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Silver Sage Honey: 'Beekeeper Magic'

The aromas of lemongrass and honey combine to smell like cedar in the “honey house” at Silver Sage Honey.

This spring, beekeeper Amanda Neal bottled honey including herbal infusions, creamed honey, and light and dark varieties to take to a community fair. She works in a 10-by-20-foot shipping container converted into a honey-processing facility where bottles, buckets, stainless-steel tanks and labels line tables and shelves.

Amanda and husband Justin operate Silver Sage Honey from their 40 acres in South Fork.

Originally from Utah, the Neals had some background in agriculture before starting the bee business. Justin and Amanda moved to Nevada about 17 years ago and have three sons: Hunter, 21; Bayker, 19; and Conner, 18.

“I didn’t think I would ever be doing bees,” said Amanda, who admitted she previously wasn’t even interested in having her own business.

But Amanda’s brother started beekeeping as a hobby in the Salt Lake City area and got her interested.

“We ordered our hives on our way home,” Amanda said.

They started with one hive and got another the next year. Then their neighbor sold them five more. Now they have more than 200 hives.

“You have to be a little bit crazy” to keep bees, Amanda said.

Despite a population of 30,000 to 50,000 bees per hive, Amanda said she can differentiate among the members of unique hives and recognize them outside as they mingle with native pollinators. Most nonnative bees come from Europe.

She can even summon them.

At a festival last fall, a “little friend” visited Amanda’s booth while a couple of boys watched, fascinated.

“I held out my hand, and she [a bee] landed right on my finger,” Amanda shared on Facebook. “The boys watched wide-eyed as she crawled up my hand, so I grinned and told them, ‘Beekeeper magic.’ ”

Back at the apiary this spring, Amanda reached with honey on her index finger into a yellow-blooming current bush abuzz with bees and other insects.

“Come on, baby. Come on,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite things to show people is how gentle they can be.

Eventually, she enticed one to land, if only briefly.

“They’re busy,” she said.

The “girls,” as Amanda calls them, produce about 5,000-6,000 pounds of honey each year.

Amanda stays busy, too. She sells the honey, as well as hives, pollen, cut comb and related products such as candles, salves, wax cloths and lanterns at farmers markets and regular dropoffs.

“Best honey around!!” ToniJo Caetano posted on Facebook. “The whipped/cream honey is the best. We use it in our coffee, teas, on toast, etc. My grandson gets so excited when we go to [farmers market] booths and Silver Sage Honey is there. Our allergies have been better the last couple of years as well.”

The business also offers pollination and hive removal services. She recently assisted with the recovery of hives from a trucking accident.

For Amanda, keeping bees in Nevada entails feeding them nine months out of the year and taking them to California to pollinate almond trees during the coldest part of winter.

In about March, Amanda brings the hives home then splits them apart, doubling the number of hives and selling some to mostly local buyers.

Interest in beekeeping exploded because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s growing,” Amanda said. “Everyone freaked out about being able to grow their own food.”

The hives not sold get to spend summertime in Clover Valley, Ruby Valley, Starr Valley, Eureka and Carlin. Amanda likens putting bees in fields to putting cows on grazing land.

Depending on where the bees go, the various vegetation such as flowers, clover and alfalfa impart different flavors into the honey they make.

Honey from Ruby Valley is dark with a toasted nut flavor while Starr Valley honey has notes of cinnamon and cloves.

“It’s something I didn’t expect,” Amanda said of the variations. “I figured honey is honey.”

Challenges include keeping bees clean of mites, defending them against the cold and preventing her bull from munching on them.

Rewards of beekeeping include always having a fully stocked honey and tea cupboard, gaining understanding of bees’ complex world, and connecting with the community of food producers in northeastern Nevada.

“In one way, I really enjoy getting out and meeting people — the family we have created in the agricultural community,” Amanda said. “It’s definitely more like a family.”

And although the thought of keeping bees might give some people the heebie-jeebies, Amanda said it gives her peace.

“I love seeing my ‘little girls’ flying around and gathering food from the plants and trees here at the house,” Amanda wrote in a 2020 Face Your Food magazine column. “They are good for my soul.”

A version of this article was first published in Face Your Food, a magazine published by the nonprofit ElkoGrown to share information about locally produced food.

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