Spring marks a time of sneezing for many allergy sufferers. But what most red-eyed snifflers don't know is that consuming locally made honey alleviates that suffering. And most don’t realize that powerful allergy aid is made in their backyards – by beekeepers.
"If you consume local honey, the pollen that's in it helps you with allergies so it's a big local cure," explains Richard Schluger, vice president of the Northeast NJ Beekeepers Association. "Rather than go for allergy shots, a lot of people try to get local honey. You're not going to go to the A&P to pick that up. You go to the hand of a beekeeper."
Ingesting the pollen builds immunity to the pollen that's in the air, Schluger explains. Allergy sufferers want to ingest the local pollen because that's what they suffer from.
There are two or three other beekeepers in Wyckoff alone, Schluger estimates. In total, he believes there are roughly 10 beekeepers in the surrounding areas – and those are the ones he knows of. Each beekeeper tends to keep at least two hives. A 3rd-year bee enthusiast, Schluger maintains three hives – one off Wyckoff Avenue, another on Franklin Avenue in Franklin Lakes and a third will be near the McFaul Center in Wyckoff.
Schluger says he gets "calls all the time” about the healing powers of locally produced honey. "Everyone knows me as the Beekeeper Guy. Come allergy season everyone's asking for local honey. Demand always outstrips supply."
Though he doesn’t sell it, he says he gives his honey as gifts and that his wife vouches it help relieve her allergy symptoms. And the value of bees extends beyond reducing residents’ allergy-related sniffles and itches. They keep the prices for a slew of items at your local grocery store at a reasonable level.
For anyone who thinks bees are just nuisances, consider this:
"Bees are responsible for every third bite of food you eat; that includes beef and milk. You think cows don't need pollination. But cows eat alfalfa and that requires bee pollination," explains Schluger. "If the cost of cow food went up, everything that comes from the cow would go up. [The price of] milk would go up, beef would go up."
Bees also pollinate 140 fruits and vegetables. In the spring they fly around and pollinate everyone's gardens.
"Tomatoes would cost $15 each without them," Schluger says of bees. "How many tomatoes would you eat for $15 each? Not that many."
Beekeeping is a low-maintenance hobby. The season lasts only from spring until about the first of August. Contrary to some fears, dealing with the type of bees found in Wyckoff, Franklin Lakes and neighboring hives isn't dangerous. More than 70 percent of them are Italian bees -- gentle creatures by nature, explains Schluger.
"I've had them crawl all over me. I push them out of the way with my fingers. I go bare-handed," says Schluger, who adds he does wear a veil when he handles them to protect his face. "If the nectar flow is on they don't care about anything else."
To date, Schluger says it remains a mystery how he got interested in beekeeping.
"They're fascinating social creatures … the whole thing that happens in the hive with the queen and the workers and the drones," says Schluger. "It's very green and ties into the whole locovores thing. People like to consume food that's produced locally and honey is a food that's in demand as it's locally produced."
And the hobby of beekeeping is growing. Schluger urges anyone interested in beekeeping to start reading up on the subject, as he did, but, most importantly, to attend one of the local Beekeepers Association's monthly meetings. The club meets on the third Friday of each month in Glen Rock, at the Glen Rock Annex at 678 S. Maple Ave. (near Rock Road) at 7:30 p.m. Anyone interested in becoming a beekeeper gets paired with a mentor to learn the ropes – what equipment to order, how to build and maintain hives.
With more than 50 members strong, the Northern NJ Beekeeping Association will have to soon seek out another hive to accommodate its rapidly growing membership, says Schluger. The group, which has more than 700 members statewide, also has a presence online, with more than 40 bee enthusiasts who participate in its Facebook group.
For more information on where to purchase locally made honey contact the Northeast NJ Beekeepers Association.