Catch the buzz
Califon apiary offers locally harvested, prize-winning honey items

By WALTER O'BRIEN Correspondent

What's the buzz?

If it's coming from inside your walls, you might have an infestation problem. But if they're honeybees, don't call an exterminator. Call a beekeeper.

Wasps, yellow jackets, hornets and their ilk are a nuisance you just want to lose. But a honeybee infestation is an opportunity for your local apiary. Apiary is the fancy name for a place with beehives where bees are raised for their honey. They can turn your headache into a wide range of sweet, natural products.

You might think honeybees have always been native to Central Jersey. In reality, there were no honeybees in the United States until the European colonists brought them over to produce honey in the early 1600s.

Jean-Claude and Beatrice Tassot of Tassot Apiaries in Califon, also brought their beekeeping talents over to America from continental Europe.

Since the age of 5, Jean-Claude had kept bees in the French countryside with his granduncle. Years later, when he moved to the more urbane environs of Paris, Jean-Claude put his apiary talents on a shelf.

In 1997, wife Beatrice's job with Lucent Technologies in France sent her to Central Jersey for a three-year assignment. When a permanent position opened up, she seized it. Once comfortable in New Jersey, Jean-Claude decided it would be fun to start up a hive to teach his son, Archibald, as his granduncle taught him.

"Our first hive harvested 75 pounds of honey," Bea said. "We didn't know what to do with all that honey, so we visited a nearby farm stand owned by farmer Carl Burd. We asked if he would sell our spare honey on consignment. He agreed, and he sold out 40 pounds of honey in only four days."

The Tassots decided this was a sign to get serious about the bee business. From that original hive in their front yard, Tassot Apiaries now operate more than 100 honey-producing bee colonies around Hunterdon County.

An empty house, or even your house, can be an attractive place for a transplanted colony. The space between beams of a house is perfect anchors for the honeycomb, and the walls keep the bees warm and safe. In addition, it doesn't take much for bees to find their way in.

"Bees can enter a house through a hole the size of a quarter," Jean-Claude said. "Once inside, the bees might go up or down in the walls. The colony gets to about 95 degrees, so you can tell exactly where they are by feeling for warmth along the walls. This way you don't have to rip up all the walls to find them."

Finding the infestation is the easy part. Transporting nearly 75,000 active honeybees safely from an infestation site to a new hive without losing too many valuable bees takes a lot of ingenuity.

Jean-Claude built a specialized wooden vacuum box and hose system that gently sucks up all the bees from inside the house walls. Once taken to their new location, he opens up the boxes and lets them fly. To make sure the bees stick around, he has to be sure to get the queen with the group. If not, he will have to supply a queen himself.

"Once we get a new queen, we clip her wing," Jean-Claude said. "Queen bees are very valuable, so we don't want them to fly away."

It all starts with the queen. A good queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs in each 24-hour period. She lays eggs in each six-sided honeycomb cell. If the cells are large, they will become larger male drones. Smaller cells will become female worker bees.

If you don't move a queen with an infestation, the beekeeper can trick an existing queen into laying new queen eggs by using specially fabricated egg cells in a frame. When they hatch, he separates the queens into their new colonies. Alternatively, he can buy queens through the mail from breeders.

"Our mailman is used to it now," Bea said. "He used to get very nervous when he first brought us boxes with loud buzzing inside."

Jean-Claude and Bea are active in the New Jersey Beekeepers Association (NJBA). In fact, Bea is the president of the local northwest New Jersey chapter.

"This year we personally took care of maybe six home infestations," Jean-Claude said. "But the NJBA gets 50 or 60 a year. They try to educate people that if they find an infestation, don't kill the honeybees. The bees get rid of other pests, and are good for pollination and honey. You don't want to kill them."

"We ask them to keep a local beekeeper's phone number handy," Bea said. "That way, they can recommend to the homeowner to call us instead. We work with a lot of local parks to watch for colonies that need to be moved."

In addition to the knowledge that you saved the lives of thousands of hard-working honeybees, you will probably save yourself a lot of money over the cost of extermination.

"We only charge for expenses to clean up the infestation," Jean-Claude said. "But we get to keep all the bees to start new colonies."

The tall structures we think of as beehives are mixed-use developments of a sort. The lower boxes stay in place year-round. That's where the bees actually live.

"The bottom two boxes in a hive are just for the bees," Jean-Claude said.

Each winter, Jean-Claude builds wooden boxes and paints them with code numbers to keep track of where each box belongs in the field. These boxes are used to add more hives to their collection.

"In spring, we put the shallow boxes on top," he said. "That is where we harvest the honey."

When the honey-filled frames are ready for harvesting, Jean-Claude brings the boxes into the shed. Here, he uses a heated metal tool to melt and scrape the wax tops off the honeycomb cells. Next, the frames go into the extractor. That's a large metal tub that spins the frames to separate the honey from the comb. It's a simple centrifuge device.

Honey pours out the bottom, and the wax and other impurities are strained. From here, the honey goes into a special dispensing machine that measures the honey into glass jars or the familiar plastic honey bears for sale.

The Tassots still have only a half-dozen hives in their own yard, but they operate more than a hundred hives scattered at farms throughout the county.

Tassot Apiaries offers prize-winning items, including pure clear honey, creamy honey, beeswax candles, and more. Tassot's goods can be found on their Web site, and at many retail locations in the area.

Jean-Claude and Bea even make a special honey wine known as mead, or melomel, when flavored with cherry, blueberry or orange. However, that's only for family and friends. Retail selling of wine requires special alcohol licenses.

Aside from the honey products, Tassot distributes a broad range of colorful Marat tablecloths, napkins and fabrics from their original home in Provence, France. They can even arrange custom work as required.

from the Courier News website


The individual frames inside each hive are built up with honeycomb.
Jean-Claude Tassot checks the display of live honey bees kept inside his home office. In warmer weather, the bees fly in and out of the small pipe in the lower left hand corner of the frame. In winter, this colony only has the queen and her female worker bees. The male drones serve no purpose in cold weather, so, to conserve food, they are sent away from the colony to die.
Beekeeper Jean-Claude Tassot disassembles the handmade vacuum system he developed to safely transfer bees from an infestation site to their new home in the Tassot Apiary hives. The box can hold roughly 70,000 bees, which is about how many bees will live a single colony.
Live beehive colonies dot the Tassot Apiaries property. These are only a few of the hundreds of hives the Tassots maintain throughout Hunterdon County.
An assortment of finished products from the Tassot Apiaries, including pure honey, creamy honey, beeswax candles and other bee novelties. Prize ribbons won over the years also are shown.
More Information
WHAT: Tassot Apiaries
WHERE: 12 Stone House Road, Califon, NJ 07830
PHONE (908) 264-4504,


or visit

More Information
Article Courtesy Of:
Courier News - Hunterdon edition, December 21, 2005
Charles W. Nutt - President and publisher
James A. Flachsenhaar - Executive Editor
Phone: 908-722-8800