Nov. 18, 2021

What's That Smell - Part 2: The Good (048)

What's That Smell - Part 2: The Good  (048)

Bees, honey, smoker smoke, and lots more all have their own aroma. Beekeeping is rich in its own smells. Most are fragrant, rich and a delight to work with. Some, not so much. This is a two-part series, started in the last episode, #47. In today’s...

Bees, honey, smoker smoke, and lots more all have their own aroma. Beekeeping is rich in its own smells. Most are fragrant, rich and a delight to work with. Some, not so much. This is a two-part series, started in the last episode, #47.

In today’s Part 2, we spent some time smelling honeys, the types and seasons and sources and times. Then we looked the wonderful aromas the come from beekeeping products. Beeswax being rendered, honey being uncapped, the smell of brand-new wax foundation, burning wax candles, the smell of your workshop as you put together new equipment.

Come on along and learn what you can expect when dealing with honey, honey bees and all that comes with them, and what you already may have experienced and not thought much about. One aroma is worth a thousand words.

What are YOUR favorite smells of beekeeping? Let us know!


We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. BetterBee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, BetterBee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2021 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 48 – What's That Smell? Part 2 - The Good


Kim Flottum: Jim, you know the last time we were talking, we're talking about the ugly smells of beekeeping.

Jim Tew: Kim, I do remember that, and you're not going to say we're going to talk more about it, are we?

Kim: No, there's some good smells and I think we should clue people in on some of the things that they should be looking for, or pay attention to if they've been at this a while.

Jim: Glad to hear it.


Kim: Hi, I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: We're here today on Honey Bee Obscura and we're going to talk about the good smells of beekeeping. Bees, beekeeping, and beekeeping products today because there are some delightful smells in this hobby, craft, and business.

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, both Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world in an engaging and informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long-timers, and those just starting that journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.

Jim: I'm glad to hear you say that, Kim, would you write those odors of honey? I guess you could be two ways, couldn't it? Honey in the field, and honey being produced and honey being processed. What memories do you have? What comments do you have on honey in the hive in the field as it's coming along? What? Springtime?

Kim: Yes. You do good spring wildflower honey?

Jim: I guess up in that, I call spring wildflower honey, I know where it's coming from, primarily is fruit bloom.

Kim: That's always a good one and there's some early really weeds that are out there, not very many early crops but spring love flower just has a-- I'm going to say, a sweet smell, I can't define it better than that.

Jim: As there's no other way to describe it better than that. On those days, Kim, when the bees are buzzing and they're not stinging anyone, they're just frantic to get out, they've got to get going and that fruit blooms going full bore, there's just a pleasant gentle aroma in the air and you say, you can't sell this, you can't bottle this, you can't make a picture of it. It's just here right now like a rainbow. Enjoy it because it's going to be gone soon enough.

Kim: That's the day that I will take. I'm always in too much of a hurry usually, when I'm on my bees and when I'm with Kathy, she's slow, gentle, kind, easy, and she will ease that cover off without using the smoker, and that's when you get that smell.

Jim: Yes. Feeling a little bit embarrassed Kim because I'm the guy who almost kicks the top off. I'm in a hurry. I got to be going and you cracked that inner cover and everybody in the hive knows that there's a crazy beekeeper coming and smells or not. Here's a thought, we're talking about bees' smells, I wonder what the bees think about us, our smells, but we're not going to get their opinion on this, are we?

Kim: [laughs] No. I'm not sure I'd want to hear it.

Jim: That's true. I enjoy that spring odor very much, and then the summer odors that come along later on are is indicative of the seasonal changes, anything else?

Kim: The early summer ones that I like the best are locusts without a doubt. A got a locust tree, it's probably 40 yards from my house and I can tell you the first day it blooms before I get out of bed in the morning, I can tell it's blooming already. It's so strong, so pungent, and it carry so well on the wind. It's delightful.

Jim: What does it smell like if you had to describe it?

Kim: It smells like locust's bloom [laughs]. I don't have anything to compare it to other than it's fragrant and it's strong.

Jim: Others have said great Kool-Aid. Strong, strong great drink odor.

Kim: Yes, I could see that or smell that.

Jim: I guess you got to call it something, so it doesn't smell like old tires.

Kim: No.

Jim: I guess you have to just to put it into a ballpark arena is smells like great Kool-Aid, it doesn't smell like old tires. At least that helps a little bit.

Kim: Then along comes basswood.

Jim: Basswood. The last time I was around basswood was in Western Maryland. When I was living in Maryland, all those years ago. It was one of my favorite honeys. Kim, let me ask you that this point because it was a tasting basswood or was a smelling basswood or both? When we tell beekeepers that these odors are coming, is it a taste or is it a smile or a combination of both?

Kim: That is a good question because you experience an odor with both your nose and your mouth. If you're tasting honey, one of the things that you'll notice is that if you put it in your mouth and you slosh it around a little bit, you'll get a flavor on the tip of your tongue and a flavor on the back of your tongue, and then if you take a deep breath, you'll get an aroma that goes with it, and all three of them may be similar or they may be somewhat different.

With basswood honey, they're, to me, all the same. The tip of my tongue, the back of my tongue, and the odor, and it's really, really faint. I've got a basswood tree. I'm sitting out here, I'm looking out the window. It's not 20 feet from my window and in the spring when it blooms or late early summer when it blooms-- it's on the east side of my house so I don't get afternoon smells from it but I get morning smells when it's blooming. I open the window here in my office and it's just a gentle smell. How is that?

Jim: I can go with that. I don't have basswood. I just can't-- I'll depend on you to help me through this. You don't have enough basswood to make a honey crop for me, do you?

Kim: No, unfortunately. I can taste it in the summer honey, but there's other things going on out there that the bees are in that they're combining with the basswood so I don't get a good basswood-- I get a basswood flow but it's mixed with other things.

Jim: The thought I'm having while you're talking is that the last time for basswood was in Maryland. We used to get really good sourwood from the Carolinas. I haven't had that in 20 years. Buckwheat, oh, man. Buckwheat smell and honey, the taste? I don't know when the last time that I really had buckwheat honey? It must have been 25 years ago.

Kim: You're right. That's another summer honey, if you're on somebody that's grown it and to me, I don't have it. I don't want it. I don't like the way it smells. I don't like the way it tastes but I'll tell you, there's people who would kill for it.

Jim: I think it's like licorice, isn't it? I don't know if that's an odor or a taste. I want to stay on the concept of odors here because so often, they blend over, but this is the bottom line, Kim, you've described those pleasant aromas coming in through the windows, to me it's a sensation of the season and where we are and the bees are happy, and I'm happy at that particular moment. The odors of that honey being processed is really being produced is really a nice sensation at that moment.


Sponsor: Betterbee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Honey Bee Obscura Podcast. For over 40 years, Betterbee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed. Because many Betterbee employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges, and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalog to their supportive beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast, Betterbee truly lives up to their tagline of Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at


Kim: I got another one for you, and I bet you've never tasted this. If you've ever been in out west where they're growing alfalfa for seed, they just put a whole bunch of bees on a field out there and because there's so many bees, you don't have a ton of honey in every colony, but you make some and I've had pure alfalfa honey and I'll tell you what it tastes like, it tastes like alfalfa tastes like if you were to chew it. It's got this leg yummy flavor to me. It's sweet and it's pungent. I'm going to say a little bit of a bite but not much, but it's pure alfalfa.

Jim: I can't do anything with that. When we have alfalfa, here in Ohio, the bees almost seem to avoid it as much as possible and go to clover or whatever else they can find. I can't say that I've had anything that I know was specifically from alfalfa.

Kim: They usually cut off of about 10% bloom and 10% of the plants are bloom when they cut it so you don't get much here, but then you get into some of the fall, autumn honeys, and the one that people just starting out a lot of times every year, they go outside in September, early October and, oh my God, what does that smell coming out of my bee yard?

Jim: Kim, I'm telling you a true story. From all those years ago, the first time I smelled was either aster or goldenrod. I don't know if I can tell the difference. I thought that this is it. This is the smell of American foulbrood. I have finally gotten myself into a real mess and I called the state apiary in Alabama and those people had to come out to my bee yard because I confess that I might have American foulbrood, and they were chuckling when they told me that that was the smell of autumn honey from either aster or goldenrod. That's the pungency that it had.

Kim: Yes, it is. A good friend of mine, however, long ago, said, "The smell of goldenrod honey is a smell of money", because it's a strong honey and it's really favored by a lot of the people in my part of Ohio, and regular honey goes for $8 or $9 a pound and goldenrod goes for 12 or 15.

Jim: For those who've not smelled it. I want to tell you another true story. If I could turn right now to my left and look out my window, I can say my beehives 40 to 45 yards away. Kim, I'm not exaggerating, in the fall, you can smell goldenrod easily 40 to 50 yards away at night, that heavy dole smell, and late afternoon, early evening, with that goldenrod honey. If that's what money smells like, it's got a distinctive odor.

Kim: It does. First time you smell, it smells unpleasant, but after that, you know that the things are going well inside that hive because they've collected enough goldenrod nectar to take this long to cure it, and the longer it goes into the night, the more they made that day so the better off you are.

Jim: The smell didn't really transfer all that much. When we'd bring goldenrod honey into my lab and extract it, there was a bit of a sensation that it was goldenrod, but that really distinctive odor seemed to have subdued some.

Kim: Bye the time they get it cured and kept all the volatiles from the goldenrod nectar they've been pretty much driven off. You're right. There's not much smell after it's been cured.

Jim: When we would process any honey, goldenrod or anything else you'd would heat the super some and the room was warm and there were heaters to keep the honey flowing and pumps running and whatever and my whole lab, the whole processing room had that nice, full ambiance of somebody is really cooking something nice. All it was was just the smell of warm honey, concentrated flower nectar. From all those millions of flowers that those bees had visited and I was processing and pumping it through the equipment there in the back of my lab.

Kim: Yes. The volatiles, and you get the smells collecting in your honey house or wherever you're extracting, the volatiles from spring and summer and fall, honey are mixing and swirling around. You're getting some combination that in nature, isn't real because you got spring nectar and summer nectar, they don't come together in nature, but they're coming together and you get to smell them all all day long.

Jim: That's an interesting way of looking at it. That is not something that commonly occurs in nature.

Kim: At the same time, when you're extracting, you're on uncapping and depending on what kind of uncapping you're doing, you've got at least warm and sometimes hot wax.

Jim: Yes. That's a category all by itself. Isn't it? When we're rendering wax, the air feels like it's thick. It's like you're breathing thick air or the air is so full. I don't know if it's molecular weight or what it is that's happening there, but is a classic odor that really outweighs the delicate odor of honey.

Kim: In my opinion, there's nothing else that smells like it, beeswax candles too. There's nothing like a beeswax candle. I know that they try to make candles that simulate, the odor of beeswax when it's burning, but I don't think anybody's ever come close.

Jim: That'd be easy, so easy to get off the subject here on beeswax candles and burning and earliest sources of light and money and whatever, but it's all about the odor account. It's all about the nice odor of those candles and what it means to smell that pure beeswax burning. We had them at my daughter's wedding, since I'm a bee guy. Of course, one of my daughters had all those beeswax candles all fired off.

Kim: That must have been nice. Wow. I know you've done this. Long, long ago when I used to make frames. I don't make frames anymore, but long ago you've made frames and you had to get foundation to put in them. You couldn't get foundation in the winter because they wouldn't ship it because foundations sheets would break. Either got it in the late fall or early spring, but either time you got it, you weren't doing much with the bees, and you opened that box.

Jim: You're talking about the odor of that nice foundation, right?

Kim: Yes.

Kim: That's the odor of beekeeping. You said goldenrod was the odor of money. I'm saying that foundation is an odor of money, because you just spent some money just to enjoy that smell there. Right beside that pine lumber, because something as common place as new pine boards, to me has a strong memory of beekeeping equipment yet to be assembled with the foundation to go on the pine frames.

Kim: When I was a long ago, when the root company was still making beekeeping equipment, I'd walked through the workshop and there'd be saws and planers and joiners and all sorts of woodworking tools all going at the same time and the odor in there was thick enough to cut.

Jim: Yes, it was and it still is. I still love woodworking and even now working with pine, just to build a simple shelf or something. I have put so many deeps together that that odor is indicative. All of these things come, all of these odors come together to make beekeeping and it's so hard, you can't take an odor to a meeting, you can't say, "pass it around and say, everybody's smell this." You could pass around a diseased frame and that's going to be horrific because you're going to scare people to death, but it's just always difficult to get the odor sensation out there. You can show pictures, you can have sound, it's hard to get the odor there.

Kim: It's hard, and you have to keep bees long enough to be exposed to all of these things, because usually when you're first starting out or even after you've been after a while you miss them because you're looking, you're concentrating, you're moving, you're lifting, and it all kind of blends in together.

Jim: That's right. I don't really realize it until time has passed that, "Oh, I'm smelling this", and I'm thinking about all those other Springs that have come and gone. I'm thinking about all the other winter kilns that I've cleaned up. These odors just become a routine measurement.

Kim: You know the phrasing, stop and smell the roses? Well, change it just a little bit and stop and smell beekeeping.

Jim: That's true. Stop and smell beekeeping. It's complex. Isn't it?

Kim: It is.

Jim: Alright.

Kim: Well, this has been good.

Jim: I've enjoyed it.

Kim: I think we've covered a whole lot of things that smell without having to lift a hammer, extract a frame, or clean a hive.

Jim: That's a good way of putting it and talk about how bad it is without having to do it, or talk about how good it is without actually being there. I enjoyed talking to you, Kim.

Kim: All right, we'll catch you next time.

Jim: Everybody who's listening, thank you for hanging on all this time. We enjoy talking to you.

Kim: Bye.

Jim: Bye bye Kim.