Los Angeles, CA - Honey And Bee-Yond, Chasidic Apiarist Indulges Lifelong Interest In Bees
Los Angeles, CA - While honey may play a pivotal role in the upcoming holiday of Rosh Hashana, few if any give much thought to the thick, gold colored substance that will be gracing the tables of Jewish families worldwide. Yet for chasidic beekeeper Uri Laio, honey, and the bees that produce it, are not just part of a holiday observance, but a focal point of his life.
“I had an interest in bees from when I was a child in elementary school,” the 30 year old Laio told VIN News. “I was fascinated by honeybees and bumblebees and have memories of spending time with them, going out to the clover fields at school, catching them in my hands and holding them. I got stung occasionally but it doesn’t hurt much to get stung by a honey bee. I never really thought about being a bee keeper but I had a bond with bees, I suppose.”
While Laio, a California native, had originally planned to be a lawyer, his life took a turn for the unexpected after both spending time living on organic farms and enrolling in a Chabad yeshiva. It was a New Jersey winter at a Morristown yeshiva that led Laio on the path to organic foods.
“That was my first year living with a real winter and I got cabin fever,” explained Laio. “You could be inside the yeshiva complex for weeks at a time going from the dormitory to the cafeteria to the Shul and I decided to do something outdoors that summer.”
After finding the Adamah program, a Jewish environmental fellowship, Laio knew he had found his calling.
“I spent the summer engaged in Jewish organic farming and sustainable living,” recalled Laio. “It was exactly what I was looking for. I was outdoors all summer, and I found my passion in that program. I learned to make fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles and kombucha and I never felt as healthy in my entire life, which is saying a lot for a healthy young man.”
With his newfound background in organic farming, Laio decided to indulge his fascination with bees, and using a technique called “Backwards Beekeeping”, where beekeepers avoid pesticides, chemicals and other treatments in favor of just observing their bees, he set about creating his own hive.
“You can just order them from a catalog and have them shipped, but another way to do it is to lure a colony of bees to a box,” said Laio. “Bees really like the smell of beeswax so to test the waters, I set up my box, put in some wax and a few drops of honey and just left it there and didn’t think about it. I came back two weeks later to check on it and there was a colony of bees inside. I called that hive ‘The Golem’ because it was like a dead box that came to life.”
Today Laio has six hives, located on a small farm that is part of the Highland Hall School in Northridge, California, a private school whose curriculum places a strong emphasis on teaching students about farming and nature. He drops by several times per week to inspect the outside of his boxes for potential damage and every six to eight weeks, Laio opens up the hives to look for any pests or other problems.
“Other than that, they are wild animals,” explained Laio. “They collect their own food, have their own defense systems and their own breeding program. They are wild animals that we happened to build a home for.”
Laio estimates that approximately 20,000 to 50,000 bees inhabit each hive and the bees subsist exclusively on the honey they create by fermenting flower nectar. Twice a year, Laio harvests excess honey from the hive, once in the spring and once in the fall.
“We smoke the bees in order to mask their alarm pheromones and keep them calm,” said Laio. “We inspect how much honey there is, making sure that there is plenty of honey for the bees. While many farmers would take all the honey and leave the bees with high fructose corn syrup, it affects the bees. If there is an excess of honey we pull out the frame, brush off any bees that may be clinging to it and take the honeycomb, crushing it and straining the honey from the wax.”
The resulting raw honey, which is not micro-filtered or pasteurized, is what Laio calls a medical grade honey that contains helpful bacteria which, according to Laio, can promote healing.
“You can put it on an open wound and it will make the wound heal quicker. It is better than Neosporim because it actually kills bad bacteria.”
With the hives located in the middle of a biodynamic farm, Laio considers his honey to be of exceptionally high quality.
“Most of the pollen is collected from plants directly around the hive, where there are no pesticides, the soil itself is taken care of much more than on a regular farm and the plants are really robust. I have heard people say when they taste it that it is the best honey they have ever had,” reported Laio.
Laio’s honey, which comes from a mixture of wildflower, herb, vegetable and tree flowers, retails for about one dollar per ounce on his blog www.ChassidicBeekeeper.com and is also available locally in farmer’s markets. Laio also sells assorted fermented vegetable products, which he describes as “nutrient dense living foods”, on his website www.BrassicaAndBrine.com. He calls his honey, which undergoes no processing at all “the ultimate kosher food.” In New York Laio’s products are available at Benz’s Gourmet 332 Albany Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11213.
The connection between honey and Rosh Hashan is readily apparent to Laio.
“According to the Gemara, honey is one sixtieth of the mon, which was something that was obviously straight from Hashem,” explained Laio. “Why do we dip things into honey and make honey cakes? To have a sweet year and we should known that just like the mon came straight from Hashem, all sweetness comes from Hashem as well.”
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