It’s funny the people you meet when you’re out and about in the Kansas City area. Recently, I was teaching a cooking class at A Thyme for Everything in Lee’s Summit and I was using some local honey in one of my salads.
I was telling everyone about my favorite honey that I discovered almost 10 years ago in this exact store, and low and behold, there is Jennifer Coates, wife of beekeeper Drew Coates and mother of Benjamin, the duo behind Two Guys and A Hive Honey. Talk about a coincidence!
Jennifer put me in contact with Drew Coates and we met up recently and discussed his bee hives, the “Honor Stand” where you can get some of the finest local honey in Missouri and his love of bees and beekeeping with his 16-year-old Benjamin.
I think you will find his story and life of beekeeping pretty sweet, just like his honey.
Jasper Mirabile: Tell me how It all started with bees?
Drew Coates: It started with me as a boy loving to fish. I was born in Overland Park, but grew up outside San Antonio, Texas. We lived on a lake and during the summers bait was hard to come by as the annual droughts would roll in. The nearest neighbor was 2.5 miles away and there was no bait store anywhere near. The one constant source of bait were the large open hornet nests that occupied the cliffs around our home. They’re full of larva that make great bait. I would get stung multiple times stealing the nests every time I tried. Long story short I ran across an article that described how the eyes of an insect worked when I was 10 or so. The slower you move the less they can see you. Not understanding the ramifications if I was wrong I put my knowledge to the test.
It worked, but I also learned they can sense carbon dioxide, so holding your breath is key too if you don’t want to get stung by a hornet who’s inches from your face. I stole many hornets nests for decades and got very comfortable dealing with stinging insects.
JM: A simple but important question, why beekeeping?
DC: Beekeeping had always fascinated me so I decided to start in ’06 in Lee’s Summit with a couple hives. I’m up to well over 50 hives now. Some of the things I learned from the hornets I use when working my bees. Staying calm, moving methodically and reading their body language via their wing positioning and not breathing directly on them helps a whole lot.
JM: When do you harvest?
DC: We harvest twice a year. Once over July 4th weekend and again over Labor Day weekend. The first harvest is normally lighter in color, more delicate in flavor, and is predominately from various types of clovers (which is) why it’s call “Sweet Clover.” The second harvest is normally darker and more robust in flavor and comes from a myriad of wild flowers. However, this is not always true. No harvest is the same as weather patterns influence respective plant activity and thus respective flower and nectar production.
JM: So my real question is, how do you harvest honey?
DC: When we harvest honey, we get frames of capped honey and uncap them by pulling the caps off the cells. We then run the frames through a radial extractor (imagine a huge centrifuge) that slings the honey out of the comb without damaging the comb. The honey drains out of the extractor onto a screen that filters out small bits of wax and things from the hive. It’s then poured through another screen covered in cheese cloth into a holding tank where fine bits of wax are removed and air bubbles are allowed to dissipate.
JM: Is there much of a difference between your local honey and store bought honey?
DC: Our honey differs from store bought honey for sure. To keep honey from crystallizing on the shelf, large producers heat the honey above 130 degrees and push it through a micron filter that removes all of the microscopic pollen.
This heat destroys natural enzymes that enhance the flavor. The removal of the pollen slows crystallization but this too removes some of the floral notes and all of the pollen benefits. Raw honey is more prone to crystallization because of this but crystallization is completely normal and can be reversed easily by gently warming the container of honey in a warm pot of water for an hour or two depending on how large the container is and how crystallized it is.
It is also great for allergies because it is local and not from another state. You need local honey to fight off allergies.
When you look at the label of most store bought brands there make note of where the honey came from. Many times it’s a mix of regional and imported honeys, so you really don’t know where it came from. All honey sold in in our stand is 100% Local, raw, and pure but when we run out, it’s 100% gone.
JM: What is “comb honey”? Is this what you produce?
DC: It’s a little tricky for the beekeeper to get them to effectively make but it’s well worth the effort if it’s done right. It’s as raw as you can get as it’s merely pulled out of the hive, cut to size, and boxed up for sale. How do you eat it? Slice it about half an inch thick and lay it on a warm biscuit. Cut it in a 1 inch cube and stick a tooth pick in it as a unique sweet offering at a dinner party. Anywhere honey is used you can use comb. There’s little as unique to the pallet as eating comb honey.
JM: Do you have pollen available?
DC: Oh yes, all pollen sold is 100 percent from our local hives in Lee’s Summit. Bees collect it from local flowers and glue it together with nectar so it sticks on their “pollen baskets” as they head back to hive. Once in the hive it’s normally converted into “bee bread” that used in the feeding of honeybee larva. The way beekeepers get it is to install a pollen trap on the hive that dislodges some of the nodules as they enter the hive. It’s then collected daily, dried, and packaged for sale.
JM: Is it a family beekeeping operation today?
DC: I along with my wife, Jennifer, and our two kids Ben and Claire, work together carefully to extract the raw honey and prepare it for our honor stand. All of the honey, wax and pollen used in any of our products sold out of our honor stand come from our hives in Lee’s Summit or Greenwood, Missouri. To that point, everything in our honor stand is harvested, hand made and packaged by someone in our family.
JM: Tell me about the honor stand. I want to learn more about where I can purchase the honey?
DC: All of what we produce is sold out of our honor stand located across the road from 901 Hamblen Road in Greenwood, Mo.
Initially we sold our products out of local retailers. However, after a year or two of doing this we were contacted by the state and informed that because we were selling wholesale to retailers it put us under commercial food processor regulations.
While everything we use for processing is food grade stainless steel specifically made for honey processing and we’re sticklers on cleanliness, we’re simply too small to cover the overhead costs and required paperwork of an industrial food processor.
I was informed that as long as we sold direct to the consumer we could continue to operate as the small producer we are. We’re too busy to spend weekends at farmers markets and thus the honor stand idea was born.
... An honor stand? Are you nuts? You’re going to get ripped off.
I heard it over and over. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous as I built the stand. I told my wife if it didn’t work out I’d repaint it and convert it into a deer blind.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and has given us a renewed faith in our fellow man. We also enjoy speaking with customers as we refill the stand or they see me working the bees in both our Lee’s Summit and Greenwood apiaries.
I have been doing this now for four years and it is very successful. And people put more than just money in his honey pot; they leave notes of thanks and sometimes recipes.
JM: How about soap, wax and candles?
DC: All the soaps are handmade by us with all natural oils, oatmeal, our honey, scents, our bees wax and in some, a little cosmetic grade coloring. The oatmeal acts as a gentle exfoliant. The honey acts as a natural moisturizer and keeps the soap silky. The bees wax gives the soap additional firmness and ensures it it’s a long use bar of soap. Each batch of soap is handmade so there may be slight variations in color but the premium ingredients and quality remain the same.
We also make our own candles and wax that is also for sale
JM: OK, now I have to ask, do you ever get stung?
DC: The most common question I’m asked is “Do you ever get stung?” To which I answer a resounding, “Yes!” The second most common question is, “Does it hurt?” To which I also answer a resounding, “Yes!”
To follow that up though, beekeeping is a labor of love. It’s always a fun challenge to effectively work individual hives well enough to avoiding their natural defensive response. In a full size hive there are up to 80,000 bees and if even one of them doesn’t like what you’re doing she’ll let you know. Normally all goes smoothly, but as with playing football you’re eventually going to get hit.
Two Guys and A Hive; 1901 SW Jefferson St., Lees Summit, Missouri 64082; www.twoguysandahive.com/
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 62-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.