Friday, April 9, 2010

What's in Your Honey?

Think you know what's in your honey?  Just plain ol' honey, made by honeybees, right?

Wrong!  Think again!  Unless you buy your honey from a farmer's market or direct from a beekeeper, you have no idea what is in that honey.

What are some of the things that could be in your honey - besides honey?  How about white sugar? Or high fructose corn syrup? Or rice syrup?  Or maybe chloramphenicol - a highly toxic anti-biotic?

And that doesn't just apply to raw honey, but especially to any foods that contain honey as an ingredient - like your healthy granola bar or your Honey Nut Cheerios.

Think that honey you just bought from Whole Foods is really organic?

Wrong again!  There is no such thing as organic honey in the US.

Last year the Seatte Post-Intelligencer did some incredible investigative reporting on the state of honey production, importation and consumption in the US of A.   Take some time to read this and you will be pretty shocked - here's a little excerpt -

"Big shipments of contaminated honey from China are frequently 
laundered in other countries -- an illegal practice called "transshipping" --
in order to avoid U.S.import fees, protective tariffs or taxes
imposed on foreign products that intentionally undercut domestic prices."

and this too -

Since 2002, FDA has issued three "import alerts" to inspectors
at ports and border crossings to detain shipments of tainted Chinese
honey.  The order in 2002 came after Canadian and European
food-safety agents seized more than 80 shipments containing
chloramphenicol, which can cause serious illness or death among a very
small percentage of people exposed to it."

Then there's this piece - this happened last week - busted! But he'll probably end up walking, free to continue his unscrupulous business practices.

Now howya like dem apples?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Spring is here!

A lot has happened since my last post - all of the snow has melted, the sun came out and the trees are blooming.  In other words, the winter that wouldn't end has finally ended.  I wish I could say that all of the bees survived and are thriving but that is not the case - one of my hives didn't make it.

Shortly after my last post I went to check on the hive at The Spring Gardens and they were doing well - I was actually surprised to see that.  This was the hive that was really weak going into the winter and I had been feeding them honey all winter.   A month later on a warm sunny day I went to check on that hive again and this time the news wasn't so good - no activity at all in front of the hive and when I looked inside, all of the bees were dead.  They still had ample honey in there so they didn't starve.  Being that there was no obvious sign of disease, the most likely explanation is that the colony was too small to maintain the proper temperature inside the hive.  When a hive doesn't make it through the winter, beekeepers call it a "dead-out".  I was pretty bummed but not totally surprised. Here are some pics -

This is the view when I opened the cover, big pile of dead bees -                                  

After removing all the boxes, lots of dead bees -

I tried to find the queen in this mess but I couldn't.  Dead queens can be soaked in alcohol to make "eau-du-queen" - basically a tincture that can be used to attract swarms or wild bees to an empty hive.

A few of the frames looked like this:

This pretty much confirms that the bees were too cold - they climb into the cells in order to try to get warm.  All those little bee butts sticking out - a sad sight.

There is a silver lining to the loss of this hive.  All of the comb - some of which contained honey and pollen - can be used when I set up my new hives (oh yeah, I am getting 4 new hives this spring!).  The energy that this colony used to draw the honeycomb and collect nectar and pollen will not be totally wasted.  Using this drawn comb in the new hives will save them time and energy - they will have a nice head start.  The honey in these combs should also be enough so that I won't have to feed my new colonies any additional honey.  So I cleaned out this hive and separated all of the comb into 3 groups - comb with honey, comb with pollen and empty drawn comb.  Even the empty comb is helpful as it takes the bees significant time and energy to build the wax combs.  Here is a great shot of the start of some empty comb -

In honor of the fallen bees, I decided to take one of the frames of honey and harvest it for the family.  I used the simplest method for harvesting honey - crush and strain - pretty self-explanatory.  Cut some comb, mash it up and strain it - 

There was over one pound of honey in that frame and it was only partially full.  And let me tell you, that honey is AWESOME tasting - so flavorful.  Hopefully there will be lots more of that this year - so far the weather this spring is shaping up to be a much better year for honey than last year.  We shall see...