Jun kombucha: it’s not worth your money without great honey! Wild Tonic sources USDA Certified Organic Honey, and supports a local organically-oriented non-profit, the Northern Arizona Organic Beekeepers Association.

At Wild Tonic, we’re wild about honey — to say the least. Yes, it’s the ‘liquid gold’ that gives our jun kombucha its inimitable flavor … But our love of honey goes much deeper than its deliciousness. 

We’re also deeply committed to helping improve the lives of the hard-working bees that make great honey possible. We’ve been working with the Northern Arizona Organic Beekeepers Association (NAOBA) for years to further their mission — check out this interview with the group’s founder, Patrick Pynes, to learn more! 

What is NAOBA’s mission statement / goals? 

NAOBA is a voluntary organization of beekeepers who have diverse backgrounds and values. We don’t call ourselves a club. We value and respect our differences, but we also share a common commitment to an organic approach to beekeeping. 

Organic beekeeping is bee-centric, rather than human-centric. The needs of the bees ultimately trump the needs of the beekeeper or humans in general. 

In most industrial, commercial approaches to beekeeping, it’s the other way around. We believe in the inherent power of the honeybee to take care of herself, but we also know that we humans can create a positive, life-giving relationship with our “sisters,” the bees. 

We are our sisters’ keepers. We don’t use chemicals like miticides or antibiotics because we want the honeybee to be able to keep her immune system strong, so that she can survive and thrive in an environment that is increasingly degraded. 

Below is NAOBA’s official statement of purpose:

The purpose of this association is to support the efforts of its members as they work together to advance the health and well-being of honeybees and other pollinators, and to encourage organic beekeeping practices in our home bioregion. We will accomplish these purposes through education, research, entrepreneurship, and advocacy. 

To the uninitiated — why are bees so important? 

Honeybees and other pollinators are so important because of sex and flowers! By that I mean the sexual reproduction of flowering plants, a vital and life-giving ecological process that allows life to exist on Earth. 

For example, a female honeybee visits an apple flower and harvests pollen and/or nectar to take back to her hive. The pollen becomes “bee bread” or baby food for the young, developing bees to eat. The nectar becomes the stored honey that the colony uses to keep itself alive when there are no flowers available, because it’s too cold (winter) or too dry (dry season). 

As she harvests these two foods from multiple flowers, she moves the male pollen grains to the female parts of other flowers, allowing the flowers to be fertilized. The fertilized flower gradually turns into an apple, which has seeds inside of it that can turn into new “Johnny Appleseed” trees. 

Therefore, honeybees and other pollinators are so important because they are vital to the continuing life of the flowering plant world, and vice versa. Much of what we and other animals eat is created by this pollination process. 

No bees = no flowers = no fruits, nuts, and vegetables. It’s that simple, and profound.

Is beekeeping in the southwest different from other areas of the nation/world? 

Yes, beekeeping is different in the Southwest from other places here in the United States and across the entire world. 

The main difference comes from the relatively hot and arid character of this land. Because it’s so hot and dry here, the bees and their keepers have to make adjustments in order to survive and thrive. 

As a Southwest beekeeper, the main adjustment I have made is in learning how to work successfully and relatively peacefully with “Africanized” honeybees. Because these bees are sometimes more defensive than “European” honeybees, I have to wear a bee suit with a zip-in veil and gloves. 

When I first started beekeeping in New Mexico in 1991, the Africanized bees had not yet arrived from Mexico, and I could work the bees with only a tie-in veil, no suit, and no gloves. 

Since about the year 2000, I have gradually made the switch to working with mainly Africanized colonies. 

Because they originated in the drier parts of southeast Africa like Tanzania and South Africa, these bees are much better adapted to the Southwest’s increasingly hot and dry conditions. In severe drought conditions, they can survive and thrive when their European sisters struggle or even perish. 

European honeybees are not well adapted to the Southwest’s arid conditions. Arizona’s harsh environment is a lot more like South Africa’s than Scotland, Germany, or even Italy, where the European bees originated. 

In fact, that is why the first African bees were brought from southeast Africa to Brazil in the late 1950s, as an experiment. 

Brazil’s honey industry was failing because European bees could not make much honey in tropical and dry tropical conditions. Sixty years later, the Brazilian honey industry is thriving!

What are some of the problems the bee population is facing right now? 

Both honeybee and other pollinator populations like bumblebees and monarch butterflies are facing the same problems that we humans are facing. Our environment overall and their specific habitats are being damaged, degraded, or even destroyed by human activities. 

In terms of habitat, we are losing the sheer number and diversity of flowers and protected places that pollinators need in order to live and thrive. 

For example, fewer milkweeds in the Midwest means fewer monarch butterflies. Humans are reducing the number of “weeds” by spraying herbicides to increase or maintain high yields of agricultural commodities like genetically engineered corn. 

But monarch butterflies in the pupal stage of development (egg/larvae/pupae/adult) eat only milkweeds. Fewer milkweeds means fewer migrating monarch butterflies. 

When honeybees in the same pupal stage are exposed to a toxic cocktail of agricultural chemicals including herbicides and/or are not being fed from diverse floral sources because of agricultural monocultures or degraded habitats, their health and numbers also decline, just like the monarch butterfly. 

All things are interrelated. Scientists and poets tell us the same thing in different ways, but we prefer to deny the truth, no matter what.

Habitat loss is only the tip of the (melting) iceberg in an era of rapid climate change. Another problem that the honeybee population is facing now is the continuing artificial mass production of European queen bees, who increasingly lack vigor and fertility. 

The queen is the reproductive heart of a healthy honeybee colony. If she is weak and lacks vigor and resilience, then the whole colony will also be unhealthy.

Can you tell us more about your relationship with Wild Tonic? 

First of all, I am a beekeeper who enjoys drinking Wild Tonic Jun Kombucha, especially when I am hot, thirsty, and tired from working hard. 

Wild Tonic is a refreshing beverage, and its two key ingredients are honey and plants, like mint, mangos, lavender, etc. 

The bees themselves love honey and plants. I first became a beekeeper because I love honey and wanted to harvest and eat honey from one of my own hives. 

Until I discovered Wild Tonic, I didn’t believe that honey should be eaten or consumed in any other form than honey itself. Why change what is already perfect? 

But Holly’s honey-based Wild Tonic transforms honey into something that is good to drink in liquid form, without diminishing the raw essence of honey. Jun Kombucha is related to mead but is also new and different from it. While still kombucha, the alcohol version is more closely related to mead. 

I also have an important relationship with Wild Tonic because I keep a few colonies of honeybees on land that the owners of Wild Tonic own and take care of on Oak Creek, near Sedona. 

Being able to keep and to work with bees in that place is an important part of my practice as an Arizona organic beekeeper. I keep hives at several different elevations above and below the Mogollon Rim, although my main beeyard is here at the COB (Center for Organic Beekeeping) near Flagstaff.

Wild Tonic also provided support to NAOBA when we became an official non-profit (501 C-3) a few years ago. We appreciate their being one of our founding and ongoing sponsors and supporters!

What are some of the key things the Northern Arizona Organic Beekeepers Association does? 

We educate ourselves and the general public about honeybees and beekeeping. Many of our members harvest swarms free of charge and a few “NAOBAns” remove colonies from places where they come into conflict with humans, like underground irrigation boxes or the walls of a house. 

By catching swarms and doing removals, we are helping to conserve the number of honeybee colonies that are living among us, and we are acting to save and perpetuate their genetic diversity. 

This diversity is important to the continuing health of honeybees, both wild and domesticated. As agricultural livestock, honeybees are unusual because they are neither completely wild nor completely domesticated, but both, depending upon the situation that they are living in.  

As bees, they are also unusual because they are social superorganisms, unlike most native solitary bees. 

As such, they pollinate a greater number of flowering plants than solitary bees, and there are more of them: 50,000 individual bees or more living in a healthy colony during the peak flowering season. 

We offer workshops, classes, and public presentations in order to continue to educate ourselves and the general public about who bees are, how we humans can best help to take care of them, and why they are so important in our world. NAOBAns also help each other to become and to be better organic beekeepers.

What is something you wish more people knew about honeybees / beekeeping?

I wish that more people were more aware of how very hard honeybees work to keep our plant world alive and how hard beekeepers work as beekeepers. 

Beekeeping is an art, a craft, and a science. There are no master beekeepers because beekeeping is a life-long endeavor of learning from the bees and from other beekeepers. Not everyone is “cut out” to be a beekeeper, but everyone should know more about honeybee biology/ecology and about what is involved in beekeeping: past, present, and future.  

As Rudolf Steiner and Gunther Hauk remind us, our lives depend upon the bees. They deserve our love and respect. 

Finally, did you know that it takes two million flowers to make just one pound of honey? That’s a whole lot of flowers, but each individual human “beeing” who plants and nurtures even one flower is helping to feed the bees and other pollinators. 

If you want to “save the bees,” then the first thing you can do is to plant flowers of many kinds and colors. The honeybees especially love plants with blue flowers and plants in the mint family!

How can people get involved?

One way to get involved with NAOBA is by visiting our website and Facebook page. We also have a discussion forum/bulletin board called NAOBA Google Groups. Anyone can join NAOBA; for now, at least, there is no annual membership fee.

If you come across a swarm or need to have a colony removed alive, then NAOBA can likely help you. We also appreciate donations of used or new beekeeping equipment and tax-deductible financial donations. 

Support your local organic beekeeper! Eat at least a little local honey every day. Honey is especially good for breakfast, of course. 

There are numerous benefits for both bees and humans that come from our supporting local bees and local beekeepers, especially of the organic variety. 

Ask your local beekeeper how he or she takes care of his/her bees and what flowers your honey comes from. Here in Northern Arizona, the best local honey varietals are Rocky Mountain beeplant and native sunflowers from the higher elevations, and mesquite and catclaw acacia honey from the lower elevations. 

Just like wine, there are hundreds of wonderful honey varieties from all over Arizona, the Southwest, and the entire world. Two of my own non-local faves are Sourwood honey from Tennessee, and Lehua honey from Hawaii.

Wanna Bee Part of the Story?

Check out the NAOBA website here. And be sure to load up on Wild Tonic jun kombucha — not only is it a delicious way to enjoy high quality honey, but by supporting us, you’re helping us support groups like NAOBA!

What did you love learning about NAOBA?