Busy as a bee: Fiddler’s Honey sweet deal for local man | News | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | May 13, 2016 5:00 pm
Last Updated: May 11, 2016 at 4:47 pm
By GEORGE SALSBERRY
It’s Friday afternoon and John Stieglitz’s hobby awaits.
After spending the work week as director of the Colleton County Capital Projects and Purchasing Department, Stieglitz was ready to assumed the duties of his second title, president of Fiddler’s Honey.
It is a family business, he explained. His wife Robin is the owner, and their daughter Madison “is more or less, the little bee doing all the work. She helps me with the processing, bottling and delivery,” he said.
Madison moved back home from her first year at the College of Charleston just in time for the start of this year’s production.
Saturday, Stieglitz traveled to some of the hives he has in place throughout the county to begin harvesting this year’s first batch of honey.
He removes some, but not all, of the honeycomb frames and takes them back to a small white building, Fiddler’s Honey House. The bottling facility is inspected annually by the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, and Fiddler’s Honey, available on the web at www.faceook.com/Fiddler’sHoney, firstname.lastname@example.org and by phone at 843-909-4821, is a certified South Carolina product.
Inside the honey house, a warm wax knife cuts the wax caps off the honeycomb frames, which are then placed in a 10-frame centrifugal extractor. The spinning machine pulls the honey from the combs without damaging them. The frames with the combs are then placed back in the hives.
Ten filled honeycomb frames produce about two-and-a-half gallons of honey. The newly harvested honey sits for a few days to allow it to settle. Then the harvested honey is bottled and ready for distribution.
“I don’t heat or high pressure filter my honey; it is as natural as you can get it,” Stieglitz said.
“The company’s named after my grandfather — his nickname was ‘Fiddler’ because he reconditioned fiddles and loved to play them,” Stieglitz said. “He was my hero.”
Stieglitz’s grandfather and uncle also kept bees in North Carolina near Wilmington.
When it came time to name the family’s company, Stieglitz said, “the name just jumped into my mind.”
Stieglitz started keeping bees as a hobby about eight years ago. “I just wanted to keep some bees for my garden, to raise a little bit of honey. This is my release from all that governmental stuff.
“It has grown exponentially every single year,” he said. “We formed the company three-and-one-half years ago, primarily harvesting the honey and selling it at farmers markets and local outlets.”
This year Fiddler’s is running about 75 colonies. “We try to add more every year, but we can’t keep up with requests for honey. Usually by the end of July or middle of August, we’re sold out.”
“We have customers wait all year for the spring honey, others that just want the mid-summer honey.”
There’s a difference, Stieglitz explains.
The spring honey is the color of Mellow Yellow or Mountain Dew; its taste has floral overtones.
The mid-summer honey is smoother, has less floral overtones. He and his family favor the mid-summer honey.
From now until the end of July, the weekends will find Stieglitz out harvesting honey and preparing it for sale.
Once August arrives, he stops harvesting honey because in the late summer, he said, goldenrod is the primary source of nectar for his bees. It produces a honey that is bitter and a darker color. He leaves that honey for the bees.
The bees need a supply of honey to survive through the fall and winter months. Every time he harvests from a hive, he leaves some of the honey combs for the bees.
Fiddler’s Honey can be found as far north as Myrtle Beach. But, Stieglitz added, the business’s primary goal is to make sure that the local market is supplied. Once that supply is met, the rest of the year’s production is distributed outside the county.
Stieglitz said about two years ago, he started getting requests from people who wanted their own bee colonies.
The family formed a second company, Lowcountry Apiary, and “I started raising nucleolus colonies,” basically small starter hives. “This past year, I started selling full-grown colonies,” Stieglitz said.
Like the honey sales, Stieglitz has trouble keeping up with all the requests.
Most of the requests for hives come from farmers and others who plant large gardens and need the bees to pollinate their plants. They need Stieglitz’s hives because “they don’t have enough wild pollinators out and about.”
That’s due to the colony collapse disorder that hit the country a few years ago. A disorder, which he attributes to pesticides, that has drastically reduced the number of honey bees. The disorder has hit his operation too, but not nearly as badly as the rest of the country.
“Three years ago, I lost 27 percent of the hives I had; last year I lost 17 percent.” He has been able to limit the disorder’s effect on his operations because his apiaries are located away from farming activities. “That helped me greatly.”
Stieglitz explains that bees are important to the food chain. “Roughly 80 percent of the food in this county is affected by honey bee pollination. Root crops and fish and seafood are the only things we put in our mouth that don’t require the honey bees.”
That hamburger you eat came from a cow. Cows need alfalfa and other plants to thrive, those plants had to be pollinated. “We can’t live without them,” Stieglitz said.
That nectar the bees collect is about 85 percent moisture and 15 percent sugar.
“They take that nectar and, with enzymes in their saliva, convert it to honey. When the honey comes out of the honeycombs, he explains, “it is the exact opposite; it is 85 percent sugar and 15 percent water.”
Bees know when the moisture content is down to about 15 percent, and they then produce a wax to cap the cells in the honeycomb. The low moisture content, he said, is the reason honey has a long shelf life.
The bees do most of the work, Stieglitz said. “I’ve just got to keep up with them.”
Although the Stieglitz’s honey production continues to increase each year, he doesn’t want to see the hobby take over his life. “Right now its fun — we’re growing but I don’t want to expand to the point where it becomes a grind.”