Scott Ruppelius’ most recent foray into honey began when he caught a bee swarm in 2004.
Ruppelius of Kennewick had worked with bees before, using the money to help pay for college.
With that hive, Two Sisters Honey was born. Ruppelius now cares for 25 hives, which he said is a necessity to keep up with demand for the local honey.
Two Sisters Honey is named after Erika and Shaina, Ruppelius’ two daughters. They help filter the honey, bottle it and make some bee-related products using beeswax, such as soaps, lotions and lip balms.
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And both girls help sell the honey Fridays at Market at The Parkway in Richland.
The honey has a stronger taste than store-bought honey because Ruppelius and his family filter using nylon, which retains the pollen and enzymes.
That’s why eating local honey can help some people who suffer with allergies, he said.
Two Sisters Honey produces wildflower honey and lavender honey. They also make creamed honey, a thick spread rather than a liquid. Their creamed honey comes in plain, strawberry and peach flavors.
Local honey also serves as an ingredient in beer Ruppelius makes as part of Two Sisters Brewery. And they’ve even created a barbecue sauce using honey. For more information or to order honey products online, go to www.twosistershoney.com.
To harvest honey, Ruppelius, an insurance adjuster, cuts off the wax covering the cells on the wooden frame from a bee box. Then, the frames are spun in an extractor.
Ruppelius said his bees are producing as much honey as ever. He typically gets about 160 pounds of honey per hive. That’s about 12 gallons, he said.
Honey was a $6.2 million crop in Washington in 2012, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. About 2.6 million pounds of honey were produced by 64,000 colonies of Washington bees.
For Matthew Hutchens, honey is a bonus from pollination.
Hutchens, owner of Northwest Queen Bees near Dayton, is a commercial beekeeper. Farmers hire him to have his bees pollinate their fields and orchards.
Pollination is a critical part of farming, Hutchens said, because about two-thirds of food crops are pollinated by honey bees.
Hutchens had his bees ready for pollination and transported to California almond orchards by mid-February 2012, where they worked for about a month.
Then Hutchens, vice president of Mid-Columbia Beekeepers Association, said he moved his hives among cherries, apples and onions. His bees finished pollinating crops in 2012.
Without the almond industry, the bee industry would be dead, Hutchens said, because it’s quite difficult to make a livelihood producing honey.
“I’m still blown away by how many hives it takes to pollinate those almonds,” Hutchens said.
Hutchens got his first bees in 1998 and worked for a beekeeper out of Yakima in 1999 to see what was involved in commercial beekeeping.
Now, he has about 2,000 hives of bees, and it’s become his full-time job, working 12- to 16-hour days.
His colonies bounced back during the past four years. About two-thirds of Hutchens’ hives were destroyed in 2008 by colony collapse. Before the collapse, he had about 1,500 hives.
There are so many variables that researchers remain unsure of what causes the collapse, he said, but one problem is that some of the new agricultural sprays accumulate. Research indicates those chemicals will build up in beeswax.
So now, he said he changes the frames in his hives every three years. While not a cure-all, it seems to help, Hutchens said.
Mites remain a formidable pest because they carry diseases.
“I don’t make any money on dead bees,” he said.
He feeds his bees a mix of corn syrup and sucrose to help stimulate them.
Hive size ranges from 20,000 to 100,000 bees, Hutchens said. A queen lays about 3,000 eggs a day during the summer, which almost matches the number of bees that perish each day.
In summer, they live about three weeks, dying after their wings get so tattered that they no longer can fly, he said.
However, bees are just like people, Hutchens said.
“Some are lazy; some aren’t,” he said.
Hutchens said he sells honey to hobbyist beekeepers in Spokane County as well as to a bakery and a store. He extracts honey from August until mid-October.
Among honey’s value is that it is the only food that doesn’t spoil, Ruppelius said.
Honey pulled out of Egyptian tombs was still good, Hutchens said. It crystallizes but reverts to liquid after the container is placed in warm water.
Some people use honey as a sugar substitute, said Mike Somerville, owner of Petersons Honey in West Richland. As a general rule, if a recipe calls for a cup of sugar, use a half-cup of honey.
Somerville got into beekeeping about 30 years ago, and when he heard Petersons Honey was going to close, he took over the company in 1995.
Last summer, he kept four hives, but he received honey from three other beekeepers. He stores the honey in 55-gallon barrels, then sinks the barrels into a warm water bath to liquefy the honey for bottling.
He filters the honey through a nylon stocking, pours it into different packages and labels them.
The honey tastes different depending on the crop those bees pollinated. He sells local buckwheat, clover and alfalfa honeys. And he brings in some orange blossom honey.
Petersons Honey is sold in the Tri-Cities at Highland Health Foods, Richland Health Foods, Fiesta Foods, Albertsons, Yoke’s Fresh Market, Supermex and the Pasco Farmers Market.