Gjelina Group Goes to the Market: Eli's Bees Candy Pollen

Posted by Gjusta Goods on

Eli Lichter-Marck of Eli’s Bees is a contagiously excited presence. He is a local beekeeper in the Santa Monica Mountains and produces honey like you've never tasted before. Recently I woke up to an early morning text from him of a picture of this incredible candy-looking pollen. The colors were so vibrant — purples and blues, greens and oranges — that I, like Eli, immediately got overwhelmed with excitement. 

Pollen is the lifesource of the honeybee. It provides them with the protein needed for the colony to grow and thrive. As honey bees fly from blooming flower to blooming flower, granules of floral pollen stick to their bodies. In doing so, they unwittingly pollinate the plants that make up our gardens, native habitats and food. The bees return home to pack the pollen into the hive. Some of it they mix with honey to feed to their young and nourish the queen and some of it they pack away as colorful "bee bread" to eat later in the season. 

In order to harvest pollen, we place a trap at the hive entrance that removes 50% of incoming pollen brought home by forager bees. The bees compensate for the reduction in pollen intake by recruiting more forager bees. The best time to collect pollen in the Santa Monica Mountains are the months of March, April and May during the major blooms of wildflowers in the mountains. During this time the bees produce a prolific amount of resources and build their strongest hive strength. The pollen we collect is rich in diversity of color, taste and smell.” - Eli Lichter-Marck 


Sam Rogers: Pollen that I've always seen has always been a consistent golden color, what is causing the rainbow of colors in the pollen you've been harvesting for us?

Eli Lichter-Marck: The color of the pollen comes from the color of the flower. Each flower type itself has a different color of pollen inside. When you see pollen off of the shelf it's most likely from canola, which is a big crop in Canada and in the midwest and makes a ton of pollen. Or possibly colver or something, where you have the bees on one crop and it's made in a commercial way. The difference is that our pollen is being collected right here in the Santa Monicas. The plant community in Santa Monica is extremely diverse. And the pollen I'm collecting now is a different subset of colors from the pollen collected in late spring. It still has wild colors that are rare to see, like greens and oranges and reds … all these different colors that are showing themselves. But I have stopped seeing that purple color. What that means is that there was some specific bloom happening and the bees were collecting that pollen giving it that bright purple color. So I would chalk it up generally to that there's a much higher diversity of plants that the bees are harvesting from up here in the mountains.


What are the differences in the flavor that you're noticing?

I can’t notice the subtle differences between the different colors (flowers). However I would say that there is a difference between the pollen that I've had in the past (commercial product) and the pollen that I've been harvesting. I've been harvesting the pollen and putting it directly into a freezer. I haven’t been doing any dehydration which is what you're supposed to do to get the longest shelf life out of it. What I've noticed because of this method, is that the pollen keeps the sweetness and an intense fragrance that I've never tasted before in pollen. Pollen usually has this chalky, kinda bland-but-a-little-sweet taste. The pollen we are harvesting has almost a skittles flavor, actually more like nerdz. Remember nerdz?! Yeah, it's almost like candy.


Do you find that the consistency of the pollen is more sticky due to its freshness? Since it's not being dehydrated?

What the bees do when they collect pollen is they have these little hairs on their body and the hairs are hydrostatically charged, they have a little electric charge on them, which means that things stick to them. Like when you touch the doorknob and you get a shock! Pollen is a single cell, it's essentially a plant sperm. So what happens is the microscopic pollen granules stick to their hairs and the bees comb themselves with their legs. Then they collect all the pollen granules into a ball and they stick the ball into a pocket on their hind legs. That's what gives it its ball shape and texture. So the texture is not going to change whether it is dried or fresh because each one of those balls was actually made by the bees and they are kinda just stuck together with charge.

It's so strange that no one else really does this mixed color pollen. It's crazy that this is the first I've ever seen it. 

I think I have an idea. It's really hard to do, especially at any kind of scale. The way that I run my bees is pretty unique. The easier route would have been to have 60 beehives sitting in a field on a farm somewhere and doing pollination crops on monoculture farming. The bees can be taken care of in a really straightforward way, and you can have a lot of beehives and put a lot of traps under and collect a lot of pollen all at once. My method is totally different. I have 30 hives maximum per location. So for instance a lot of that purple color pollen comes out of one property that I have that I can only get to with a four wheel drive truck. It's deep in the mountains, it's a pretty unique harvesting situation. At the peak of the season I was making forty pounds of pollen out of that location in a week. ENORMOUS AMOUNTS. [The bees] were doing a really great job. But that only lasted through the end of April and then it kind of tapered off. More recently I have been getting a good harvest from a different set of plants. Things have changed seasonally. First all of the annual flowers bloom in the spring and then at this point we have all the summer flowers blooming like laurel sumac, toyon, and those are very yellow flowers. Earlier in the season were the purple sage and the black sage and Ceanothus. It all gets timed differently.

Photos by Eli Lichter-Marck.

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