MONTVILLE, NJ - When driving on Taylortown Road, maybe you have noticed the sign for Gooserock Farm, in the vicinity of Briarcliff Road. If you pull into the driveway and head to the shed in the back, you’re in for a sweet treat.
Owner Landi Simone has been keeping bees for 18 years, and Gooserock Farm is the name of her honey business. Simone has been selling honey out of the shed for about 15 years. But don’t expect to see her there, waiting for you. The honey business runs on the honor system, with customers going into the shed, choosing their honey and honey products and leaving money in the till.
Retired civil engineer Simone became interested in bee keeping when, in 1997, one of the farmers who supplied the organic produce co-op she ran out of her garage mentioned to her that a bee keeping class was being held at Rutgers. Since Simone was interested in gardening and “critters,” as she puts it, she signed up for the class and “it changed my life,” says Simone.
After getting her first hive in 1997, Simone’s business has grown to include more than 100 bee colonies located all over Pine Brook, Towaco, Montville and Boonton Township.
“I started selling honey and making the value-added products to support my ‘habit,’ says Simone. “Keeping bees is expensive, and we couldn’t afford for me to do it solely as a hobby; I needed to find a way to make my ‘girls’ pay their own way. I never imagined it would grow to a small business and become something of a Montville landmark.”
Simone became an Eastern Apiculture Society (EAS) certified Master Beekeeper in 2004, and is now the Director of the Master Beekeeper program. EAS is the regional beekeeping organization. Simone is active in the New Jersey Beekeepers Association (NJBA) as well, and is currently the Honey Show Chairperson. She has taught a short course in beekeeping for the Essex County NJBA for about a dozen years now.
The NJBA Honey Show will be at the beginning of February, with 23 possible categories for beekeepers to enter, including creamed honey, chunk honey, and beeswax blocks. “The Honey Show is an opportunity to highlight the importance of honey bees and their keepers to agriculture in the Garden State,” says Simone. Simone will be judging hundreds of entries, and then the winners will be on display in the State House in Trenton. “Senators and Assemblymen and -women will be passing our display in the halls of the State House and admiring our honey and mead, photographs and lip balms. This exposure is particularly timely given the presence of two important beekeeping bills currently in committee in the Senate.”
Despite the winter’s lull in the hives, Simone looks forward to winter’s end. “What I love most of all is being up to my elbows in honey bees on a warm spring day, watching them dance for their sisters to show the way to nectar and pollen sources, watching the queen lay eggs and the bees going about their business, totally oblivious to my presence,” says Simone.
Customers can purchase honey in flavors such as linden-wildflower, blueberry and black locust. When asked about her favorite products, Simone says, “My favorite honey is the linden-wildflower. My favorite soap is ‘Forest Mist,’ but ‘Mistletoe’ is a close second, and I love the hand cream. I really like all our products and use all the creams, lotions and soaps every day. And of course I eat a lot of honey!”
But how do the bees produce a “blueberry” honey, which Simone says tastes like caramel? “When you move the hives into 50 acres of blueberries in bloom, it's pretty much the only game in town, and that is what they will work,” says Simone.
Other varietals are a bit trickier. “Not all flowering plants produce nectar and not all nectar-producers produce a surplus -- one that is sufficiently abundant that it makes a crop for the beekeeper as well as the bees,” says Simone. “We beekeepers know what blooms when and which plants will make an excess of honey, based on experience and close observation of the bees. I have yards [hives] that are near substantial stands of some of these plants, so I know what the bees in those yards will be working at certain times of the year. Once they're on a particular crop, they tend to stay with it. And I can tell just by the way they fly if they are on a nectar flow.”
Simone is thankful to all her customers, and says, “I love my customers and am grateful for them. I love the fact that I can have the farm work on the honor system, and that the vast majority of people are honest.” Just don’t expect to have to compete with Winnie the Pooh or other bears to get to the shed. “The Honey House door has three locks: one in the middle for humans, and two others at the top and bottom which we engage at night during bear season in the fall and spring,” says Simone. Hungry bears are a constant challenge, according to Simone, who estimates she spends $500 on electric fencing before she can set up a hive.
“Keeping bees is very hard work, but it is never boring,” says Simone. “I spend seven days a week during the growing season working my bees and don’t have time for much else. I never imagined Gooserock Farm honey would grow to a small business and become something of a Montville landmark. My bees are fascinating creatures, with a communal intelligence every bit as sophisticated as our own, but vastly different. After nearly twenty years working with and studying them, they still succeed in surprising me on a regular basis.”