A sweet success

According to the Israeli Honey Council, about 500 apiarists produce honey from some 100,000 beehives situated throughout the country.

wo of Yael Farbstein’s daughters in protective gear at Kedumim Honey.  (photo credit: KEDUMIM HONEY)
wo of Yael Farbstein’s daughters in protective gear at Kedumim Honey.
(photo credit: KEDUMIM HONEY)
While dipping the apple in honey, with the greeting Shana tova u’metuka (a good and sweet year) on our lips, just imagine the intense labor of the thousands of bees that produce the honey. To produce one kilogram of honey, bees must tap four million flowers.
Yael Farbstein, founder and owner of Kedumim Honey, is surrounded by her younger children – who all have [protected] hands-on experience – as she relates the fascinating process of honey production.
In February 2017, Kedumim Honey was awarded first place in the International Black Jar Honey Tasting Contest in the category of honeys produced from wildflowers. The goal of the contest, which takes place in Asheville, North Carolina, is to bring together bees, people and plants to share the intersection of honey with taste, and to discover and celebrate varietals and blends from all parts of the globe.
“We don’t deserve the credit for the award,” comments Farbstein. “It’s due to the heaven-sent blessing of this region, the Shomron [Samaria].”
She runs the boutique honey farm business with the help of her husband Alon and their nine children, who are all outfitted with protective gear for working the beehives.
“We have all been stung by the bees, but not often. People usually worry about the stings, but bees sting only if they feel under threat.” The Italian honeybees used by Israeli beekeepers are relatively gentle.
Farbstein grew up in Kedumim, a sprawling settlement in the center of Samaria.
“I always wanted to work in agriculture, since this forges the connection to Eretz Yisrael, and agriculture highlights important work and educational values. At one time, I thought of growing vines.”
In 2011, Farbstein studied beekeeping in a new course at Ariel University (then it was a college). The course, led by apiarist Dr. Azaria Lupo, was divided into theoretical and hands-on practice. Today, the Hebrew term for beekeeper is “devora’i” (from devora, “bee”) replacing kavran (from kaveret, “beehive”) – a homophone of “gravedigger.”
The agricultural branch of raising honeybees took off in this region in the 1880s. According to the Israeli Honey Council, about 500 apiarists produce honey from some 100,000 beehives situated throughout the country. There are some 6,300 pasture points suitable for beehives, and apiarists travel with their beehives to the place most suitable according to season. Honey collection is primarily between May and August, with bees annually producing some 35 kilos per beehive.
The work of beekeepers is attuned to seasonal changes.
“The seasons in this region differ from the seasons in the center of the country, and the various stages are usually about two months later than elsewhere,” Farbstein explains.
“The seasons and weather affect when the flower blossoms appear and when the bees collect nectar and pollen. For example, this past winter, there was less rain and the nectar collecting started later.”
Due to housing and road construction, plants, flowers and honeybees are on the decline in Israel as in other parts of the developed world. In the wide open expanses of Samaria this is felt less. The honey that won in the International Multi-Floral Sourced Honeys category was, according to the contest’s website, “extracted from comb that contains nectar from many plants… the flavor cannot be ascribed to a single plant.”
The hexagonal cells of a typical honeycomb of Kedumim Honey, filled with pollen or nectar, display different colors, since the bees have a choice of hundreds of kinds of wildflowers. Each week Farbstein posts on the Facebook of Kedumim Honey a photo of a different wildflower from the area.
She relates that competition for the Black Jar Honey Contest was stiff, as hundreds of competitors, some from exotic places, entered the contest.
“All honeys were placed in black jars, so the judges had no idea where the honey was produced,” she notes.
The variety of honeys around the world are described on the website: “The concentrated essence of plants collected by thousands of individual bees. Each a blend of the unique flora within foraging distance. Different within each colony in a single place – indeed different within cells of a single comb. Different throughout the progressing season and noticeably different year to year.”
Farbstein adds: “For me, the significance of the award is that the Jews in Israel are returning to cultivate the land, much like the pioneering immigrants in the early 20th century who had planted orchards and vineyards, and founded wineries. These pioneers were not farmers in their countries of origin. In the Shomron today, there are quality wineries, olive presses, dairy products – and now honey.”
As her younger children listen and show samples, she explains the marvels of the honey-making process: the built-in GPS of bees to return to their hives according to the angle of the sunlight, the division and rotation of labor in the beehive (such as fanning the nectar 170 times per second to thicken it, and capping the cell with beeswax), caring for the queen bee, and the organized power structure of the thousands of bees in the hive.
Farbstein and her family go at dawn to check the honeycombs’ frames in the hive.
“We spread some smoke with a canister, since this masks the bees’ pheromones – used for alerting the other bees – so they are calm when we arrange the frames. At the same time, the bees keep busy by eating the honey, making it harder for them to sting.”
When the beehive overflows with honey, it is taken to the honey extractor and placed in jars. On the day that I came, the honey extractor of Kedumim Honey had been stolen a few hours earlier during in the night. Jars of honey for the holiday season were also stolen.
“This is very painful, but we will rebuild and produce more of what the area has to offer in this land ‘flowing with milk and honey,’” says Farbstein optimistically.
Dvash Kedumim receives orders from clients throughout Israel and ships purchases by mail. Their products are also sold in a shop in Jerusalem.