Arkansas Living — February 2011
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"Honey: How Sweet It Is"
Lucia Dulin Hawkins

"When I was a little boy, I would sit for hours, mesmerized, watching the bees buzz around my grandfather's hive," said Eddie Watkins, founder of Buffalo River Honey Co.

Looking back on that time, he knew that was where his fascination with bees began. It wasn’t until 1995, after moving to Newton County and seeing his neighbors’ beehives, that it really hit him. As he relates the story today, the excitement and enthusiasm he felt all those years ago still shines through when he talks about “his” bees.

“I knew then beekeeping was exactly what I wanted to do,” he said, adding that he began his new career by ordering bees and using his grandfather’s old super, which is the part of a beehive that collects the honey. It was a big mistake. He soon discovered there was a lot more to beekeeping than just having a super and some bees. Ninety-five percent of people in the business just have beehives, and because Watkins wanted to be in the other 5 percent of the group who are considered “professional beekeepers,” he began studying apiculture, which is beekeeping primarily for commercial purposes.

“In the beginning I had so much to learn and was fortunate to be trained by a master (beekeeper),” he said, admitting he never stops learning about this ancient craft. (Honey bees have been in existence for about 30 million years, and honey has been produced for at least the last 6,000 years.)

“An old lady once told me, ‘When you are green, you grow, and when you are ripe, you rot,’ and that stuck in my mind. So I keep learning,” Watkins said.

His beehives, which are scattered throughout the Ozarks and in his backyard, are abuzz with busy worker bees transporting pollen and nectar back to his hives from various trees and wildflowers blooming throughout the plateaus, mountains, and valleys of the Buffalo National River area. Although the color and taste of his honey varies with the nectar the bees consume, he says no one can claim to standardize wild honey. “Because bees feed on a variety of seasonal blooms from March to October, it is impossible to say, ‘This is clover honey, or this is persimmon honey, etc.,’” he said. Although Watkins can detect — by the color and taste of the honey — that the majority of nectar consumed by the bees came from a particular flowering plant in bloom at a certain time, he said you can never say for sure it came from just one variety of plant.

Watkins built a honey house on his property to process his own honey. He brings his supers (wooden boxes containing 9-10 honeyfilled frames) into the honey house from outside, removes the frames and slices the wax layer from them with a hot knife. The frames are then put into a “slinger” where centrifugal force throws the honey out of the combs to flow down into a bucket below. The bucket stands for three days to enable any residue to separate from the honey. The golden honey is then poured into individual jars and labeled with his signature bright yellow “Buffalo River Honey Co.” trademark.

He processes each super every 14 days from March to October, with the peak months being June and July. During the winter months, the bees feed off a special formula Watkins devised, consisting of sugar water and oils. They survive the cold weather by clustering together in a tight ball inside the super and, regardless of the outside temperature, they maintain a constant 93 degrees inside their cluster.

Watkins takes great pleasure in selling his honey from his bright yellow “Buffalo River Honey” sports utility vehicle at various places along the highways and byways of northwest Arkansas. On any given day, when people stop and taste samples of his wild honey while deciding which to buy, he entertains them with his colorful stories. A devout storyteller and performer, Watkins thrives on talking with his customers. He likes selling his product the way people used to do — one on one.

“I can tell them about my product. I’m in touch with them,” he said. “It keeps me sharp.”

Nothing is wasted at the honey house. The wax that is scraped from the supers to release the honey is put onto a solar wax melter. As the wax gradually melts and drips into a container, it leaves behind sediments that are later devoured by hungry bees. Carla, Watkins’ wife, re-melts the wax in a double-boiler to produce beeswax candles, perfume, and lip balm by adding essential and botanical oils to attain attractive and useful end products. Beeswax is also used commercially in cosmetics, artists’ materials, and furniture polish.

“Raising honeybees is my personal ministry,” Watkins said. To him, apiculture is his passion. He is a professional in the art of beekeeping and totally committed to it.

If you don’t catch up with Watkins along the highways or byways of northwest Arkansas or at any of the summer festivals, you can visit his website at or e-mail him at