I came across honeys from this apiary when I was stopping over in Twisp, WA before a backpacking trip. At the local natural foods store, a whole shelf gleamed with Cougar Canyon honeys, each enticingly hand-labeled with the place the bees sat and the date of extraction, such as “Fox Mountain, 7/18”. You don’t get much more raw and local than that, and upon my return home I loved these honeys. But I was curious what wildflowers the places and dates represented. I tracked down a phone number and ended up in long, interesting conversation with beekeeper Ron Hull. Among other things, he told me that his late fall Silver Sage honey was his favorite each year. That set me thinking that I should return to the Okanogan area in October to look for fall honeys. This week I did return, and Ron Allard of A&A Honey took me in his flatbed truck up to meet Ron Hull of Cougar Canyon Apiaries at his honey shed in the hills of Chiliwist.
Cougar Canyon Apiaries
Ron and Gertrude Hull
P.O. Box 218, Malott WA 98829
Ron Hull is a purist, and as a result this apiary does things differently than others I’ve seen. As he says, “I’m dealing with the perfect product; why would I want to mess with it?”
First of all, instead of mixing the honey from many hives and extraction dates, honey from single hives is put directly into jars. The jars are then labeled with the location of the hives (where they were placed for nectar collection) and the date of extraction (after the hives are hauled back to the honey shed). The Hulls will be the first to say that the nectar collected by the bees for each honey isn’t guaranteed to be from a single source, though one source may predominate (bees from a particular hive will go for only one nectar source at a time, but may change sources suddenly). Both Ron and Gertrude are very knowledgeable about the local flora and pay attention to what is blooming at any given time. In a phone conversation I had with with Gertrude, she could rattle off a list of wildflowers that were blooming when one of their honeys was being collected. Ron puts the bees out where he hopes to get certain kinds of honey; a particular location will provide different types of nectars depending on the time of year.
Secondly, the honey is processed with no heat beyond the original temperature of the hives. Frames of honey are usually “capped” with wax by the bees to seal the honey in the comb. Most apiaries, in order to automate production, put the frames of honey through an uncapping machine which uses a heated saw to remove the wax surface. Ron believes that the heat of the saw changes the flavor of the honey, so instead he uses a stainless steel knife to do it by hand. It takes him longer to get the honey out, but he gets it out in its original state.
No two honeys from this producer are alike, and quantities are small. Some example honeys I’ve obtained from Cougar Canyon Apiaries:
- Fox Mountain, 7/18/2012: mostly Vetch (clear light yellow, viscous, soft sweetness with a faint farmlike smell)
- Fox Mountain 8/15/2012: mostly Barnaby Thistle (murky light greenish-gold, viscous, candy-sweet)
- Chiliwist, 6/30/2012: Wild Buckwheat, Yarrow, Service Berry, Wild Strawberry, etc. (deep gold, runny, tastes like buttered toast)
- Buzzard Lake, 10/25/2012: mostly Knapweed (clear yellow, runny, sweet)
- Rattlesnake Point, 8/19/2012: mostly Hay, plus orchard flowers (light golden, medium-thick, sweet like candy)
- Rattlesnake Point, 10/13/2012: mostly Silver Sage (reddish-brown, viscous, woody and distinctive)
Other Bee Products:
- Beeswax Candles
Where To Find:
The Hulls sell their honey locally in Okanogan and the Methow Valley at local stores (such as the natural foods store in Twisp) and farmer’s markets. They sell out every year this way, and do not have a retail storefront.
A few years ago a fire swept through the area, including the place called “Fox Mountain” where some of the Hull’s honey comes from. Ron had a lot of bees out there when the fire came through. You would think that they would have all perished in the flames, but as Ron tells it, the bees fought the fire and the hives survived. The bees fanned the heat out of the hive and formed a protective ball; the outer bees died but the inner ones lived.
After the fire, Fox Mountain grew over with Vetch, which makes a nice clear and viscous honey. Along with that came Sweet Clover, which Ron says makes a thin honey with loads of pollen. Then the next year came Barnaby Thistle, which blooms in late July and August after the Vetch and makes a nice thick honey with a slight greenish cast.
Ron also told me about Hay honey. Farmers attempt to cut down their hay as soon as it flowers, but they can’t do it all at once. The bees are all over it while they have a chance, and also collect from local orchards and dandelions, etc.
Cougar Canyon Apiaries had its start in 1991. Prior to that Ron Hull was a Watermaster for the Appleseed company (the Okanogan area is filled with orchards, mostly apple but also pear and cherry). But in 1991 Appleseed was sold to MetLife, who brought in their own managers and pushed out many established employees including Ron. Around that time a friend had given him some beehives, and he has been beekeeping ever since. Ron splits his time between bees, helping out local orchards, and helping with production at A&A Honey in nearby Okanogan. This gives him the freedom to not worry too much about scale, so he can bottle individual and distinctive raw honeys.