For some time, the plight of the humble honeybee has been of interest to a narrow population. Apiarists have known for awhile that bees are in peril, with populations declining due to reasons unknown but believed to be connected to chemical pesticides. Colony collapse disorder, a mysterious malady that promotes destruction of entire hives, has been reported and studied since the early 1970s, as feral bee populations in the United States disappeared. The peril to American agriculture is enormous; bees pollinate a substantial number of field and orchard products that we eat.
But now the apiarists in their masked and hooded bee suits and the field workers with their dirty fingernails have a new ally. Bees have gone uptown. No less than the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City has installed beehives on its roof, to produce artisanal honey for use in its kitchen.
The 40,000 bees, that occupy one mature hive and five starter hives, arrived in mid-April by private car and were escorted through the lobby to their new home above the hotel's 20th floor. The hives are visible from select rooms in the hotel and can be toured. A contest on social media invites fans to name them. The hotel expects to have 300,000 bees by summer, and to harvest its first honey in August.
Those are some fancy-shmancy bees. Closer to home, just down the road in Kearneysville, Eversweet Apiaries houses plain ol' country bees. Its 80 hives house as many as 450,000 bees and produce 60 to 80 pounds of honey per hive, per year. The bees get active when the locust trees bloom in early spring, then sip nectar and carry pollen from blooming flora through the summer, until the season concludes in fall. At peak, the bees make as much as 40 pounds of honey in a few days' time.
The flavor profile of any honey is based on the flowers from which it is made. The diversity of native trees and flowers, combined with the varieties installed in landscaping, offer Eversweet's bees a wide buffet of choices. The shelves at Eversweet hold honey as clear and golden as sunshine and as dark and complex as espresso.
Herb Everhart is the apiarist at the helm of Eversweet. He is a walking encyclopedia of bee lore, which he offers freely to other beekeepers in the Eastern Panhandle Beekeepers Association, a group that mentors apiarists, provides information and classes on beekeeping and even operates a youth organization to advance the next generation of beekeepers.
The Panhandle club, with its 150 members, is the largest apiary group in West Virginia, and meets on the second Tuesday of each month, at 7 p.m., at James Rumsey Technical Institute. But most of the time, Everhart can be found in his workshop, where he and his beekeeping partner, Ed Burwell, build hives and process honey. Since the tiniest speck of pollen can mar a jar, spinning honeycombs mechanically to separate the honey is a painstaking process. Sheaves of blue ribbons attest to the quality of Eversweet honey.
The awards are hanging at the ends of rough shelves, on which the jars are displayed. Everhart's bees made 6,500 pounds of honey last year, enough to fill two 500-pound, stainless-steel storage tanks and a roomful of five-gallon buckets.
Some of the honey will be sold in bulk, to customers both local and distant; through the internet, Eversweet honey is offered everywhere.
Locals can buy it from the source. Homemade yellow road signs direct travelers down a graveled road to Eversweet. The jars are located just inside the workshop door. A hand-lettered sign announces that payment is on the honor system.