Canoga Park beekeeper has a honey of a hobby

 As the Africanized honeybee — also known as a killer bee — buzzed overhead, beekeeper Harry Stein remained calm. In his thick Brooklyn accent, he advised, “Just walk slowly, just — slow, don’t go waving your arms.”

Twice, this type of honeybee has attacked Stein so severely that he had to be taken to the hospital. When they swarm and assault, he warned, they can cause anaphylactic shock and even death.

For Stein, though, managing about 120 hives and tens of thousands of bees is no big deal. Sure, he carries an epinephrine pen and has been stung everywhere from the tip of his nose to his tongue by busy bees that didn’t take kindly to his intrusion. But this fearless 70-year-old Canoga Park resident isn’t worried about the pain inflicted by this work.

“Pain? I’m from Brooklyn,” said Stein, wearing blue jeans and a thick red sweatshirt. “The fights I used to be in? No, not at all.”

Becoming a beekeeper was never part of Stein’s plan. As a junior at Cornell University in 1963, Stein was on the wrong track. As he tells it, he was partying too much, and his grades were falling. Someone recommended a two-unit course on beekeeping to help raise his marks.

“It did, and I fell in love with it,” Stein said. “It changed my life.”

One day, after his neighbors got angry about a group of his bees that swarmed their property, Stein realized he could actually make money off of his hobby.

“I ended up putting honey over the fence, so to speak — giving them honey — and that quieted them down,” he said. “They asked for more, and I go, ‘Well, this is ridiculous. I might as well start selling it.’ “

He created Harry’s Honey in 1972 and sold jars of the sweet stuff at farmers markets and on the streets of Manhattan, N.Y.

Harry Stein - beekeeper

Harry Stein, 70, sells about a dozen varieties of his Harry’s Honey. Stein’s interest in beekeeping began in 1963, when he was a student at Cornell University.
Photos by Cyndi Bemel

Stein said that each of his hives — which are situated inside wooden boxes — has 10 frames, pressed together with a wax foundation that the bees build out for honeycomb. The bees angle each hexagonal cylinder of the honeycomb upward so that the honey stored in it doesn’t drip out.

Honey is a derivative of nectar, which honeybees find in flowers and bushes. The bees give that nectar to worker bees, who chew on it for about 30 minutes before storing it in honeycomb, where the water from the chewed nectar evaporates.

There are about a dozen varieties of Harry’s Honey, many of which are infused with spices, and most of which you won’t find at the grocery store. Stein’s favorite is avocado honey, although he sells some as exotic as alfalfa-sage. Then there’s royal jelly — a secretion from bee glands — which he applies under his tongue every morning; he said he hasn’t had to take a sick day in decades because of it.

Like many in the industry, Stein has had his share of bad luck due to what scientists call colony collapse disorder (CCD). An estimated 10 million beehives nationwide have been decimated by the phenomenon since the winter of 2006. Stein, who said he lost half his bees to CCD over the years, noticed a problem with his hives more than 10 years ago, when he opened up a hive and found the bees walking in all directions and bumping into each other.

“A couple of days [later], there’s nothing left in that hive,” he said.

Now, though, everything is fine, and he’s free to enjoy his one-acre property that feels like it was taken straight out of the 1955 James Dean film “Rebel Without a Cause.” Two large wooden garages house old, powerful automobiles, including two of Stein’s favorite cars — a ’55 Chevy convertible and a ’51 Ford Woody Wagon. In addition to being a professional beekeeper, he’s also a self-trained car mechanic who outfits many of his 14 vehicles.

Completing the scene are antiques scattered throughout the property: a jukebox, an old barber’s chair and a gas pump that shows a price per gallon of just under 18 cents.

“I’m a collector, not a hoarder — a collector,” said Stein, explaining why he turned his property into a throwback ranch.

Every Sunday, this collector hops into one of his three 1969 Volkswagen buses and heads to the Mar Vista farmers market. There he can happily chat with passers-by and sell off his sweetest collection of all — honey. [T]


TIPS FOR COOKING WITH HONEY

- Store honey at room temperature; your kitchen counter or pantry shelf is ideal. If your honey crystallizes, simply place the honey jar in warm water and stir until the crystals dissolve.

- When substituting honey for granulated sugar in recipes, begin by substituting honey for up to half of the sugar called for in the recipe.

- When substituting honey for sugar in baked goods: Reduce the liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup for each cup of honey used; add about 1/2 teaspoon baking soda for each cup of honey used; and reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees to prevent over-browning.

- For easy measuring and clean-up, coat a measuring cup or spoon with cooking spray before adding honey.

SOURCE: NATIONAL HONEY BOARD