ranging from flavors infused with mesquite to wildflowers. (Photo by Stephanie Romero/Arizona Sonora News).
Holly’s Little Farm produces a variety of honey ranging from flavors infused with mesquite to wildflowers. (Photo by Stephanie Romero/Arizona Sonora News)

Little has changed in the way beekeepers harvest honey in Arizona, but industry experts remain hopeful that the  state’s product is among the best.

 “Honey stands alone from other sweeteners because it’s not something that man has to process,”   said Rey Simmons, owner of Simmons Honey Ranchito in Douglas. “It’s made by the bees and it’s ready to go.”

 For Simmons, the technology used to harvest honey is nothing new to the industry.

 A centrifuge extractor spins the honey out of the comb, which helps separate comb particles and beeswax to pump out the fluid. The honey is strained, but never filtered then it’s put into storage containers.

 In Arizona, the bees do not go into a heavy hibernation state because how the weather fluctuates between warm and cold through the winter months, but the spring and summer pose as key periods for harvesting honey.

 Due to a lack of blooms to obtain nectar from, the bees tend to travel outside of the state to find sources of nectar during the colder months.

 According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Honey Report, Arizona bee colonies traveled to regions, such as California for the purposes of pollinating fruit and nut tees during the month of February. However, the colonies returned to the state toward the end of this month to pollinate Alfalfa, citrus, desert and plant bloom as the main sources of nectar.

 During the spring, the bees go through a process called “spring build” where they begin taking nectar to the hives to start building the strength of their colony. The queen bee will lay between 800 to 1,200 eggs a day and once production peaks, the she will lay up to 2,000 eggs a day.

 Once the bees fill the combs in the hive and the honey reaches a high volume, the beekeeper decides when it’s time to harvest the product.

 “For most beekeepers, the most active time of harvest is the middle of May to the middle of June, especially in Southeast Arizona, but it can really vary.” Simmons said.

Anthony Tubbiolo, owner of Holly's Little Farm has operated his business for the past 5 years. Tubbiolo demonstrates how to use a langstroth hive. (Photo by Stephanie Romero/ Arizona Sonora News).
Anthony Tubbiolo, owner of Holly’s Little Farm has operated his business for the past 5 years. Tubbiolo demonstrates how to use a langstroth hive. (Photo by Stephanie Romero/ Arizona Sonora News).

Anthony Tubbiolo who is part owner of Holly’s Little Farm, a honey farm based in Marana, follows a similar process to harvest honey from killer bees.

 Killer bees are different from other species, such as European bees or Italian bees, which specifically bred for beekeeping. The killer bees tend to be more aggressive and immediately go into protection mode if anyone steps close to the hive.

 Using a langstroth hive, an object that resembles a filing cabinet containing 8 to 10 frames. Each frame is coated with a wax medium that the bees exchange out with their own beeswax to fill with honey. When the honey is ready to be harvested, the layer of wax is removed and the cntrifuge collects the honey from the hives.

 The bees do not require a lot of maintenance; therefore beekeepers can get away with only checking on them a couple times a month. Beekeepers must make decision about whether to medicate their bees against bacteria, virus and fungus, but Tubbiolo takes the natural approach when it comes to protecting his colony.

 “They [Killer Bees] just do really well, they’re very aggressive and they can create lots of honey,” Tubbiolo said “They’re hard workers, they create big colonies in the hive, so they’re able to deal with any kind of threat that might come into the hive.”

 A beekeeper’s main priority in Arizona revolves around ensuring that his colony of bees is able to surpass major threats and remain healthy and strong.

 Some key factors, such as drought or heavy rainstorms could lead a major loss in bees. Skunks and bears are two most disruptive predators to the bee population. Agricultural strains where farmers use strong pesticides can be detrimental to bees as well.

 However, Tubbiolo holds a positive outlook on the future of bee colonies, “I don’t think the world is in trouble and bees are going to disappear.”

 For Tubbiolo, he credits success in the honey industry on his ability to produce a natural product that’s not mixed with artificial sweeteners, the capability to produce a variety of products that range from filtered honey, to honey with wood chips  as well as a strong understanding of simple marketing.

 From walking into to local stores and selling his product to setting up roadside stands, he believes communication with the community has always been key.

Stephanie Romero is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at smromero@email.arizona.edu. 

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