Steve and Nicole Simmons, the power couple behind Nicole’s Honey

One of the things I’ve truly loved about working with the Farmer’s Market has been the cultivation of community. I get to meet all these wonderful farmers and artisans carving out a life in our neighborhoods and all the families who come out to support them.  I love to hear their stories. It’s a beautiful feeling to have in this day and age, where so many people feel disconnected from each other. It gives me hope. Our farmers this week embody this community spirit. This product is truly a community effort and is bringing people together for the sweet, sometimes savory, magical goodness that is Nicole’s Honey. Nestled in a beautiful little neighborhood in Hurricane is Nicole’s Honey headquarters, which is the beautiful home of Steve and Nicole Simmons. They welcomed me in and we sat down.

 

We started talking about the market, honey, and how it all started back in 2012. Nicole was a school teacher and a janitor at the school was offering beekeeping classes. He convinced Nicole and Steve to take the course. “After the first class I was hooked. I thought they were the coolest, most interesting creatures ever. I mean save the bees and all that,” Steve said laughing. That’s another thing you’ll notice about Steve and Nicole, they’re hilarious and always joking. They got their first hive that season and over the past 6 years have built up to their delicious 80 hive empire. When I asked where all the hives were, Steve replied “Everywhere.” To which Nicole promptly added, “Yes, if we’re driving around and we see a good spot, Steve will knock on their door. He’s not afraid to ask. We mainly trade honey for land use.” A pang of jealousy shot through my stomach. 80 familes are getting a sweet honey deal for helping with this local business. “We’ll do hive splits this year and next and hopefully have 300 hives.” At the mere mention of this, I could no longer hide my excitement. 300 hives!!!

A teaching comb that Steve brought out to show me when I first arrived.

I began asking about breeds. “We have Italians, Cordovan’s, and we’ve started using a Canadian breed Saskatraz. They are all super gentle breeds. Not aggressive at all. You want to go out and work the hive?” Steve threw in casually. Trying to judge if he was serious or teasing, I of course, said yes. Within minutes, we were all suited up and I was getting the run down of all the equipment. I was put in charge of the smoker (well… I held the smoker until Steve needed it). I followed him to their hive and he started explaining to me the basic set up. The bottom chambers are for the queen to lay in and build the hive. There is a little screen called a ‘queen excluder’ to keep her out of the top boxes that are reserved for honey collection. I was overwhelmed with how many working parts there are in a hive. We walked over to a ‘nuke’ hive which means they are just getting established and not yet producing honey. Steve coached me through cracking the lid. I have to say, it made me feel pretty rad. Suddenly, this golden sea of moving insects was exposed, which should have been terrifying, but instead was hypnotizing.  Steve started pulling out the frames and explaining the patterns that were appearing before me.

From left to right: Smoking the hive, bringing out the first frame, and examining the second frame

“See right here? They are just filling this in with the wax for the comb. It takes 7 pounds of nectar to create 1 pound of drawn out wax.” I don’t think Steve could read my shocked expression through my veil. He carefully set the frame aside. “We’ll keep going until we find the queen.” He pulled out the next frame and showed me completely different stages that were happening in front of my face. It was unreal. Every single frame was unique and had a whole different part of the bee’s journey unfolding in front of me. Steve and Nicole walked me through what happens in each stage of the comb cycle and how it effects the health and prosperity of the hive; again, reiterating how much love and attention goes into keeping these high maintenance fuzzy little girls happy and thriving. That’s another thing I learned: hives are not just ruled by a queen, but almost all the inhabitants are female. There are very few male/drone bees. As we were getting deeper into the hive, Steve pointed out the laying patterns of the queen and how productive she was. “This is a good queen. She’s doing everything right.” As we were examining the middle frame, I spotted a huge red dot on the back of a bee. Nicole congratulated me for spotting her first, and I felt like a bee rock star. Steve then explained how they mark the queens to keep track of them. A different color is used each year.  We watched her for a few amazing minutes. Steve was right, she was a good queen.

Try and spot the queen with her big dot.

We reassembled the hive and took off our gear. Steve, Nicole, and I went into their garage where all the processing happens. They have a radial extractor that does 400 revolutions per minute. “Before we had this electric one, I had one that was a hand crank. It sucked.” I laughed, and as they explained the process of hot knifing the comb and spinning out the honey, it didn’t take long to understand how grueling the work would be by hand. “What we’re known for is our creamed honey. No one does it to the extent and quality that we do. It’s a 14-day process of adding crystallized honey and liquid honey at certain temperatures and letting it evolve.” They walked me through the process of achieving there many different flavors. It was mind boggling to think that every jar represented months of bee collecting and weeks of processing. “Oh this is something else we do. Pure comb straight in the jar. We built these custom frames so we can just cut the comb out and drop it in the jar. Completely unprocessed, untouched by human hands.” He handed me a jar and as I examined it I realized that this was probably the closest I’d ever come to holding liquid gold.

from left to right: the radial extractor, the working hive, and raw comb honey.

It was getting late in the evening, so we said our goodbyes and I started my drive back. The whole night kept replaying through my head and it wasn’t hard to see the similarities between the hive of bees and the Farmer’s Market. We are all these individuals going out and harvesting little patches of earth or creating wonderful products, then we bring it to the heart of the city to spread out and share and build our hive. It’s so perfect. It’s almost as perfect as having an amazing evening learning about bees and looking over at the passenger seat and seeing a jar of fresh, sweet, local honey that was gifted to you by an amazing couple. You can grab yourself a jar of the same honey this Saturday at the market. You can also follow Nicole’s Honey on Facebook , or if you’d like to learn more about bees, get your own hive, or order honey during non-market season you can visit Nicole’s Honey here.

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