My Background in Understanding Honey
Life's Educating Path
In my early twenties, I got a job working in a food ingredient factory. We manufactured food novelties—all of the fun stuff that goes into cereal and ice cream, including chocolate. I worked my way up off the floor, pushing a broom, to Lead Lab Technician/Microbiologist.
We had to check in all bulk ingredients and on the days that the honey trucks came in, I would be in awe of the 330-pound IBC totes that would come off of the semi-trucks. 48 of them would line the warehouse floor stretching for yards. Staged for spraying onto already sugar AND syrup sweetened cereal.
Something about seeing and understanding that all that liquid came from a bug... just seemed wrong. I knew something wasn't right with honey way back then but it wasn't until I raised my own bees that I was able to fully understand.
While rearing my mail order package bees... I always compared them to the wild bees that lived in an oak tree out in the woods. I knew they knew how to make it through the winter, pick mites off and chase out moths, beetles ... but any book you pick up in a store or web related article will tell you differently. They will tell you that they need humans and chemicals to survive.
This is simply not true. Nature knows best.
All Natural Honey
God's Sweetest Gift
The lifespan of a single worker bee is five to seven weeks. In that lifetime (if not in winter), it will harvest only one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey. That's right, divide a single teaspoon 12 ways for the life of a bee.
One pound of honey can contain the pollen from two million flowers.
Imagine the impact of that on your gut-biome diversity from real raw and natural honey.
This is a precious thing and should be respected and used sparingly.
The Un-sweetened Truth About Honey
Commercialism and Bees
Most commercial and small local apiarists supplement their hives with sugar or syrup water to speed up harvest. The bees stop harvesting bee pollen to make bee bread and live on the sugar supplement. Instead of foraging wild pollen, they spend their days fermenting sugar water into a honey-flavored syrup that isn't good for humans or bees.
In the fall, honey harvesters "rob" nearly all of the honey in the hive, leaving the bees minimal food stores at best and often supplement with "Bee Patty's," which are solid sugar cakes to feed the bees through the winter. Occasionally, they may contain up to 10% pollen. Imagine if you lived on mostly sugar bars with only 5% protein and 5% carbs. You could not survive long.
The bees also lose the ability to plan for winter stores and become dependent on the winter sugar. Empty calories from nutrition-less sugar, lack of real wild pollen bee bread, and fermented fall pollen (honey/medicine) full of nutrients lead to hive collapse.
This is common sense. Not science.
Commercial and larger honey operations also use antibiotics, unnatural plastic comb in the hives, and chemicals to control ticks and mites. All of these uses interrupt natural bee behavior. Constantly removing mites for them makes them forget grooming practices, leading to poor body and hive hygiene. Once the bees no longer groom for mites, chase out the hive beetles, wax moths or fight off predators because they forgot how. They depend on these chemicals that remain in the human-made syrup-honey and wax. It must continually be applied to keep the hive alive once the bees forget how to care for themselves.
Sure it tastes good, good as the corn/beet/sugarcane syrup that it is, and the process looks natural at a distance, but that is about it. These practices weaken the bee as a species.
Apiarists point fingers at herbicides, pesticides, and genetically modified plants as the hive-collapse culprit, but it is a combination of the two declining their numbers.
Bees are doomed unless we protect wild bees, start harvesting responsibly, and stop feeding them sugar.
For you hive owners right now, chewing your hats... your sugar-fed bees will live for a while. Maybe even years, but they do not provide to their fullest potential and are making a contaminated product. You are selling slightly flavored sugar syrup. A shell of the real deal... and if you tasted the two in comparison, you would know the difference in a heartbeat.
The bees shown here feed on a "pollen patty" made from human-made pollen substitute, not from millions of flowers, but sugar and water.
How to Find the Real Gold
Getting Past the Labels and Practices
Like anything, research will give you answers. If you are seeking nothing other than honey flavor, commercial store-bought honey is your best bet. It is consistent in flavor and content.
If you are seeking medicine and health benefits you will have to talk to people and ask questions. Even still - you will have to take someone's word over the money for your health and the bees.
Asking the right non-offensive questions may help you get less "bent" answers from farmers-markets or road-side sellers.
Beware! With no regulations at farmer's markets, it's not hard to buy a five gallon bucket of commercial honey, repackage it in mason jars with pretty lids and resell it for a small fortune as all natural!!
Always ask if they help supplement the bees through the winter or help with keeping the bees mite free. Be inquisitive! Ask what they put in their "hive feeder". If they are using anything other than filtered water...
THEY ARE NOT REAL ALL NATURAL BEES!!!
What Can I Do?
Becoming a Responsible Apiarist
Bees are wild and need to stay that way to be healthy. Package bees are bred to be dumbed down to be easily handled. Ever seen someone open a hive without a bee suit? Those are package bees. Bees are supposed to protect their food source like the gold that it is. That is a HEALTHY bee behavior. This is essential for their survival.
This doesn't mean that if you own hives that they will randomly sting everyone in the area. Healthy bees do need some room. We stay twenty to thirty yards from our bees most of the time out of respect for their privacy but do not get stung while mowing or quickly weed whipping directly around the hives.
However, if you mess with the hive - you better run. A single bee can follow you for 50 yards if the hive is tampered with. Harvesting real wild and natural honey does take some extra safety measures and isn't for everybody. Natural bees are only for those who understand how to respect the wild-danger of nature.
Responsibility is the motto. Not hot-shots with bee beards. You don't chance it out of respect for yourself and the bees. ALWAYS wear your safety gear. You never know when things could turn hot, and you never want to end up in that situation.
How do I Start?
Prepare for Loss
Bringing back the bee to its glory isn't cheap. Consider teaming up with friends or family to purchase hive, equipment, and bees.
There is going to be a loss. Package bees must mate with wild bees to have the memories returned to the colony. It sounds hokey, but it's true. Genetic memory on how to groom, store food, and raise healthy brood is passed on from generation to generation but can be bred out of them, just like domestic ducks and geese that have forgotten how to fly.
Once our package bees mated with wild bees, our mite and the hive-beetle population dropped to nearly zero. Bees groomed off mites and chased beetles and moths out of the comb. They also started keeping mice out.
It takes a few years - but like growing truffles, luxury in a final product takes time.
Becoming an Apiarist
Raising Treatment Free Bees
Do I Need Plastic Comb Inserts?
A Natural Style
No. Not even with package bees. Start your hives without any plastic toxins. Plastic does bio-degrade.
Cell size is also uniform in the plastic comb. In nature, bees come in all different sizes. Different breeds and crossbreeds of bees vary in size by a few millimeters. When the plastic comb is used, the bees build to that size leaving room for mites and beetle larva to hide under and in with the brood. Bees in nature build the comb to the exact size needed for the pupa only and nothing else. Most plastic comb is engineered to hold more honey with larger cell size, making no sense as it makes more room for hive disasters.
There may be smaller cells in a frameless hive, but the bees will still store the same amount of honey for survival. If anything you may acquire more wax which has plenty of uses for home, farm, and beauty especially when it is toxin-free.
With one simple addition to the hive frames, a thin strip of wood inserted at the top of the frame, the bees will follow suit and build straight comb. On a rare occasion, they may go diagonal. This comb will need to be removed and they will eventually correct themselves.
The Only Help They Need -
Manmade Hives Are Not Natural
The only thing we provide as help for our bees is a hive base that leaves a wire mesh covered pocket at the bottom of the hive that the bees can not access. We put insulation into this base in the winter to aid in harsh freezing temperatures and to stop the draft. In the summer, we put sticky insect cards in the base to catch ants, roaches, wax moths, mites the bees pick off, and beetles they chase off the comb. These cards need to be changed frequently. The odor of caught predatory bugs will draw in more of the same. They also get filled with the chafe from the pupa coverings the bees remove to assist with bee "birth." The cards also are useless if they get wet. Always check or replace the sticky traps after heavy rains.
How much is too much?
The reality is that you won't likely be able to peddle honey at your local farmers market unless you sell for medicine fees or have 100 hives. A half-pint should go for upwards of twenty dollars for the untampered mana.
Our bees have only ever filled up one "super" to date. Since sugar calories are empty (void of nutrition) - commercially kept bees keep storing, building up an endless supply, knowing they are going to need a lot of this empty substance to try to live on.
We don't get a huge wild honey harvest because this isn't sugar water just being moved from the feeder into the comb mixed with some bee enzymes. They don't need to store so much because it is full of nutrition. Likewise, you do not need to consume so much to receive the benefit of it. A little goes a long way.
We harvest in mid-summer so they can replenish pollen and honey supplies in the fall pollen season. Each hive only yields 4-6 cups. Only a few frames are harvested from each hive. Not entire supers or their entire winter food supply like commercial farms.
Save the Bees
Respect the use of honey. Find apiarists that harvest responsibly. Plant flowers. Don't use any chemicals in your garden. If you have to treat your yard for weeds, use granules. It is absorbed through the plant, and the plant dies quickly, leaving any blooms undesirable and the ripened pollen free of toxins, unlike sprays that coat the pollen.
Get in the Know
Do you know what a wild beehive looks like or have you been fooled by cartoons and social media?
Bees in the Wild
Bees don't know how to build outside walls for their homes. They live inside hollow structures such as trees, rock caverns, hollow logs, light poles, old propane tanks, and even inside human homes' walls.
If you come across a hive out in the open, you would see honeycomb. Honeycomb WAX is the only way to identify a beehive safely. Wasps and hornets make paper comb.
A Fool for Honey
Cartoons and movies often show a bear digging in a hive like this for honey. It is a Hollywood misconception. Our nearest Scheels and Cabela's sporting good stores both have taxidermy bears holding a wasp hive, made by someone who didn't study bees.
Since honeybees don't build outer wall structures, these are all wasp and hornet hives. Bears would never attempt to touch a hornet hive. They do not smell like sweet honey. Wasps and hornets feed their young dead insects, which won't entice a bear.
And so for those who say honeybees may have moved into an abandoned wasp hive, the paper shell can not support the weight of the beeswax alone minus the bees and honey. This is why beehives are made from heavy wooden dovetailed boxes to support the weight of the colony.
How Do I Get the Most Out of Wild Honey?
Treat your honey like gold and medicine. It is a gift from heaven!
Don't heat it and never microwave it. Heat kills natural probiotics, so don't use it for cooking or add it to hot drinks over 100 degrees.
Mix it with cool drinks like tea, or enjoy it at room temperature.
Honey butter will make it go a long way. Mixing it with cultured butter makes for a healthy addition to any bread or toast if applied after the toast had cooled some.
Honey and peanut butter are delicious together. Add it to smoothies and ice cream.
Do not make potions of lemon and ginger. Lemon's high acid content and gingers antibacterial activity can harm the phytochemicals in honey if left for a period of time. If you are making flu or cold remedies, mix each serving separately.