March Madness…of a different sort!
As I’ve been looking for inspiration for this blog today (I’ve had a bit of writer’s block!) I’ve decided to talk about the weather! When in doubt, talk about the weather, right? As it happens, it is raining today. Since last night the rainfall totals are averaging around two inches throughout the Ojai Valley nearly 24 hours later. Such a nice little storm for our fire ravaged valley!
Over this past year in our tasting room I’ve had the opportunity to speak to hundreds (maybe over a thousand) people and most people understand we need rain for the flowers to bloom and provide our bees with nectar in the spring and early summer. But one thing most people do not realize is we need rain at particular times throughout the year in order to make honey from certain flowers. I’m going to specifically discuss Sage honey production.
For a perfect “Sage year” we need rain in late January into early February. Sometimes we can get lucky with a Hail Mary pass of rain in March, but for the most part we need that early year rain. BUT, the rain isn’t enough! We also need the other half of the equation which is spring temperatures must be spot on. Temperatures must be above the mid 70’s in order for the plants to produce nectar for the bees to collect. In 2016 we had the most perfect rainfall back here in Ojai, but the spring was much too cool, bordering on cold and there was little to no sage honey production back here in the Ojai Valley. It was a total bummer. Our beekeepers were all revved up to make a great crop of Sage honey but the Sage season fell flat on it’s cold nose! Luckily we had a really big pile of Sage honey from the 2016 year to carry us through!
The fact that we are able to procure honey like we do makes us different from most other small honey packers in California. We are a hybrid of sorts. In case you are new to us and don’t know “our story” I’ll give you the story briefly. Back in 1979 my Dad brought home our first hive in the back seat of his 1965 VW Bug. It was a very “Ojai” thing to do…as if he knew I’d be living in Ojai one day telling this story! That hive lived in our tract home back yard in the little town of Canyon Country, California along with several of it’s new neighbors (more hives because you can’t have just one!) for a couple years. Eventually it got to were the neighbors (ours) were not thrilled with all the bees so my Dad moved them to a real “bee location.” Over the next 30 years, that one hive turned in to one thousand five hundred hives and his hobby turned in to a post retirement business! We sold all the honey we produced to local wholesale customers during those thirty years. Fast forward to ten years ago when sadly, we lost my Dad to a severe stroke. We had to make a hard decision about the future of our little family business. Ultimately, we decided to sell the bees but keep the bottling side of our business and move it from Acton, CA to Ojai, CA. We updated our label, expanded our wholesale accounts to include Lassens, Whole Foods, New Frontiers and Vons’ local program to name a few! We now procure honey from beekeepers that keep their bees locally and also, most importantly, practice the same strict cultural practices we did over those many decades. Why is this special? How does this make us different from other small packers who are beekeepers and package their own honey? Well, sometimes, the reality is the honey you make might not be all that great but because you made it, you have to bottle and sell it. We are no longer tied to this limitation! We are able to get the best of the honey made in our area! If the color is off or the taste is off, we do not bring it in. We still treat the honey as we have always have, pouring one drum at a time by hand, no mixing within the lot or batches of honey and certainly no mixing in of other “ingredients!” The way we do it is the most inefficient way from a “production” point of view, but we do not mind because the end result in unparalleled! So, when we have a good Sage production year, we make sure to procure enough to carry us through if the next season is bad. This gives us the advantage of almost always having the honey available for our loyal customers.
Taking all this one step further we find ourselves in a unique situation this year back here in the Ojai Valley. Because of the recent fires that surrounded the Ojai Valley, all our surrounding mountains, valleys and hillsides have been burned. I’m sure you can guess what I’m going to say next…all our local sage brush burned in this fire as well. It’s sad to see, but we know from past experience, it will be back. It will grow back as wild flora most always does and it will be stronger and will one day provide a plentiful bounty for our bees both domestic and wild.
We sell this locally sourced Sage honey only in our tasting room and to our Ojai clients Westridge and Vons in an effort to provide our Ojai Valley with Ojai made honey for as long as possible!