Serendipity is a fun thing to watch unfold. One day you’re sitting calmly in yoga class and it all leads to becoming an award winning beekeeper with samples of your work presented at Rutgers as an example of quality. That is exactly the overly simplified version of what happened to Stefanie Omlor of Lower Alloways Creek Township and her buzzing new company, Frog Ocean Honey.
Stefanie’s yoga instructor was discussing his difficulty in finding a good local honey. It was his belief, and a growing one, that a teaspoon a day of local honey helps to relieve seasonal allergies. Although the FDA does not regulate honey (more on that later) and therefore cannot make statements on its benefits, the simple thought is that local honey is made from what the bees can find in their surroundings. If the bees make their honey with a bit of what your allergies are beating you up with, this small dosage would help your body develop immunities to those pollen types found in the honey.
It just so happened that a few days later Stefanie saw a television show about beekeeping and it peaked her interest. She remembered her instructor’s comments, realized there might be a larger need, and most importantly thought it would be fun to try. “I found a beginning beekeeper course that was being offered through Rutgers and asked my husband to take the course with me.” The story since has been nothing but sweet. “We purchased equipment and bees, found a great spot on our property for our bee yard, and officially began keeping bees in June of 2012.”
Almost a year and a half as well as numerous awards later, Stefanie and I chat about Frog Ocean Honey at her beautiful 27 acre property in depth. “We are in a tidal marsh area with an abundance of unique wildflowers and open forage. Bordering our property is over 100 acres of land that is in the farmland preservation program and just beyond that property is Mad Horse Creek Wildlife Management Area which is over 9,000 acres of protected land.”
All of these factors are in direct opposition to many of the contributions to the rapid decline in honey bee population in recent years. “I feel fortunate about our location. It is believed that the decline of the honey bee is a combination of things including lack of open forage, pesticides, and poor beekeeping. We do not use pesticides at all on our property. Our bees have plenty of open forage and are not exposed to harsh chemicals. We are responsible beekeepers who inspect our hives regularly and do everything we can to ensure our bees are healthy!”
As winner of the Best Exhibitor award at New Jersey State Honey Show, the Frog Ocean Honey family knows there is much more than just luck to the honey game. Additionally, I quite literally mean family as it is Stefanie, her husband, son and her daughter that solely take care of the entire operation. The bees themselves do the heavy lifting by collecting “pollen in sacks on their back legs and use their straw-like tongue to suck nectar out of flowers. The nectar is placed in honeycomb cells and is used to feed baby bees. It’s actually the nectar that is turned into honey. Nectar is brought back to the hive and spread in the open cells. Nectar is about 80% water and the bees inside the hive fan the nectar making the water evaporate and turn it into a thicker syrup. When it is the right consistency, the bees seal off the honey with beeswax and store it for them to eat when they need it.”
Sure you might have just thought, as I immediately did, that this process starves the bees. Ye of little faith! “Once there is enough honey stored in the bottom boxes for the bees to survive, we add another smaller box on top called a honey super. Once the frames of the super are filled and capped with beeswax we are able to extract the honey.”
Stefanie goes on to describe the entire process of cutting the beeswax off, which is saved to make products like lip balm and body butter, and spinning the honey off into filtered buckets. Once all of the honey has been extracted, the buckets are poured directly into the bottles that we can find for purchase at local vendors such as Salem City’s Java Dog or Costello’s Nursery in Deepwater.
Bees, fickle creatures that they are, only collect their supplies in prime weather conditions. Unlike our friends in the postal industry, rain, sleet, and snow ground all bee flight. Bees are typically active between March and November but cold or wet spells could change that season entirely. In addition, you never quite know what you’re going to get from each batch.
“The flowers that the bees gather nectar and pollen from determines the color and flavor of honey. Typically the lighter the honey the sweeter it is and the darker the honey the more robust the flavor.” Honey, Stefanie tells me, has four categories: light, amber, dark amber, and dark. “The bees will collect pollen and nectar from whatever is abundant at the time and there really isn’t a guarantee that the honey is going to be the same every time we harvest. This year, from two side by side hives, we got a honey that had a slight amber color and one that was ultra light with a yellow tint. Both were extracted within a week or two of each other.”
A mantra anyone familiar with my articles knows by now is buy local. That said, I will always only recommend quality product. When I asked Stefanie what makes her product so special she had several thoughts on the matter. “Buying local honey and knowing your beekeeper is the best way to ensure that you are getting good quality, pure, raw honey straight from the hive. This will be the healthiest honey you can buy. There are no FDA regulations on honey so if you buy from a grocery store you are not guaranteed that the product is pure honey. It could be a sugar syrup or pasteurized honey. Many commercial honey varieties are heated and this process destroys many of the enzymes and nutrients in raw honey.”
“I also think it is important to note how small and hands on an operation we are. My husband, son, and I are the sole caretakers of the bees. Our lip balms and other beeswax products are hand-made by my daughter and myself. We use all natural ingredients and buy from a company that has been in business for over 50 years and does not do animal testing on any of its products. Our honey is ultra local, has won awards, and is currently being used as an example of quality light honey at beekeeping courses at Rutgers.”
While the scientific community has varying reports on the effects of honey consumption, raw honey is honey in its purest form and it contains vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Stefanie adds, “Honey has been used for decades for medicinal purposes. It seems lately it has been getting a lot more media attention for its health benefits. It is known to sooth a sore throat, can be used as a topical solution to treat burns and acne, will give you an energy boost, and, as mentioned, help to relieve seasonal allergies.”
Though Frog Ocean is the name of the road the Omlors live on, there’s more to the name than just that. “I read somewhere that frogs are good luck in business. Because a frog can only move forward he is always progressing and represents a prosperous future.” The frog used in the Frog Ocean Honey logo is meditating as a nod to Stefanie’s original thought to try beekeeping came while in yoga class. Everything ties together just as it should.
If you are interested in reaching Frog Ocean Honey about any of their fantastic products, please check out their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/frogoceanhoneybeefarm or email to email@example.com. They are a certified Bee Friendly Farm, licensed to carry the Jersey Fresh logo, and active members of the New Jersey Beekeepers Association.
“When I started beekeeping, I was mainly interested in the honey but soon realized how important this amazing bee is. By supporting local beekeepers you are not only getting delicious honey, you are also playing an important role in saving the bees!”
I’d say it doesn’t get any better than that, but I’ve had the honey.