Not only are honey bees important pollinators and producers of one of nature’s great sweeteners, they can also be therapeutic, at least for people like beekeeper and Bee Strong Honey owner Luis Slayton. “When I go out and work with the bees it’s like the rest of the world slows down,” he said. “Everything seems so calm to me.”
Bee Strong Honey is a family business owned and operated by Slayton near Edcouch. “We have over 20 years of experience in the commercial management of bee hives,” he said. “Over the past 10 years we have grown to more than 800 commercially operated hives.”
Slayton was introduced to the world of bees by his grandfather, who tended bee hives and harvested the honey. His grandmother used the wax from the honeycombs to make candles.
Bee Strong Honey works with farmers to pollinate crops in the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere. He also produces honey for sale and offers a bee removal service for people who discover hives in their homes.
“We go out and do a live bee removal,” he said. “We remove the bees and we give the homeowners the honey. It’s edible honey and we give you a lifetime guarantee to the treated area.”
When it comes to managing hives for pollination in farmers’ fields, the number one crop in the Valley is watermelon, especially the seedless varieties. “That’s the biggest in the Valley,” Slayton said. “You can have a thousand acres of watermelons but you won’t have a big yield if you don’t pollinate.”
He said watermelon growers can see a 40- to 60-percent increase in yield with bee pollination. “But it’s not just putting boxes in the fields. We place the hives strategically so you can benefit. You have to know what you’re doing.”
Cucumbers and zucchini squash are other Valley crops where bee pollination is beneficial. “And we are starting to move into okra,” Slayton said.
While Slayton charges farmers for the use of his bees and his expertise, he has worked out a different deal with citrus farmers. Since citrus produces a particularly tasty honey Slayton offers his bees for pollination in return for keeping the honey that he can then sell. Bee Strong Honey is available in some stores and directly from Slayton.
While news reports in recent years have set off alarms about a disappearing bee population, Slayton said there’s no shortage of bees in the Valley, although there are threats. “Agricultural spraying can harm bee populations,” he said. “You are going to see a decline in all insects in the Valley because of that.”
Bee Strong Honey’s hives, depending on their size, are home to between 80,000 and 120,000 honey bees each. A honey bee’s life span is typically only about six weeks. But a queen can live for two years or more. “The queen stops laying eggs in the wintertime because there’s not much foraging available, and they store up enough food for the winter,” Slayton said. “Then the queen starts laying about 2,000 eggs a day in the springtime when they are most active. Bees are in the business of making babies, making babies.”
Slayton also has breeding queen bees whose offspring are used to replace the queens in his hives annually to keep the colonies healthy and thriving. “And I sell queens to beekeepers across the Valley and across the nation,” he said.
As a natural sweetener, Slayton said honey is a good choice for diabetics as opposed to processed sugar. Local honey also can help with allergies. “The pollen is suspended in raw, unfiltered honey,” he said. “It helps people with allergies because you get accustomed to that pollen source or pollen type. But consuming it you build up a tolerance.”
Among Bee Strong Honey’s regular customers are Winter Texans, many of whom order honey shipped to them in the summer so they can begin building up the pollen tolerance before they head south to the Valley.