Guest Post by Amy Pajewski
It’s the science behind it that draws George and Paige Nester of Creek House Honey Farm in Canyon, Texas together to produce sweet, floral, and bright local honey. An intense love of the bees — an entire ecosystem in your hands — a world encompassed in a 10-frame wooden box, attracts this couple to cultivate and breathe life into the hives. George believes what sets him apart from other beekeepers in the area is his partnership with his wife, an everlasting team. In fact, for George, honey pulling is a family affair— children, cousins, and friends all join together to watch the sweetness seep from the extractor while the Cowboys game flickers in another room.
Now in their fourth year, the farm has grown to 14 hives over 100 acres, including four swarm-hives that they’ve collected from the local community. After reading about colony collapse, Paige wanted to try out keeping a hive to learn from the bees and to help pollinate her backyard garden. They never thought it would turn into a business. George, a pharmacist, and Paige a biologist-now-art-teacher just thought it would be an interesting learning experience, a hobby to enjoy together. Now, the demand for local honey has exploded and each pull yields 800-1000 jars which sells out in 1-2 days. There’s even a waiting list.
Creek House Honey Farm has the goal of educating the public about keeping bees and what goes into their food. George offers classes for those who want to learn how to harvest their own honey, and what they can do to keep bees thriving in our area. With the drought, people are more aware of the importance of bees to the rest of the ecosystem and have started to shift perspective on how best to manage our slice of the Llano. George ultimately wants to build strong relationships with our farmers to help pollinate our food, work together to survive and to help the bees survive.
But keeping bees takes time and care, especially in the drought-ridden Llano Estacado. Bees need water to survive, produce honey, and to cool their hives in the summer. In winter, they need pollen substitute and sugar water to continue to produce and survive the harsh Panhandle weather. With an alarming average 20-30% hive loss among beekeepers, George and Paige pride themselves on a 0% loss due to their careful cultivation, and it shows in the beautiful honey bounty twice per year.
When preparing for a pull, George places the frames into his shop and keeps the indoor temperature around 90 degrees— the same as the inside of a hive. This temperature keeps the honey loose and allows for the extractor to pull the optimum amount of honey. The boxes that contain the frames sit atop two brooder boxes — the slats filled with capped-off decadence within the combs.
Layers of aged honey line the walls, filled with the scent of a prior brood. George carefully places the frames into the extractor and makes it spin – the forces cutting through propolis and drawing out the honey. Capturing the flow is a slow and beautiful process, taking hours to days filtering through fine mesh into a bucket.
A seemingly crude process, but it works, and what’s left is pure, golden honey.
The Nester’s love for the bees traces back to George’s grandfather for which the farm is named. George wanted a place locked away from the outside world, a place where he could disconnect from distraction and connect with nature. When he opens a hive, his senses are battered with the scent of honey, the hum of the bees. In winter, George lowers his head, presses his ear against the wood wall to check on them, to make sure they’re still humming. He proudly states, “It’s the most amazing thing to witness.”
Amy Pajewski is a Reference & Instruction librarian at West Texas A&M University, and her words and photographs have appeared in numerous literary journals including Her Kind, Orion Magazine, and Curio Poetry. She blogs about life, librarianship, and photography at http://amypajewski.com.