Kingsburg Honey is owned by Daren and Yuliya Hess, along with our three kids, Anya, Dmitriy, and Anastasiya. Although Yuliya prefers playing classical violin, she does fill in with harvesting honey from time to time and has never turned down the opportunity to make a delivery. Daren works with the bees, along with the bottling and distribution. The real brains behind the operation belong to Yuliya’s father, Georgiy, who has been keeping bees for most of his life. The kids are great at spinning the honey extractor, putting the labels on jars, and of course, eating honey.
Depending on the time of year, we have between 75 to 100 beehives. Many of our colonies were “rescued” after making their home in the side of a barn or chimney, or swarming onto a tree in a residential neighborhood. In the spring, our bees collect nectar from the blueberry and plum blossoms on an organic farm. During the rest summer, they forage among wildflowers along the Kings River.
Although we have been producing honey in Kingsburg only since 2008, you could say our history goes back more than 90 years and half way around the world. Georgiy’s father and grandfather were beekeepers in the Black Sea region of southwest Russia. When he was a young boy during WWII, Georgiy remembers his father hiding beehives among the thorn bushes to keep them safe from the occupying Nazi soldiers. The honey was a blessing to the community in that time of scarcity, and sometimes the only source of food. Although Georgiy set aside beekeeping for awhile as he raised his family in Russia, he started a few hives for personal use upon moving to America in 1992.
Why raw honey? Since honey, in its natural state, never spoils, why would anyone pasteurize it? In reality, conventional honey is heated, not to pasteurize it, but so that it can be filtered. The problem with this is two-fold: First, heating kills the natural enzymes and the flavor, and it neutralizes the anti-oxidant benefits. And second, filtering removes pollen and other good stuff that help to make raw honey a super-food.
How to care for raw honey. Store on the counter or in the cupboard. Since our raw honey is strained instead of filtered, you may notice that over time, especially if the weather is cooler, the honey may look cloudy and eventually become solid. Don’t worry; crystallization happens with all honey, just a little faster with raw honey. If you like it best in liquid form, simply put the jar in a pot of warm water (no more than 118 degrees) and it will slowly return to its original state, although you may like it somewhat crystallized, since it’s easier to handle and has an entirely different texture. In many countries, crystallized honey is preferred, and in Russia it’s even sold in blocks!
The benefits of small scale. It’s great to be able to meet the people who enjoy our honey. I think our nine-year-old takes it for granted being able to participate in the whole process of observing bees being born, collecting nectar from a blueberry bush, all the way to watching her older brother make change at the farmers market to seeing someone experience the burst of flavor that comes with a spoonful of raw blueberry blossom honey.