Suppression

Honey

Category: Food

Type

Voluntary

Introduction and description

 

Honey bees (or honeybees) are a subset of bees, primarily distinguished by the production and storage of honey and the construction of colonial nests out of wax. Honey is the nectar of flowers converted by honey bees into a food.

The bees own body does some of the conversion, the rest takes place in the honeycomb in which it is stored.   Its chemical constituents vary enormously and depend on the flower[s] whose nectar was used, the soil in which they grew, when the honey was extracted from the honey combs by the bee keeper, and the extent to which the bees were ‘managed’.

A bee foraging from a monoculture of plants grown on a depleted soil, whose honey was extracted from the combs before the cells had been capped and in an industrial managed setting is often nutritionally worthless.  It is basically coloured sugar.  Mass produced commercial honey can often be of this type.  It is given a flavour by blending it with the very very and wonderfully strong tasting honey produced in, for example, South America.  But by blending it in this way, it is cheap.

 
 
 

A bee foraging in a meadow of ‘organic’ wild flowers and mixed woodland, from perhaps a single hive placed there by an enthusiast, whose bees are basically left alone until the autumn when all the honeycombs have been capped and the honey has had the time to mature in the cell – or even overwinter – is rich in minerals, nutrients and has considerable medical potential.  But you may never see this honey in the shops because a hive managed in this ‘hands-off’ fashion might produce only 20-100 jars of honey.  Just enough for the enthusiast. 

The amateur enthusiast can choose to do relatively little to his hive, perhaps only check them occasionally and add 'supers' [more room].  One hive needs relatively little work and the bees will be happy bees, if they have plenty to forage, a mixed diet, and variety.

The botanical and geographical origins of the nectar largely determine the chemical composition of honey. Honey can originate from single and multiplant species. In general, the prices of honey from single plant species are much higher than those of common polyfloral honey, but nutritionally polyfloral honey is far better and richer. 

a frame with bees

 Good honey contains:

  • carbohydrates, mainly fructose and glucose but also dextrin & about 25 different oligosaccharides.
  • proteins,
  • enzymes,
  • amino acids,
  • minerals - eg iron, phosphorus, calcium, sodium, potassium, manganese
  • trace elements - eg traces of citric, formic, malic and succinic acid
  • vitamins
  • aroma compounds
  • polyphenols and
  • pollen, oils, gums, waxes, fats, albumen, and ash

Good honey is thus a very good food and it is also a natural antibiotic if obtained from plant rich sources in a natural way.  We have included a number of observations on this, but also some additional reading.

Background

Honey bees are the only extant members of the tribe Apini, all in the genus Apis. There appears to be some disagreement on the number of species – but figures range from seven to nine recognized species though historically, anywhere from six to eleven species have been recognized. Honey bees represent only a small fraction of the approximately 20,000 known species of bees. Some other types of related bees produce and store honey, but only members of the genus Apis are true honey bees.

There are about 50,000-70,000 bees in a colony in summer and this reduces to around 20,000 in winter.  A colony of bees has three types of occupants:

  • Queen -  Each colony of bees has only one queen, although there may be some queens ‘in the making’. The queen is the sole female with fully developed ovaries – the only one able to produce eggs.  She lays around 1,000 to 2,000 eggs a day. 
  • Drones - The drones are the male bees.  They are there for reproductive purposes only and do nothing else, although their presence in the hive may help to maintain the temperature necessary for the development of the brood.  A hive has about 2,000 drones. 
  • Workers - The workers are female but sterile bees.  Workers clean the hive, forage, attend to the brood [larvae and baby bees], feed the brood, queen and the drones, build and renovate comb cells, guard the hive, make propolis and seal the hive, and mange food stress – honey and pollen

The eternal bee colony is made possible through an ongoing replacement of its members.  Worker bees are replaced every 4 weeks to 12 months depending on the season.  The queens are replaced every 3 to 5 years.  Drones survive only 2 to 4 weeks.

Swarms

New queens are produced when the number of bees in the hive has reached a maximum and enough brood is available to replace the loss of adults when the old queen leaves with her workers in a swarm.  The old queen leaves the hive to set up a new home a few days before the new queen emerges. 

 

The new queen is left with combs filled with honey, pollen and developing larvae and a basic workforce to keep her going until the larvae hatch out.

Immediately before departure, the workers due to join the swarm, fill their crops with honey, enough to last about 10 days.  If they don’t find a suitable site, they may starve.  A swarm is stronger than the hive that is left, as the young and older bees are left behind, and about 70% of the workers go with the swarm, thus a beekeeper will do his/her best to find the swarm.  Often it can be found close to the hive hanging from a branch of a tree, as workers head off in all directions to look for a suitable new home. 

Swarms tend to be docile because the bees are full of honey, sated, although bees on the whole are not aggressive, as stinging a person involves their deaths – the removal of the sting tends to rip them open.  The only time we ever noticed the bees get agitated was during or just before a thunder storm.

NEVER destroy a swarm.  In the UK call the police, they keep a list of beekeepers and they will find you a beekeeper to remove it humanely.  If you are a beekeeper get on the list.

Bees and flowers

The honeybee co-evolved with flowers.  The furry form of the honeybee enables it to collect pollen and transport it between flowers thus supporting pollination. Bees also eat pollen and place it in small ‘baskets’ on their hind legs. 

Although very few flowers are dependent just on bees for pollination, no other pollinators are as effective as honeybees.  Around 80% of flowering plants world-wide are pollinated by insects and of these about 85% are pollinated by honeybees.  As many as 90% of fruit trees are dependent on honeybees.  The number of plant species dependent on honeybees is estimated to be about 40,000.  This world-wide sea of flowers is pollinated by just 9 bee species and in Europe and Africa by only one -  apis mellifera.

 

 The nectar produced by flowers is a sort of reward, an energy source the bees can use and thus a lure.  The bees have both specially adapted mouthparts and a part of the gut that acts as a small reservoir.  In a bee with a body weight of 90 mg, it can accommodate up to 40mg nectar.  A small valve between the crop and the midgut enables the nectar they need to feed themselves to reach them, but the rest is deposited in the cells in the hive used to store communal food.  This food is then used by the other female workers – the guards, the baby bee tenders, the hive cleaners, the hive coolers, the hive heaters and so on – as well as the male drones. 

 

Honeybees are able to fly when external temperatures reach about 12 degrees centigrade.  For most of their flights, the foragers cover between 2 and 4 kms from the hive.  This is an economically tolerable distance, in terms of energy gained in the form of the nectar brought home.

The nuptial flight of the virgin queen

Bee colonies raise only a few queens each year and the new queen develops in a specially constructed thimble shaped queen cell.  When she emerges fully formed from the cell, she is a virgin queen.

Assemblies of drones are almost mystical in their behaviour.  They assemble at certain specific locations, there they buzz around noisily in concentrated groups waiting for the arrival of the virgin queen.

 

When the sun is high and the air warm and drowsy, the queen bee takes her virgin flight.  A host of drones follow her, intoxicated by her scent.  Gradually the weaker and less agile drones fall away exhausted until only a few are left.  Eventually, one drone, beside himself with desire, reaches her and there - high high in the air - he clasps her to him and they mate in the air.

He hangs passively from the queen by his endophallus, all his reproductive equipment has been extruded from his body just for this one moment.  The transfer of sperm cells is undertaken by the queen herself through a strong contraction of her abdominal muscles which not only pulls his entire phallus into her but sucks him dry.

But there is a price to pay.  Once she has received his sperm, he is ripped from her.  And in the process all his reproductive organs are also ripped away.  It is not unusual for the drone’s abdomen to actually explode in mid-air – and he dies.  He falls back to earth dead.

the drone

The phallus remains attached to the queen.  Triumphantly she carries it back to the hive as a sign that she has succeeded, her virginity is no more.

So honey is in the end a by-product of ecstatic death – annihilation through love. 

A single drone can deliver up to 6-11 million sperm cells.  But this is only about 10% of all sperm cells with which she is finally impregnated, because she has more than one flight and is impregnated by more than one drone.  A flighty queen in fact.

The queen bee stores all the sperm in her sperm gland, where they are kept fresh and used as a natural sperm bank.  From the eggs that result – around 200,000 are fertilised and laid each year - all the workers and all future drones are born.  The female worker bees are born from the fertilised eggs, the drones from the non fertilised eggs.

Drones become superfluous at the end of the mating season.  Those that remain are no longer fed and are expelled from the hive.  And die.

Bee products

There are five main products that a bee produces and which have been used by human beings:

  • Honey – processed flower nectar, stored in special wax cells.  The cells containing the nectar are fanned by the workers using their wings, to remove moisture.  Once all moisture has been removed the cell is capped.  Honey obtained from uncapped cells will not keep, it will ferment.  Honey naturally crystalises.  To keep it runny, processors may heat the honey.
  • Beeswax – used in the past to make candles [and furniture polish], we really have no need for beeswax  any more.  Ideally, once honey has been extracted from the combs they should be returned to the bees, so that they can clean them up and reuse them.  If less time is needed making wax, more time can be spent foraging.
  • Pollen – is highly nutritious for a bee and extracting pollen from a hive, given the fact we have more than enough other sources of food, is cruel.  This has not stopped commercial beekeepers from attempting to collect it using ‘pollen traps’ and selling it.  It may also explain why so many of the bees of commercial beekeepers are sick, really sick.  Starvation.
  • Royal jelly – the nurse worker bees use this as a special food for the queen larvae. Not something one would normally steal, but it does have uses medicinally
  • Bee propolis – is a plant resin that the bees mix with enzymes and with wax and pollen.  It has a definite use as a medicine because it has anti-bacterial properties and makes a very useful soothing ointment for skin problems, especially psoriasis. We have a section for it on the site.   Bees cover all parts of the hive with a thin layer of this and it acts as a sealant and a disinfectant.  They use it to reduce the size of the entrance for winter and make the hive weather proof.  Thus any collection must be done after winter – perhaps as part of the early spring maintenance of hives.

 

Cultivation

Bees suffer from a number of pests and diseases, thus if you are going to ‘cultivate’, that is keep, bees you need to be aware of them and find ways of helping the bee.  In this a bee is not at all dissimilar to a human being:

  •  
    Nutritional deprivation – if you place a hive in a monoculture or anywhere where there is no diversity of plants and inadequate vegetation cover, the bee will effectively starve.  A bee likes and thrives on variety in its diet, just like a human does, as such the bigger the variety of plants the better.
  • Space – Bees can become very overstressed from overcrowding.  Keep on adding frames before the hive becomes full.  This gives them room to move, to breathe and to spread out.  They may not even swarm [a good thing] if you build them a skyscraper!  If you supply a foundation with wax this means they have to spend less time building and can spend more time foraging.  Make sure the wax is sterile.
  • Cold and heat – both cold and heat severely stress bees in the hive.  In winter tuck up the hive with blankets and old carpet as an insulator.  Make sure the hive is away from cold draughts and bitter winds.  Shelter and protection is key.  Make sure no rats and mice can get into the hive.  In summer make sure the hive is not in full sun and is shaded.  A great deal of energy is expended by a bee keeping the hive cool thus any hive designed to let balmy breezes flow through it in the summer is ideal.  It keeps the air fresh and the babies and workers cool.
  •  
    Management – Hands-off management is key.  Only check a hive at dusk.  Bees hate light entering the hive.  The darkness of the hive means security to them.  If you whip the roof off their home in sunlight you greatly distress them.  Checking at dusk is more effective because them you know if they do need more room and in many cases a veil and smoke puffer is not needed.  Don’t tamper with the course of nature cutting out queens or manipulating the balance of workers and drones.  Leave them be.  Don’t even think about artificial insemination.  The nuptial flight of the virgin queen is essential to achieving healthy strong bees.
  • Harvesting – Take less than half of what they have accumulated as honey.  Take no pollen, take no wax.  You will have more than enough honey and they will be well fed and nourished over winter.  Since all the drones are removed from the hive and die during winter, the food supply you leave may even be enough, but check in spring and give them sugar syrup if need be.  Return the frames to the hive after harvesting.  They will clean them up and will reuse them.  This saves them effort, more time to forage.
  • Siting – Make sure the hives are nowhere near any farmer or person who uses pesticides, insecticides or herbicides.  These are killers to any bee.  A bee who has come into contact with these usually dies on its way back to the hive, the effects are that rapid.  Also ensure the hive is away from any sources of strong radiation – masts, electricity pylons, transformer stations, even the large wndmills that give off infrasound.  There are certain frequencies that resonate the bees so much they die or their babies die.
  • Pests and diseases – A strong colony rarely suffers from disease.  Disease is usually a sign of bad management – all the above have been ignored.  The population renews itself if sickness strikes.  Diseases include acarine disease [caused by a mite], varroa mite, nosemal disease [caused by a parasite], foulbrood [caused by bacteria] , stonebrood and chalkbrood [caused by a fungus] and sacbrood [caused by a virus]. The mites and parasites are themselves carriers of bacteria and viruses.  Therefore just like humans the main pathogens are parasites, fungus, bacteria, viruses and toxins [including heavy metals]. There are a number of plants that can help. 
a loved bee is a gentle bee

The main chemicals that help with the varroa mite; that are Acaricides in other words pesticides that kill members of the arachnid subclass Acari, which includes ticks and mites;  that are antistreptococcic or antibacilluis and thus fight foulbrood; are as follows:

[ Source:  Duke, James A. 1992. Handbook of phytochemical constituents of GRAS herbs and other economic plants. Boca Raton, FL. CRC Press. ]

 

 

 

 

Chemical

Varroa

Acaricide

Anti-streptococcic

Antibacillus

BENZYL-ACETATE

X

X

-

-

EUGENOL

X

X

-

-

OXALIC-ACID

X

X

-

-

THYMOL

X

X

X

-

1,8-CINEOLE

-

X

-

-

12-ALPHA-HYDROXYROTENONE

-

X

-

-

ACETYL-EUGENOL

-

X

-

-

ACROPHYLLINE-OXIDE

-

X

-

-

ACRYOPHYLLINE

-

X

-

-

ALPHA-CADINOL

-

X

-

-

ALPHA-TERPINENE

-

X

-

-

BENZYL-BENZOATE

-

X

-

-

BUTYLIDENE-PHTHALIDE

-

X

-

-

CINNAMALDEHYDE

-

X

-

-

CITRONELLAL

-

X

X

-

EPOXYPSEUDOISOEUGENOL-2-METHYLBUTYRIC-ESTER

-

X

-

-

EUGENOL

-

X

-

-

FORMIC-ACID

-

X

-

-

GAMMA-TERPINENE

-

X

-

-

LIMONENE

-

X

-

-

LINALOOL

-

X

-

-

MENTHONE

-

X

-

-

O-ANISALDEHYDE

-

X

-

-

PERILLALDEHYDE

-

X

-

-

ROTENONE

-

X

-

-

(-)-EPIGALLOCATECHIN

-

-

X

-

ABYSSINONE-V

-

-

X

-

AGROPYRENE

-

-

X

-

ARBUTIN

-

-

X

-

BAKUCHIOL

-

-

X

-

BIS-ISODIOSPYRIN

-

-

X

-

CARVACROL

-

-

X

-

CARYOPHYLLENE

-

-

X

-

CITRONELLOL

-

-

X

-

CYNARIN

-

-

X

-

DELTA-CADINENE

-

-

X

-

ELLAGIC-ACID

-

-

X

-

EUCALYPTONE

-

-

X

-

GENTIANINE

-

-

X

-

INDOLE

-

-

X

-

MACROCARPAL-A

-

-

X

-

MACROCARPAL-B

-

-

X

-

MACROCARPAL-C

-

-

X

-

MACROCARPAL-D

-

-

X

-

MACROCARPAL-H

-

-

X

-

MACROCARPAL-I

-

-

X

-

MACROCARPAL-J

-

-

X

-

MENTHOL

-

-

X

X

NEROLIDOL

-

-

X

-

QUERCETIN

-

-

X

-

THYMOHYDROQUINONE

-

-

X

-

BERBERASTINE

-

-

-

X

BERBERINE

-

-

-

X

SWEROSIDE

-

-

-

X

 The fungal infections are caused by poor management and poor ventilation.  If you allow air to pass into the hive and leave the bees to sort out the eradication of the fungi, they will do as long as they are strong enough.  The chemicals above occur in numerous plants, as such if you surround the hives with a lovely mixed border of plants containing these chemicals then you should be free of pests and diseases.  A combination of menthol, eugenol and thymol containing plants, for example, would be all inclusive.

Below:  the varroa mite

Method

There are two extremely tasty recipes for Athol Brose ice cream and Cranachan in the section on Oats.  As this section is already long we have placed some suggestions for using honey in the observations rather than here. 

Under the heading of ‘healing’, are some traditional old recipes for mead.  You can find them all under the letter M.  We have placed them under ‘healing’ as they were once used for this very purpose – as a medicine or base for ‘medicines’ in the days when herbal medicines were used extensively and made by monks. 

Honey contains neither acid nor tannin, nor is there any nitrogenous matter to serve as the nutrient for the yeast as such both have to be added.  The yeast used must be quite delicate, Maury yeast, Madeira yeast, Sauterne yeast and Bordeaux yeast have all been effective.  Mead can be finished sweet or dry.  The taste is indescribably good.  We used to use all the left overs from honey extraction to make mead, all the wax cappings with their honey, the contents of the filters, anything left on the extractor itself, and the trays.  This way nothing is wasted, and all the goodness and flavour is extracted.  Beware, however, because the fermentation is the most explosive you are ever likely to see.  Make sure it has totally stopped before bottling, store for at least three months in the fermentation jar with a bung and air lock.  Siphon very very carefully when you are bottling the mead.  Leave for a year at least.

References and further reading

Books

  • The Buzz about Bees - Professor Jurgen Tautz– a marvellous book  with stunning photographs by Helga R Heilmann which has received justified rave reviews
  • Shining hours – C N Buzzard – an old book written in 1946, which is still a joy to read.
  • Bees – Rudolf Steiner – a book from which we have taken extracts

Symbolism

The following symbols may be of interest:

The following sources may be of interest

The following additional activities may be of interest

The following entries in the science section may be of interest

Related observations