Henry Storch is a professional farrier and migratory beekeeper who lives with his family in a hand-built cabin in Wren, Oregon. Henry enjoys playing Legos with his kids, eating strange tropical fruits, reading old issues of National Geographic, and nerding out with other botany enthusiasts. Together with his wife Camille, he produces and sells honey through his business Old Blue Raw Honey.
Camille Storch documents some of Henry’s beekeeping activities as well as other aspects of small farming, food preservation, and sustainable living on her blog, Wayward Spark. The photos plus the recipe at the end of the interview are from Camille.
What motivates you to do the work that you do?
Honeybees appreciate their surrounding habitat for the nectar, pollen, and resin resources that it provides them, so they could care less whether a plant that’s beneficial to them is a native or an invasive species. In the Pacific Northwest, the native tree and shrub diversity is critical to the buildup of hives in the spring, but the principal honey flow comes from the much maligned ‘Himalayan’ blackberry. Most people get bummed out when they see a native Doug-fir or alder tree covered in English ivy. I can look at the same dying tree and see a wealth of late-season, high-protein pollen. Honeybees are transplants to North America, just like us and most of our crops. It’s pretty easy to get hung up on the decline of native ecosystems and the impossibility of restoring broad swaths of land to pre-settlement condition, but honeybees and their keepers are able to make to most of the current plant community that is a result of our meddling.
Do you use plants in your work and if so how?
Plant phenology is one of the most critical but often overlooked aspects of beekeeping, starting with white alder pollen in early January and ending with English ivy nectar and pollen in December. The beekeeping year is constantly shifting between flow and dearth. As a beekeeper, it is my responsibility to anticipate what the habitat conditions are going to be for every apiary. If the bees are going into a dearth, they need to have sufficient food resources, and if they are going into a flow, they need to have sufficient space for surplus nectar, pollen, and bees. The most critical times for a beekeeper are: the bigleaf maple bloom (the earliest potential for surplus honey), the dewberry/poison oak/chittum bloom (the spring buildup), the late May/early June dearth, and the non-native blackberry bloom in July. I harvest small batches of varietal honey throughout the spring, but the main honey crop comes from non-native blackberries (mostly Rubus bifrons and R. vestitus). Following the honey harvest in late August, I move the bees west, so they can feed on baccharus, grindelia, and English ivy. The bees can make some really interesting honeys in the late season, but anything they cure after mid-August is for them to overwinter on.
What are the tools of your trade that you couldn’t live without?
My main tools for working bees are a smoker, a hive tool, and a veil. My appointment book is critical for keeping track of when a nectar flow starts, when it ends, and when I harvest that particular honey. Raising queens is also a very time sensitive procedure, and I use my appointment book to track timing for grafting, placing cells, checking mating nucs, etc. (More on my queen grafting method here.)
What do you turn towards for inspiration?
I was originally inspired to expand my bee breeding operation when some logger friends of mine started finding bee trees where colonies had survived without management for years deep in the Coast Range. When I went out to rescue the bees, I found them to be vastly different than the honeybees from more populated areas that I was used to. The bees showed resistance to most of the maladies that are part of modern beekeeping, what is popularly and collectively known as Colony Collapse Disorder.
There have been a lot of great bee breeders over time. One of my favorites is Brother Adam, a monk at Buckfast Abbey in Devon England. He spent the better part of the last century traveling throughout the native range of Apis mellifera collecting unique honeybee genetics and observing traditional beekeeping methods that were quickly being replaced with standardized equipment. His work is particularly inspirational to me in that he sought to breed a bee that was disease resistant as well as adapted to the harsh conditions and difficult nectar flows in Devon. A fair amount of my stock is derived from Buckfast bees that have persisted in the remote valleys along Big Elk River in Oregon. There’s a great biography of Bro Adam that can be found here.
I would also recommend a book called At the Hive Entrance about observational beekeeping (available as a PDF online here) that was written, strangely enough, by another guy named H. Storch.
Hot Pepper Jam
Yield: about 8 cups
This jam goes well on a meat or vegetable sandwich or on a cracker spread with cream cheese or chévre. Pomona’s Universal Pectin can be found at most natural foods stores. It’s great for making low-sugar or alternative-sugar (such as honey) jams and jellies.
3 cups finely chopped hot peppers for a spicy jam or hot peppers mixed with sweet peppers for a milder jam
3 cups apple cider vinegar
3 cups honey
3 teaspoons Pomona’s Universal Pectin
4 teaspoons calcium water (the packet comes with the Pomona’s pectin)
sterilized canning jars, lids, and rings
In a large pot, bring chopped peppers and apple cider vinegar to a boil. Simmer covered for 5 minutes. Add calcium water and mix well.
In a separate bowl, mix the pectin powder with ½ cup honey.
Bring the pepper mixture back to a boil. Add the honey-pectin mixture and stir well to dissolve. Add the rest of the honey and stir well. Return to a boil, and then remove the pot from the heat.
Fill jars with jam, leaving ¼” headspace. Wipe the rims of the jars, top with lids, and screw the rings on until “finger tight”. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. When cooled, check to make sure the lids have sealed.