Beekeeper was probably not on Kelly Penrod’s radar when it came to choosing a vocation following high school. Like many 18-year-olds, he made a little spending money doing odd jobs and working at a fast-food restaurant. One job, however, turned into a lifelong fascination with beekeeping.
“I did some work for Rusty Howze, a local beekeeper in Turlock,” Penrod said. “He needed some help with his business and he paid me with beehives. It was fun and exciting. I just got fascinated with the whole process of beekeeping. Rusty was a wonderful mentor. He taught me so much about caring for bees, pollinating and collecting honey.”
Today, with 25 years of experience as a professional beekeeper, Penrod has 400 certified hives producing about 100 to 140 pounds of honey per hive annually. He and his wife, Desiree Rufer, who describes herself as a “worker bee,” run Penrod Farms in Camino. They also breed rabbits and sell rabbit meat, but honey is the farm’s mainstay.
“In the spring we rent the hives to farmers for pollination,” said Penrod. “The season begins with almonds in February and we continue to work a variety of crops throughout the summer.”
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As you drive past orchards and field crops, usually in the springtime, you might see what appears to be white crates scattered throughout the fields. Those crates are actually beehives that beekeepers have rented to farmers for pollinating crops in bloom. After the bloom, the beehives are collected and moved to another nectar source.
“Everyone thinks honey is a biproduct of pollination,” Penrod noted, “but it’s actually the other way around. Bees collect nectar to make honey. That they pollinate while doing their job is secondary to them. When not renting out the hives, the rest of the year we process honey.” By processing, he means they collect and bottle it.
“Basically, the only thing we take out are the bees,” Penrod said. “Our honey is not filtered or heated. It just is what it is.”
The flavor and color of honey is determined by the flowers the bees visit. How would a beekeeper know where the bees have been?
“Bees go to the best source for nectar so if you’ve taken the hives to a farm, you can be certain that’s where the bees have been working,” Penrod explained. “In reality, very few things bloom at the same time. In the spring you have blackberries, in the fall you have manzanita, so you are pretty sure where the bees are getting nectar. If the honey is 51 percent nectar from one source, that’s how it’s labeled.
“Because bees are natural foragers, our varieties change with the seasons and with each year depending on the nectar source. So we label our honey ‘wildflower,’ which means it’s from a variety of flowers. A few years ago nothing seemed to be blooming nearby, but the bees were still busy. I got in my truck and followed them for five miles just to see what was going on. They had found a lima bean field.”
Penrod added: “We’re very careful about keeping the bees in a pesticide-free environment, moving the hives around to areas where there is no current spraying taking place. Last year we stopped pollination in unincorporated areas of Sacramento because of pollution.
“We also don’t allow the bees to swarm. We are constantly dividing hives to keep them healthy and to prevent swarming. In the wild, bees live in hives with limited space, like a tree trunk. Each hive might have 40,000 to 50,000 bees. When the hive gets too small, they raise another queen and the hive splits by swarming. We prevent that by dividing hives and breeding new queens.”
How many times has he been stung?
“You mean today?” Penrod says with a laugh. “Actually I usually wear a hat and veil, but not a suit. I have found that without a suit, I’m more careful and respectful of the bees. The downside is that I do get stung quite a bit.”
Another of Penrod’s passions is teaching people how to be beekeepers through the El Dorado High School Natural Resources apiary program.
Look for Penrod honey at Certified Farmers’ Markets, including the Saturday markets at McKinley Park and Country Club Plaza and the Sunday market at Carmichael Park.
FACTS ABOUT HONEY
The National Honey Board says there are more than 300 unique types of honey produced in the United States. Flavors and colors of honey depend on the flowers the bees visit. Here are some other interesting facts about honey:
▪ According to the National Honey Board, the 60,000 or so bees in the average beehive may collectively travel as much as 55,000 miles and visit more than 2 million flowers to gather enough nectar to make just a pound of honey.
▪ Honey should be stored at room temperature. When refrigerated, it becomes thick and can crystallize.
▪ If honey becomes crystallized, place the jar in a container of warm water until the crystals melt or place it in the microwave with the lid off. Microwave on high, stirring every 30 seconds until the crystals dissolve.
▪ Honey stored in sealed containers can remain stable for decades and even centuries.
▪ Honey has slightly more calories than sugar but because honey has more sweet flavor than sugar, it takes less to achieve as much sweetness.
▪ Honey does contain antioxidants and some nutrients that white sugar does not have, but the amounts are very small.
▪ When substituting honey for sugar in baked goods, reduce the liquid in the recipe by 1⁄4 cup for each cup of honey used. Add about 1⁄2 teaspoon of baking soda for each cup of honey used. Since honey is more heat-sensitive than sugar, reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees to prevent over-browning. In most other recipes you may substitute honey for half the sugar called for.
▪ To make measuring honey easier, spray the measuring cup or spoon with nonstick cooking spray before measuring the honey.
Source: The National Honey Board
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
This is a quick and impressive main dish. Serve the salmon with lemon wedges for garnish. Wild rice is the perfect side dish. This recipe is from the California Farm Bureau Federation.
1 1⁄2 pounds salmon fillet with skin (about 1 1⁄4 to 1 1⁄2 inches thick)
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons honey, any flavor
1⁄2 teaspoon cider vinegar
1⁄2 teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Preheat the broiler and place the oven shelf about 8-inches from the heating element. Line the rack of a broiler pan with foil, then coat it lightly with oil. Rinse the salmon and pat it dry. Place it skin side down on the foil lined rack. Mash the garlic with a pinch of salt, then stir it together with the mustard, honey, vinegar, caraway and pepper. Spread the mustard mixture over the salmon. Broil just until cooked, about 15 minutes.
Pumpkin honey bread
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Makes two 9-inch loaves
This recipe, from the National Honey Board, is perfect for fall. The breads also make wonderful hostess gifts during the holidays. For a special afternoon treat, serve slices of warmed pumpkin bread with steaming mugs of your favorite tea.
1 cup honey, any flavor
1⁄2 cup butter, softened
One 16-ounce can solid pack pumpkin, not pie filling
4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Generously grease two 9-inch loaf pans. In a large bowl, cream honey with butter until light and fluffy. Stir in the pumpkin. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly incorporated. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and spices. Stir the dry mixture into the pumpkin mixture, stirring well until the mixture is well blended.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of a loaf comes out clean. Remove the pans from the oven and allow them to cool for 10 minutes before inverting the pans and removing the bread. Place the loaves on a rack to finish cooling. When the loaves have cooled to room temperature, store them in tightly sealed plastic bags until ready to serve or freeze.
Honey-glazed acorn squash
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
This is a beautiful side dish. It pairs beautifully with pork and spiced apples. It is based on a recipe from epicurious.com.
Nonstick cooking spray
1 large acorn squash
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce, reduced-sodium or traditional
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
11⁄2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
Line a large baking sheet with foil, then spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray. Cut both ends from the squash. Then cut squash into 4 rings. Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. Place the rings on the foil-lined baking sheet. Cover the squash with a sheet of foil, sealing it tightly around the edges. Bake the squash at 425 degrees about 20 minutes or until it is slightly soft.
While squash cooks, whisk together the honey, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger and garlic. Remove the foil cover from the squash and drizzle the honey mixture over the rings. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake squash, uncovered for another 10 minutes or until tender.