Chet and Andrea Langworthy's bees busy themselves turning out honey and other products in their hives across Frederick, Montgomery and Howard counties. Their secret lives are the stuff of books and movies.
The beekeepers say the benefits of bee products should not be kept secret. They make and market raw honey, flavored honey, soaps, lotions, candles and apitherapy products, all perfect for holiday gift-giving.
"It's the most amazing hobby. I never thought in a million years this would be what I'd be doing," Andrea Langworthy said.
She was hesitant when her husband said he wanted to take up the beekeeping he learned from his late father.
Now, Chet Langworthy said, unlike other wives who don't support their husbands' hobbies, she encourages him to purchase more equipment and expand their business.
She grew up in upstate New York and learned beekeeping from her husband, who has been involved in beekeeping to various degrees throughout his life.
He grew up in Rockville, and his family also kept bees in Laytonsville and Aspen Hill. His father enjoyed beekeeping and wanted his children to be brought up around them. The family always had hives in the yard, and the children mowed around them, never getting stung. They learned to respect bees and saw the gentleness and understanding of bees expressed by their father.
"My father would encourage us to climb trees and get the bees down," Chet Langworthy said of the times they went out to gather swarms.
Now, a few hives are located at Chet and Andrea Langworthy's home just outside Damascus. Their neighbors were skeptical at first.
But bees are collectors, gathering nectar from their yards. In turn, those neighbors not only see their landscapes flourish but also might find some honey in their mailboxes from the beekeepers.
"The connection is visual," Chet Langworthy said. Bees help create a more beautiful natural environment.
The majority of the family's 40 hives are located on properties in three counties.
"It's a wonderful way to be connected with nature, the land and the farming community without a deed to land," said Chet Langworthy.
Now that winter is upon the bees, the Langworthys are diligent about keeping them warm by insulating the hives. Doing so decreases stress from winter winds in the area, which is on the edge of supporting the overwintering of bees.
The hive needs 60 to 80 pounds of honey and pollen to sustain itself over the winter. While they could substitute with sugar water, the Langworthys leave the pollen and honey to ensure development of healthy stock.
In early spring, they hope to double the number of hives by adding more queens and dividing worker bees.
The current supply of honey on hand is not enough to fill orders through June, the next harvest.
"Our ultimate goal is to meet demand," Andrea Langworthy said. They are considering purchasing honey from other local beekeepers to provide more local product and support the hobby.
While Chet Langworthy says his wife enjoys being out in the field with the bees, she is usually making products in small batches in her kitchen and filling orders, especially at the holidays.
"It's very labor-intensive," Andrea Langworthy said.
They delved into retail sales about seven years ago. Before, they had so much honey, they gave it away.
They started with personal care products, researching online the benefits of hive products.
"Then, it grew from there," Andrea Langworthy said.
In addition to online sales, they offer their products under the name The Naked Bee at farmers markets, wine festivals, various events and green retailers such as health food stores and garden centers.
The process begins when they pull the frame from the hive and use a hot knife to cut off cappings into a tank. Cappings make the best wax.
The frames go into an extractor, a centrifuge that whips out the honey. The honey is run through nylon mesh, the only filtering needed, and into a bucket. From the bucket, the raw honey goes into jars and labels are added.
They also offer flavored honey, including chocolate, cinnamon and vanilla bean, and a line of nuts mixed with honey.
"I'm a huge chocoholic," Andrea Langworthy said. She developed the chocolate concoction while thinking of ice cream toppings.
Naked Bee products are natural with the exception of a few ingredients necessary to keep lotions shelf-stable. A line of apitherapy products is also growing in popularity.
Pollen is collected with pollen traps placed on hive fronts to knock off some pollen from the pollen baskets on the bees' legs. Pollen is often taken as a supplement.
The biggest seller among the bath and body products is Helping Hand propolis salve for small cuts and cracked hands.
Propolis has natural antibiotic properties and helps the immune system, Andrea Langworthy said. Bees use it to seal cracks in the hive. If something gets into the hive that is too large for the bees to remove, like a mouse, they encase it in propolis.
"The hive is nature's most sterile environment," Chet Langworthy said.
Even raw honey is helpful for small cuts, he said. The reaction between blood and honey produces peroxide, an antiseptic. Honey is usually kept handy in the kitchen anyway.
Propolis is sold in bottled form or it can be kept in the freezer and small bits chipped off to ingest for its medicinal qualities.
A mix of raw honey with royal jelly, pollen and propolis is available that can be taken during cold season with lemon juice or tea.