by Mallory Moad
If you are serious about maintaining healthy eating habits, the central San Joaquin Valley is the place for you. Over 360 different crops are grown right here, and we have direct access to just about all of them. Are we lucky, or what?
But if not for one small but mighty creature, we wouldn’t have this bounty. I’m talking about bees.When it comes to trees and vines that produce fruits, nuts and vegetables, bees are as crucial as water and sunlight. In non-scientific terms, they move pollen from blossoms to where it needs to be in order for plants to grow those things we love. Got that? No bees, no pollination; no pollination, no oranges, almonds or zucchini. A necessary byproduct of all this activity is honey, the superfood that keeps bees going.
Lynette and John Ballis know all about the business of bees because, as the owners/operators of Busy Bees Honey Farm in Sanger, bees are their business.The husband and wife team became beekeepers in the late 1970s when John and his father owned a small organic farm. “They decided they needed a beehive to better pollinate the crops, and purchased one from a nearby beekeeper,” Lynette explains. By the following year the hive’s occupancy had increased to the point where it had to be divided. That’s a good thing. “John decided he really enjoyed keeping bees. One year later, he and I bought thirty hives and that is how we started.” Although John has experience working for large-scale beekeepers, he and Lynette prefer to keep their operation small with just 75 hives. You’re probably thinking “Jeepers, that’s a lot of bees,” but big commercial companies run 3000 hives or more. Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?
With the new beehives came honey, and with the honey came Busy Bees Honey Farm.
Bees never take a vacation and neither do Lynette and John. There is no third party involved in the making of Busy Bees Honey Farm products. Everything from harvesting to bottling and selling (and all the stuff in between) is done by these two industrious individuals.
Anyone can buy generic honey from who-knows-where in just about any grocery store, but finding a local, trustworthy product that meets the needs of the health and environmentally conscious can be tricky. Busy Bees Honey Farm addresses these concerns but also goes one step further by offering a variety of honeys and honey creations that are not only good for you and the world, but unique and tasty as well. “We have many varieties of natural, raw honey from the various seasons of the year,” Lynne says. “We place the hives in the middle of orange trees to make orange blossom honey.” But it doesn’t end there. Creamed honey is also available. A special process creates a thicker, more dense consistency. Smooth, spreadable and versatile, it can be used in place of butter on toast or biscuits or paired with peanut butter for a sandwich with a twist.
Busy Bees Honey Farm also offers infused honey. Essential oils such as ginger and cinnamon add a burst of flavor and a touch of sophistication. A tall glass of iced tea with lavender infused honey would be the perfect antidote for a one-hundred-degree-plus afternoon. Not letting anything go to waste, Lynette uses the beeswax that is removed during honey harvesting to make candles. With no added migraine-inducing fragrance, they have a natural, light honey scent.
For John and Lynette, the bees are more than a source of income. They recognize and appreciate this insect’s necessary role in nature and feel a responsibility to protect and care for them. “During the fall we artificially feed them sugar syrup and pollen patties to help them get through the winter,” Lynette says. To keep the bees healthy they are given medication to control mites, a serious threat to the survival of the colony. “It is very heartbreaking to work all year on hives, then open the bee box and find only a small cluster of bees.”
Beekeeping is a year-round operation, and although some months are slower than others, there is always work to be done. Although it isn’t an easy job, it’s one they wouldn’t trade for something more conventional or predictable. “The best part of beekeeping is to open a bee box and see it full of bees; we really enjoy making honey and extracting it, too.”John and Lynette Ballis love what they do. It shows in their respect for the environment, their pride for what they produce, and their joy in working together. They are happy to share their knowledge and experience – all you need to do is ask. But first, let’s sample this wildflower honey. The bees made it just for you.
You can find Busy Bees Honey Farm goodies at the Clovis Farmers Market on Saturdays from 9:00 – 11:30 a.m. year round. Honey is also available at Sierra View Nursery in Clovis, Intermountain Nursery in Prather, and Ballis Glass Studio in Fresno. You can also follow Busy Bees Honey Farm’s Facebook page, where you can watch an exciting video of a beehive rescue in Fresno’s Tower District.
My name is Mallory Moad, and I believe what’s good for the bees is good for you and me.