Beekeepers at Swarmbustin' Honey get a good buzz about next year's crop

Photo by Fran Maye Abram Broughton uses smoke to keep bees at bay at his honeybee facility in West Grove.
Photo by Fran Maye Abram Broughton uses smoke to keep bees docile while he collects honey.

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“Sometimes you go in and you only get stung 30 times.”

Luke Broughton.

By FRAN MAYE

fmaye@21st-centurymedia.com

Abram Broughton wears a bandana to keep bees from stinging his forehead. He has a beard to keep them from stinging his neck. And he often goes shirtless when collecting honey to keep bees from getting under his shirt and stinging him.

Still, he’ll sometimes get stung 50 times a day.

This year, he didn’t get as many stings, mainly because the wet weather put a damper on honey production at the beekeeping farm he works at in West Marlborough Township.

“This year was the worst harvest we’ve ever had,” said Broughton, who works at his father’s bee farm called Swarmbustin’ Honey on Thourin Road. “If it’s too wet, the flowers are closed up and the bees can’t work it, and we don’t get honey. This past year, the grass was too lush, which choked out all of the clover.”

But Broughton’s father, Walt, said the latter part of the year had great weather, which should set up 2014 to be a stellar year for honey collection.

“Our bees look better going into this winter than many a year,” said Walt Broughton. “The fall was so sweet, the bees were able to collect a lot of nectar. I’m really optimistic for 2014 going into the winter season.”

Honey production, which began earlier in March, ended this week. The bees have just begun to settle in for the winter at all 350 hives owned by Broughton. His business has hives Oxford, Westtown and all over Chester County.

For Abram Broughton and his brother Luke, who also works at Swarmbustin, the next few months are a welcome relief to the typical 80-hour weeks in the summer. Last week, Abram Broughton worked 36 straight hours collecting honey.

Each of the hives at Swarmbustin generates about 250 pounds of honey, not bad considering a single honeybee produces just 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in its life.

“It takes a lot of bees to make honey,” said Walt Broughton. “We have about 60,000 bees per hive, and we’ve had hives in the six digits when they don’t swarm.”

When bees swarm, the hive has gotten too large, and half of the population will leave to form a new hive, which will get its own queen.

But once collected, honey can store forever. It is the only food on Earth that never goes bad. Abram Broughton said honey was found in some of the Egyptian tombs, and it was still consumable.

Walter Broughton said that while he expects next year to bring a good harvest, he said local agribusiness is impeding the honeybees. The growth in the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which compromises honeybees’ immune system, has caused honeybee population to fall off, Walt Broughton said. Because honeybees account for 80 percent of all insect pollination, if the honeybee population declines, there will be a significant decrease in the yield of fruits and vegetables in Chester County.

Abram and Luke won’t get stung again until early next year, and because they don’t wear protective gear because it’s too hot and bulky, they are at risk more than the workers who use the suits. But they are more productive, and in the honey business where hives are constantly harvested, time is money.

“Sometimes you go in and you only get stung 30 times,” said Luke Broughton. “You just have to get comfortable with the bees.”

Swarmbustin’ ships its honey all over the country and its web site is at 911honey.com.

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