by Karen Voelkening-Behegan, MA, NTP, CGP
Since May was such a busy month for me, I decided to post an interview with our April speaker, Beekeeper Melinda Nelson, instead of write an article this time. Someone accidentally deleted the photos I took at the meeting, so I hope you don’t mind using your imagination!
This is an interview transcribed from a video recording of a Skype call I did with Melinda in May.
Interview with Beekeeper Melinda Nelson
K: Hello, everyone. I’m the founding chapter leader of the Pasadena California Chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation and this is Melinda Nelson of Buzz ‘Round Town. She’s a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and a Beekeeper, and she was our guest speaker in April. Hello, Melinda. Thanks for speaking to our Chapter in April. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your business?
M: I remove bees, I have a business with products from the hive called Buzz ‘Round Town and I have a website, buzzroundtown.com. I love teaching people about how bees help us and why we need them. So I have people and kids and school kids come over and I teach them not be afraid of bees because we really shouldn’t be afraid of them.
K: So, people can call you to schedule visits?
M: Yes. I book tours and talks and they can try on a bee suit and see my equipment.
K: How did you get into this business?
M: I always loved bees and I always wanted my own honey, but I didn’t know how to go about getting bees until a beehive swarmed into my yard one day just over my head. I just walked onto my patio and turned around and they were gone. A couple days later, I have a compost bin behind the chicken coup, and I went to put something in it and they were coming through the chicken coup into the compost bin and when I lifted it up there was a nice big football-sized hive. So I found a beekeeper to help me put it into a hive box. He brought me everything I needed and I kept the bees. And that’s how I got started. They swarmed into my backyard.
K: So the bees found you! How long after that did you start getting honey from the hive?
M: It took a couple years to get enough honey to harvest but I did get to harvest. My first harvest of honey was a little over a gallon of honey. So that was exciting. And it was iridescent.
K: Well your honey is delicious. The best I’ve ever tasted. I couldn’t believe the flavor of the sample I brought home from the meeting.
M: My honey is all wild, from wild bees. It’s raw and wild. You can’t get honey like that too many places.
K: It was not just sweet but it had a great flavor. I know you have different aspects to your business, including not only the products but also bee rescue. I’d like to talk more about the products later in the interview. For now, can you tell us about your bee rescue operation?
M: For bee rescuing, I use different equipment for different bee rescues. But this time of year is swarm season, so a lot of the time I just use a cardboard box and get bees out of a tree. I had to climb a ladder the other day to about 15 feet into a tree. Actually the bees were 15 feet up. I wasn’t quite that high, but they were pretty high. I had to shake the bees into a box from a branch and then hold the box there. So once I get the queen in, then the rest of the bees just follow.
K: Do you wear anything special?
M: Yes I wear my full suit and some leather gloves. It’s fun to watch me catching bees. And then if my husband is around, he’ll help me get bees out of walls, and we have to cut into walls and ceilings and things to get the bees out. But we remove all the comb and babies and everything and we use it in their home, in their new hive box.
K: So if someone calls you because they hear buzzing behind their walls, how do you know it’s honey bees and not something else?
M: Well, we can see from their flight pattern and from looking at them that they’re bees, and hornets don’t usually behave the same or look the same as honey bees.
K: So people usually know what they’re asking you to remove.
M: They pretty much know. Some people say “I think they’re honey bees,” and I say, “Well, yeah, they sound like they are.”
M: About 9 years or so.
K: And when did you start that first hive of your own?
M: About 2001.
K: So the hive rescue came after.
K: So how did you get into hive rescue?
M: Another beekeeper. I went and helped her with collecting some bees and then my husband and I, we got a call from a church to remove bees out of a tree. And these people at the church called the newspaper and called the news Channel 9 and things like that so all of a sudden I started getting a bunch of phone calls and then it started. It just became a business.
K: Weren’t you already working?
M: I was a dental hygienist at that point and I was really looking for more hygiene work in the dental office but the bees came and I really enjoyed working with them. Once I collected the bees, I fell in love with them. So I saw the need to save bees instead of killing them. So every city was killing the bees and never even thought of saving them. And then the CCD came about, which is the Colony Collapse Disorder, and we started losing our bees that pollinate fields and orchards like the almonds in central California so people started becoming more aware about bees and the need for them, so they would call me instead of the exterminator.
K: Well, there’s a good side to everything. Now that there’s this Colony Collapse Disorder, people are beginning to care more about bees.
K: Now might be a good time to talk about the colony collapse disorder (or CCD) and the sensitivity of bees to their environment.
[Break in interview due to some background noise … Unfortunately, I lost the middle third of the interview so we’ll have to skip that part. It was all about the nature of bees, the workings of the hive, and Colony Collapse Disorder. One thing I’ll add from this missing section of the interview is that honeybees are the only insects that don’t pray on other insects. In fact Melinda described how she watched the guard bees at the entrance of a hive flip a beetle on its back to prevent it from entering the hive and eating their honey. So the bees’ first instinct is not to attack or harm. If you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. They only sting when threatened or in mortal danger. If you just stand there and watch them, they’ll leave you alone. There’s so much more to learn about bees, I highly recommend connecting with Melinda at Buzz ‘Round Town!]
K: Let’s talk about your products now, and their health benefits.
M: Well. Honey is known to help heal the skin. You can almost watch it heal if you put it on a cut or something, and any skin problems. In fact, in the Middle East they used it for children for burns instead of pharmaceutical agents and they found that the parents loved it because they could take the children home from the hospital and heal them at home with the honey. So, any honey really will do that. Because it’s a fermented food, like raw milk, it kind of digests itself because it has the enzymes from the bees’ spit so it’s not as hard on your system and your stomach as table sugar would be. So that makes it a lot easier for diabetics and people who are ill to have a little sweet in their coffee or tea or whatever.
K: But you can put it in your tea too when you’re sick, right?
M: Yes. If you take it at night, it will help you go to sleep and help you sleep through the night and feel more refreshed because it makes your body produce melatonin. If you take it an hour before you sleep, your body will produce melatonin when you close your eyes and it’s dark. So it helps you to sleep and then it also helps you to wake up feeling refreshed because it feeds your brain while you’re sleeping. If you take it with chamomile tea, the chamomile also makes you relax.
K: Can you tell us about your other products? You mentioned propolis.
M: Propolis is what the bees use for the hive. The bees use propolis like cement. But it also is hygienic. It helps them keep the hive clean because it’s like an antiseptic. You can take a piece of propolis and … The bees make the propolis from the resin of trees like pine trees, and if you put a piece inside your cheek if you’re feeling bad or like you’re getting sick or catching a cold, then you can use the propolis and it will take it away over night, usually.
K: It sounds even better than black elderberry or Echinacea or some of the other things you can use.
M: Well, it’s easy to do when you just put it in your cheek for the night and then your cough or sore throat goes away! I keep it in the freezer in pieces so I can just grab it if I need it.
K: I have some of this [holding up a vial of small golden pellets] but this isn’t propolis. What is this and what can I use it for?
M: That’s the bee pollen. Now the bee pollen is from pollen of flowers and the bees use it to make bee bread but it’s also good for us because it’s full of minerals and it helps people with allergies because it also has a little bit of bee spit in it so it’s easily digested. It’s not like the honey because in my honey there’s all the components of the hive because I just strain it, I don’t extrude it or heat it in any way, so you get the pollen in the honey. Plus you can buy just the pollen alone, and it’s really healthy for you. And it gives you energy too in the afternoon. The same with royal jelly. Royal jelly is what they make for the queen. Now the queen only eats royal jelly; and all the larvae eat royal jelly the first 3 days of their larva stage, but the queen eats it her whole life. And royal jelly has more protein. It has minerals in it also but it has more protein in it and that keeps the queen bee alive for years. It’s good for us. It helps our skin and I put it in the face cream that I make. It also gives energy too.
K: Do you have a list of the different products?
M: I just have a pamphlet that shows all the health benefits because there’s so many. Over the ages I accumulated this information for my pamphlet from books from long ago, what they use it for. I mean they used it for eye problems, for all kinds of health problems, not just the skin.
K: Is this the honey?
M: Yes, the honey. That’s what my pamphlet is about, the honey.
K: So for the products from the hive, the list includes …
M: the propolis, the pollen, the royal jelly, the honey, the wax. Beeswax is the only wax that’s not toxic to the home when it burns. So you can use beeswax and not worry about having toxins in your home at Christmas time or whenever you burn candles when it’s cold and everything’s closed up. I mean it’s alright to burn candles out on the patio where the air’s flowing but you don’t want toxins in your home, and the paraffin and others, even soy candles, are toxic when you burn them. Also I have the lip balm. It’s the favorite of most people because it goes on so smooth. It’s really good and healthy for your skin and helps heal the lips if they’re dry, in the winter especially. And then my face cream has the royal honey and rose hip oil.
K: And this? [holding up a jar].
M: That’s the calendula cream. That I make. I infuse calendula flowers into olive oil and then I also make a tea with calendula flowers and then use that in my calendula cream. And that, it clears up … Well, this one lady had eczema and she came back an hour later after trying a sample on her eczema and it was gone, totally gone. So, calendula cream you can use for anything and it’s so healing. And then it has the beeswax and all the properties from that which is also healing, so the two together make a great cream.
K: Now here’s another product I bought from you but I forgot what it was because it didn’t have a label. Which one is this?
M: That’s the royal jelly.
K: Does that need to be refrigerated?
M: Yes. It should be refrigerated.
K: What happens if you leave it out?
M: It’ll be all right. You should just put it in the refrigerator. And it’s a gel. That’s the royal jelly. That’s the one I was saying has lots of protein and minerals in it. And that’s good for energy and you only need a little bit, just like a quarter teaspoon, not very much.
K: And before we finish, I wanted to hear about your honey and how it’s different from the other honeys that we buy at the store.
M: Well my honey is first of all, like I said, from wild bees, so it has a depth to it that you can’t find in most honeys, even Farmers Market honeys because it’s not extruded and it’s only strained. And also the honey at the grocery stores can be 49% corn syrup and not be on the label.
K: That’s legal?!
M: It’s legal. And somebody said “Oh, that doesn’t happen in California,” but they just caught some people. I don’t know if it was in California. It might have been in Oregon or Northern California, you know, bringing honey over and calling it corn syrup so they don’t have to pay high honey tariffs. So really there isn’t enough honey in the world for everybody who wants it. So we don’t make enough. And manuka honey is kind of a scam also because there’s not enough manuka honey in all of Australia to send all over the world so everybody wants to call it manuka honey and can change that too and just add some dark honey like buckwheat which is similar and so you get the same appearance. You really don’t have to spend your money on expensive manuka honey. You can get regular honey or my honey and it will do the same thing. It will heal just the same if not better because mine’s not mixed with other things. So, they’ll mix it with other types of honey.
K: Just like the rest of the foods we talk about at the Weston A. Price Foundation. It’s so very important to know the source.
M: Yes. Yes. It is important to know the source. You have to know the beekeeper. Even with the beekeeper, even at Farmers Markets, they may not put corn syrup in it, but they might extrude it and process it commercially like a commercial processor would. Which means extruding it, getting all the pollens out so it won’t crystallize, and then heating. Extruding it also heats it to higher temperatures than 118 degrees.
K: So it destroys the enzymes.
M: Yes, it destroys the enzymes that the bees put in it that make it fermented and then they heat it, pasteurize it again after they get all the pollen and propolis and everything good out of it.
K: The things that can go wrong with honey! First they can use antibiotics, then there’s pesticides, then they extrude it, take everything that’s healthy for you out of it, they pasteurize it, remove the enzymes, and then they put additives in it to stretch it. And that’s the honey that you’ll most likely get at the grocery store. But what about if it’s from a health food store and it says “Raw Honey” on the label? Can you trust that?
M: Well, usually, yeah, there’s raw honey, and it’s OK. But you just have to do a taste test, see if you like it. They sell raw honey. But people tell me it’s not like mine. Mine has a depth to it, like a good wine or good olive oil or something like that.
K: Yeah, that’s what I noticed right away, as soon as I tasted it, I was just blown away. I thought, “Oh my God. Now thisis honey!” I never knew what real honey was until I tasted your honey.
M: Yes. There’s a difference.
K: I would love to get my own hive, but the only thing is, I’m not sure how the moms in my neighborhood would react with so many kids around. I think everyone might be afraid of the bees. So maybe I should get you to come over and educate my neighbors!
K: But then what if someone has an allergy and gets stung?
M: Yes. You know I have Benadryl here, and this kid that came by who wanted bees but he said he was allergic, and he did get stung. He didn’t have a suit on or anything and I was moving frames of bees out of the box and he didn’t want to go on the patio, he wanted to stay out and watch, so I let him and he got stung. So we gave him Benadryl. He’s not a young kid. He was in his 20s. And he didn’t get any reaction. So he wants to be a beekeeper. You better not be allergic to bees if you want to be a beekeeper. So I keep Benadryl on hand just for that purpose.
K: So I think that it’s time to wrap it up now. If you want to, just tell us the name of your business again, and tell people how to get in touch with you.
M: OK. My business is Buzz ‘Round Town and you can find it at buzzroundtown.com and you can email me from there or call me if you have any questions or just want to talk about bees or any situation you have. You can call me.
K: Well, thank you very much Melinda. This was very educational, and it helps me appreciate bees a lot more. So I’ll call you when I’m ready to get my own hive.
M: OK. Thank you. Bye Karen!