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Sweet success
Farmer raises unusual mix of mushrooms, honey

OXFORD - Honey and mushrooms are a strange combination, but it's one that helps Brady Bala make his living and be a good environmental steward.

At Double B Farm in Oxford, Bala harvests both honey and Shiitake mushrooms, not the typical crops associated with farming. But his products are selling well through a local co-op in Rockdale County that takes orders online, and his fan base is growing.

Two weeks ago, Bala sold his last bottle of honey, running out of supplies three months sooner than he did last year.

When the Georgia Beekeepers Association holds its spring meeting Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 in Henry County, Bala will be attending.

The association meets four times a year to disseminate information gathered on the state level about beekeeping.

"It's just a bunch of people really interested and who care about bees and want stay in touch with those who literally have their fingers and hands deeply involved in the whole thing," Bala said.

The group includes beekeepers with more than 50 years experience and those who are just starting out.

Bala said beekeeping has "a really rich history in our area."

About 100 beekeepers exist within a 30 to 40 mile radius of Newton County, he said.

But it's becoming more rare, and those that still do it typically only have a few hives, he added.

"Honey bees have always played a part in small farms. Since sugar came about, that's basically dying off. Sugar is so common now; honey used to be the sweetener," he said.

Bala was introduced to beekeeping by his father, who maintained hives when Bala was a child, and got into it himself about six years ago.

He has 28 hives in locations throughout Newton County and in Madison.

"In early spring as everything starts to bloom, bees go out and gather pollen and nectar off plants and carry it back and convert it into honey for storage for food for them to eat later in the year," he said.

Once the moisture content gets below 18 percent, the honey is harvestable. Bala cuts through a wax cap created by the bees and uses a radial extractor to remove the honey, which is then poured through strainers to separate large wax pieces.

"It's not heated or processed in any way," he said. "That's why folks prefer our honey over traditional store-bought honey, because it is unrefined."

In addition to selling raw honey, Bala makes candles, lip balm and olive oil soaps using beeswax.

Bala also grows Shiitake mushrooms. More expensive that other types, the Shiitake mushroom is native to Japan, China and Korea. During the Ming Dynasty, it was reserved only for the emperor and his family and it became known as the emperor's food.

The mushrooms grow on 2- to 4-foot-long logs or limbs cut from trees. Bala drills holes about three-quarters of an inch deep and injects "sawdust spawn," which consists of remnants of sawdust and mushroom spores. Once inoculated with the mixture, the logs are covered with cheese wax and kept in low light. It takes nine to 24 months for mushrooms to sprout.

A log can continue to produce mushrooms for between one and five years. Once the log has been used up, Bala uses the scraps in his organic vegetable garden.

"I'm taking what's generally considered a waste product and producing food with it," he said.

"When I see guys go clear a lot, I'm almost heartbroken at the amount of money that's really sitting there in so many ways," he said, adding that he has been allowed by several contractors to take limbs from trees they've cut down.

Bala said he has a lot of repeat customers who have a hard time eating store-bought mushrooms once they've tasted his.

For Bala, who also owns a small print shop, Copy Central in Conyers, this way of life is about getting back to the basics and teaching his kids some valuable lessons.

"I have three kids. What I've basically been doing all this time is showing them how they can do for themselves. It's not really necessary to go around and rely on a bailout," he said. "Through doing it you can get better at it and make little bit of side money. But the payback of doing this for us really comes at home. We get better food, we're in touch with how the food gets here, we get to deal with lots of different people, lots of different farms and we see a lot of things other folks have never even seen. It's more of a lifestyle than it is much of anything else."

Double B Farm honey is sold for $3 to $5 a bottle and mushrooms come in quarter pound bags for $7. Purchases can be made through Conyers Locally Grown, a co-op of local farmers. For more

information, visit www.conyers.locallygrown.net or call Bala at 404-456-4333.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@

newtoncitizen.com.