Find Your Flavor with Bradshaw Honey
By Jordan Venema
Photo: Zach Green
By the 1970s, Californians began to realize wine was much more than red and white, just as by the 2000s we learned that coffee was more than Folgers in your cup. Since then, the trend toward the appreciation of regional, artisanal foods has broadened to other markets, though the connoisseurs of sweet are buzzing about one good in particular.
Oh, that sweet and sticky, golden ambrosia. We know bees produce it, and that a bear named Pooh got into all kinds of trouble over it, but otherwise honey is honey is honey, right?
“There’s all kinds of honey,” says David Bradshaw of Bradshaw Honey Farms. “Sage honey, Sumac, Toyon, Buckwheat. Tupelo honey from the south is famous – they even have songs about it.
“Avocado honey is really dark in color, and has a very strong flavor, whereas sage can be water-white and a very mild flavor. Orange honey from Southern California has more of a kick to it and an orange-citrusy flavor which is stronger than the oranges from up here in the valley.
“But when you buy honey at the grocery store,” continues Bradshaw, “a lot of it is blended, and the character taken out of it. Pure varietals like orange and sage honey, you just don’t see that in stores.”
That slight to honeys’ varietals would be enough to put a bee in any beekeeper’s bonnet, but then why don’t chain retailers embrace all honey has to offer? Summed up, says Bradshaw, “it’s all about price.”
All quality comes at a cost, but despite playing personal trainer and matchmaker to some 175 million bees, Bradshaw sells his hand-bottled Orange Blossom Honey at relatively inexpensive prices, ranging from $3.50 for two ounces to $18 for 44 ounces. Bradshaw sells his honey through his website, but also in local retailers Enjoy the Store, Naturally Nuts and the Looking Glass.
“I’m working my hardest to be a good steward of my bees,” he says. “People think, oh, bees, it’s just a bunch of bugs in a box, but it’s really much more complicated than that.”
“Last year I spent over $150,000 just on bee supplements, protein supplements – you’d think I was a bodybuilder, buying all these supplements,” he says with a laugh. “I make sure they get their protein, and I buy sugar-syrup blends, but I add proteins, vitamins, minerals, electrolytes to make it more like nectar.”
Plus, Bradshaw constantly cultivates his colonies by introducing healthy queens (slowly and carefully) that come from as far as Hawaii. Bradshaw will also travel far distances to find his bees the right locations for pollination and nectar.
“I’ve hauled them all the way to South Dakota and Kansas just to find them suitable forage. It’s by the good grace of the farmers and ranchers – I can’t emphasize that enough – who allow me to use a corner of their property,” says Bradshaw. “But it’s part of the whole cycle. It’s what makes the world go round. We need food, and we need bees.”
Speaking of making the world go round, “bees actually have to fly like three trips around the planet to make a kilogram of honey,” says Bradshaw. That may be collective among the hive, but it goes to show that you don’t get sweet without the sweat – or the pain, because it goes without saying Bradshaw has had his fair share of stings.
“Does a mechanic get his hands dirty?” he says with a laugh. “It comes with the territory. People will say that it probably doesn’t hurt, but wrong again! I don’t want to get stung. I wear protective coveralls and gloves, and a hat without a net around it, and I’ll be darned if those bees won’t find every hole.”
So the next time you sweeten your tea or yogurt with a dollop of honey, imagine all the miles traveled, every sting that’s been stung, and the pollination that goes into every drop. You’ll enjoy the fruit of those bees’ (and Bradshaw’s) labor, and that honey will never taste sweeter.
Bradshaw Honey Farm
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