Glenn Robins (58) is the owner of the Phelan Honey Farm and has lived in Phelan for 33 years. For the past few years, he has been selling his surplus honey to the public and wants them to know he offers a raw, unfiltered local product.
As an avid reader and curious person, Robins says he got into the honey farming business by accident. “I had a couple of empty hives, and I was curious about beekeeping. One day the bees swarmed and landed in my hives. So, I became an instant beekeeper.” Bees swarm for two different reasons. One reason is that they need more space to live. The other is that the bee colony is growing and splitting in two. When this happens, a new queen is born, and the old one leaves with half the colony.
Bees make honey by going to flowers and gathering nectar. They put that nectar in a special stomach and bring it back to the hive, where they pass it off to several bees, transferring an enzyme in the process. Eventually, they place the nectar in a cell within the hive and fan it with their wings until it dehydrates. The result is honey. “It’s amazing how the bees know this. They know when it gets down to about 19 percent water that its ripe and they cap it. So, as a beekeeper, we know that the honey is ripe because the cells have been capped.” When an entire honeycomb frame is capped, the honey farmer removes the waxy seal and spins the honey out. In a good year, each of Robins’s 12 hives can produce up to 100 pounds of honey.
The Mojave Desert honey that Robins bees produce, named Wildflower, is dark golden in color with a smooth texture and mild floral sweetness. He also sells a Sonora Desert Cactus honey and an Owens Valley Buckwheat honey.
The business does come with a dark side he warns. Mislabeling is rampant when it comes to honey because the grading system is voluntary. “Unfortunately, a lot of the honey that’s sold in the stores has been adulterated by adding corn syrup, rice syrup.” What this means is that not all grade A labeled honey meets that standard. “You’ll see grade A on the label, and then you look at it, and you can tell its been filtered. Grade A is unfiltered honey, so there’s a lot of mislabeling.” According to Robins, if you can see very clearly through honey, then chances are that it has been filtered. “What we do here is we do strain the honey, but we don’t filter it. So, that leaves a lot of the pollen the bees collect in the honey. It’s that pollen that’s in the honey that helps some people with some allergies.”
Worldwide, bee populations have been in decline because of Colony Collapse Disorder. This disorder is brought on by several different factors including, insecticides, parasites, and the loss of flowers for bees to collect nectar from. “The bees are like the canary in the mine,” explains Robins. “They’re telling us that somethings wrong in our environment and we have to listen.” This year, Robins says his bee apiary (a collection of beehives) is doing fine because of the super bloom. Up North, other hives of his are experiencing up to 20 percent losses in population.
Anyone interested in getting some Phelan Honey Farm products can reach Robins by looking him up on Google or Facebook. Besides honey, he offers a variety of soaps, candles, and other wax products. He also sells on Wednesdays at the Helendale farmers market between 3-7 pm.
“Know where your food comes from,” he stresses. “People can come here. They can see the hives. They can see the equipment. They can see the honey room, and I want them to know where their food comes from.”