Bees are not the typical Old MacDonald barnyard livestock our kids sing about, but Helene and Spencer Marshall at The Flying Bee Ranch delight in them. Their 650 hives set the mouth of the Napa Valley abuzz.
Once an outback outpost and now stuck amid growing sprawl, their ranch is not an auspicious-looking spread; but looks are deceiving—mostly because the hives are not serried at the ranch. Rather, Spencer is as busy as, well, a bee, moving the hives to more than 100 locations throughout the Bay Area. His Herculean efforts result in a buffet of honey from one of the nation’s richest agricultural regions.
Bees make honey by lapping nectar from flowering weeds, trees and grasses. They store the nectar in sacs inside their bodies and return to the hive where they deposit it into honeycomb cells. The bees then beat their wings over the nectar, thickening it and concentrating its flavor. When the honey is ready, they cap the cells with more wax made from glands in their bodies.
The Marshalls run a natural operation, mostly by hand, so the honey is kept just the way the bees made it. It’s strained to remove bits of wax and debris but not filtered so that more of the natural flavors of the plant pollens remain. In all, they produce more than 25 honey varietals including sage, orange blossom, almond blossom, and a dozen different wild flowers, including lavender and star thistle—kept separate by the locations of the hives.
—By Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough