Is Your Store Bought Honey Really Honey?

On November 7 the Food Safety News published a controversial article that reported that they had found that 76  percent of the honey they had purchased in major grocery stores contained no pollen and therefore was not really honey.  Furthermore, they had tested honey purchased at drug stores like Rite-Aid and CVS and found that 100% contained no pollen, 77% at big box stores like Sam’s Club and Costco contained no pollen and 100% of small individual service portions from McDonald’s and KFC contained no pollen. At the same time they found that honey purchased at farmers markets, co-ops and “natural stores” like Trader Joe’s contained the normal expected amounts of pollen.

The question is why do producers and packers remove through filtration the pollen which is a normal beneficial component of honey? The bottom line is that it done for one or more reasons. Number one is to hide the source of the honey. Honey can be traced back to its origin based on the  pollen it contains. Right now we have a tremendous problem in this country with illegal importation of honey from China via a third country. This is being done to circumvent the anti-dumping duties and screening for contaminants that Chinese honey has been found to be tainted with. (see the related articles in earlier posts) The second reason is to extend the shelf life of the honey. The pollen grains and sugar crystals contained in raw honey serve as seeds for the growth of larger sugar crystals that eventually lead to crystallization of the entire jar of honey. This is a normal occurrence and in fact the preferred form of honey in Europe and other parts of the world.  So is honey really honey without the pollen?   You as the consumer are the one to answer the question.

Here is a link to the article: http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/11/tests-show-most-store-honey-isnt-honey/

 

White Eyed Drones

Have you ever seen a drone (male) honeybee with white eyes rather than their normal colored black eyes? I did for the first time this year and it’s sort of freaky looking. Earlier this spring, I was inspecting one of my hives and came across a few drones with white eyes. I did not have my camera with me, so I came back the next day to take a picture and they were all gone.

A few weeks later another of my beekeeping friends said he had a hive that had white-eyed drones AND workers and wondered if I would like to have the queen to put into my observation hive. I gladly accepted his offer to see what would happen. Within the last few days I have begun to notice a few drones with white eyes. The picture below was shot though the glass of the observation hive so the quality is not all that great. I will have my camera on hand the next time I open up the hive to move some frames around and get a better picture. Click on the photo to enlarge.

After doing some research, I found that this is a genetic mutation caused by a recessive gene. Drones are genetically haploid, which means they only carry one set of genes, while all females are diploid or carry two sets of genes. Queens and worker get their two sets of genes when the egg laid by a queen is fertilized. A drone is created when a queen lays an unfertilized egg. So if the queen carries the recessive gene for white eyes then there is a grater chance of the white eye to express itself.

Some of the information that I read indicates that white-eyed drones cannot see well and there cannot find their way back to the hive, which might explain why I only saw the drones one day in my hive and not the next. The interesting thing about my friend observing white-eyed workers in addition to white-eyed drones is that I believe a white-eyed drone would have had to mate with a queen that also carried that gene to produce a white eyed worker. That would refute the claim that white-eyed drones cannot see well. We’ll see!

I have also read that there are  bees with other eye colors including green, shades of red from cherry, garnet to brick. Although I haven’t seen any with green eyes, I have notice some that appeared to have a purple-ish tint to them. So check out the color of your drones eyes. You too might be surprised. If you want to learn more go to the web address below:

http://www.beesource.com/resources/usda/breeding-improved-honey-bees-part-2-heredity-and-variation/

2009 Wildflower Honey Harvest

The rainy, cool weather we had about a month ago apparently has severely affected the Wildflower spring nectar flow. The mainstay of the spring honey crop in this area is the Tulip Poplar tree. During its bloom the rainy, windy weather accompanied by cool temperatures either prevented the bees from flying to gather the nectar, washed the nectar away or blew the blossoms off the trees.

The end result is that my bees put up only one fourth to one half the honey they normally put up this time of year. I have talked to a number of other beekeepers in the area and they report the same thing. In fact, one of them has one of his hives on a platform scale. He records the weight gain and loss on a daily basis and reports it to the USDA in Beltsville, MD for their study purposes. He said that the hive this year weighed 100 pounds less than the same time in 2008. Last year I harvested approximately 1400 pounds of local wildflower and this year I think I will be lucky to get 600 pounds.  So it looks like the local spring Wildflower honey crop is going to be in short supply. This all serves to remind us that this is really farming and you have your good years and your lean years.

Last week after taking off the honey supers, I moved 13 colonies up to our property in North Carolina to join the bees already there and to hopefully capture the Sourwood nectar flow and to finish building up some of the new colonies I started this year. We’ll see how that goes and I will report on it sometime later this month. Below are a couple of pictures of my friend and fellow beekeeper Jim McClure opening up the hive entrances we had closed off for the move and the hives in place with their supers ready to capture the Sourwood honey.

    

Girl Scouts Learn About the Bees

Girl Scout troop 3509 visited our apiary on April 21st to learn about the bees and beekeeping, their importance to mankind and how they make honey as a part of earning their Plants and Animals patch. They also got to sample several different flavors of Wildflower honey from the bees here in Alpharetta, Sourwood honey from my bees up in the mountains of North Carolina and comb honey – which most had not ever experienced before.  As you can see they enjoyed themselves.

    

 

Update on the Update of the Queens II

It’s been a real busy couple of weeks. We are right in the middle of the nectar flow here in Alpharetta and I have been busy putting the honey supers on the hives, creating more splits for the new queens I have reared , hosting a troop of Girl Scouts at the house to help them earn their Plants and Animals patch (more on that later) and retrieving a swarm (more on that too).

First, an update on the queen in the observation hive. I found her laying eggs on April 21st, so I marked her and installed her into the viewing area for the Girl Scouts and for the Farmers Market on the 25th. Here is a picture of her.

Notice that the fluorescent green dot really shows up. I use Elmers waterbased paint markers that are non toxic.

She has been extremely busy laying eggs and I cannot keep up with her, cycling in fresh comb for her to lay on, so I have decided to put her and her colony into a full sized hive body and see if I can get some honey from her this spring.

A Swarm – or Bees for Free (almost)

I received a call on Thursday afternoon from Deb Schmalshof up in Cumming, GA who said she had a swarm of bees on the side of an old abandoned house about 8 feet off the ground and wanted to know if I was interested in capturing it.  She further explained that a colony had been living in this house for at least 4 years and this was not the first time she had seen the colony swarm. My initial thought was that if in fact it was a swarm, that it would probably not be there long before flying off to a new location. The fact that she said the colony had been there for 4 years intrigued  me as I would like to include “survivor” colonies into my operation, so I said I would come to take a look.

After a 30 minute drive to Cumming we arrived to find that the “swarm” had gone back into the house. There were still a lot of bees on the outside, but it definitely did not look like a swarm. Their behavior though was very gentile and there was absolutely no aggressiveness displayed- which is one of the characteristics of a swarm.

Deb said that the house was scheduled to be demolished and would not mind if I tore into the siding to see if I could capture the bees. In fact, the bees needed to be rescued before the house was torn down.  She offered me a crow bar, hammer and eventually a power reciprocating saw to access the bee colony. And here is what we found:

     

The comb filled the wall cavity between the studs and was over three feet long. It had definitely been there for a while- but was in remarkably good condition. While removing it I could find no brood or honey, but there was a LOT of bees. I finally concluded that there had definitely been a swarm, but rather than coming from the house, they were actually entering it to take over the comb that another colony had constructed. I had brought a cardboard nuc with me with a couple of frames of drawn comb with honey and pollen. After spraying the bees with sugar water with a spray bottle, I proceeded to gather bees on the remaining comb and bee brush and shake them into the nuc box. This went on for some time until I had a lot of the bees in it. There was absolutely no way to see if we had the queen in the box and the bees were not acting like we did. Normally if you capture a swarm queen all the bees will follow her into the nuc or hive or clump up around her where ever she is. We had a few remaining clumps of bees that I brushed into the box.

    

After transferring most of the bees I could into the nuc, I decided to leave the nuc there in the opening overnight, hoping that the drawn comb and honey and bees we had in the box would attract the queen (if we didn’t already have her) and remaining bees. I propped it up with a handy push broom and step stool.

    

I returned the next morning to retrieve the box to find almost no bees outside it. After arriving home, I proceeded to install the nuc into a full 10 frame hive body. I installed a couple of drawn frames containing pollen and honey from another hive at the house and 3 more frames of foundation. When I opened up the nuc box I was greeted with bees looking at me from between all 5 frames and the inside cover full of bees. After applying a little smoke I transferred  each frame from the nuc to the full sized hive body after checking it for the queen.

 

And lo-and-behold, there she was on the frame of partially drawn comb! The swarm has got to be happy in their new furnished  home, complete with a stocked pantry.

Thanks to Deb for the pictures and concern for the bees. You can see more of her photography at her website.

www.myviewphotosbydeb.com.

Update on the Update of the Queens

I don’t know if any of you noticed on the beehive webcam that the workers in the observation hive had torn down the queen cell that I had given them on April 15th. There had not been enough time for the queen in the cell to have matured, so I suspected something else was up. After seeing this, I had a feeling that we actually had a queen even though after a thorough earlier searches, I could not find her.

As I mentioned before, virgin queens are found in places that you don’t normally expect to find them and it is not uncommon for a virgin queen to hide on a side wall of the hive and not on frame. So I must have overlooked her in my earlier searches. I checked the observation hive yesterday and found a queen! There was no brood yet and her abdomen had not yet swelled, so she may still be a virgin.

I will check again later in the week to see if there is brood present in the hive. Once there is brood, I will mark her and place her up in the observation area. I have a troop of Girl Scouts coming over later in the week and I would really like for them to be able to see her and some brood. If she is not ready in time, I will probably take her and the rest of her colony and put them into a nuc at my bee yard and place another laying queen and her colony into the observation hive for a while.

Update on the Queens

Yesterday I checked on the observation hive queen to see if she had started to lay. Unfortunately, I could find no eggs, brood or sign of her. We have had a lot of severe weather here in the Atlanta area over the last several days, so there is a good possibility that she either got lost and perished in a storm or was eaten by a bird. In any event it is back to square one with the observation hive. I have inserted a frame that has a queen cell that I harvested from another of my hives. The beecam is now focused on that so we will see what happens there.

On a brighter note, I checked the mating nucs at the river and found 10 of the 12 nucs had brood. I actually found and marked 9 of the 12 queens with a beautiful, distinctive fluorescent green dot on their thorax. In the two that did not have brood, I inserted a frame of very young brood from another established colony, so if in fact they are queenless the colony can attempt to raise a new queen of their own.

Here are pictures showing a couple of the now laying queens. Note how long their abdomens are now compared to a few days ago.

We Have Queens!

The temperature warmed up today to almost 70 degrees F. after the overnight frost and snow showers yesterday. Talk about confusing weather for the bees! I was able to get into the observation hive today and the twelve nucs I started on April 1st with grafted and natural queen cells to see if the new queens had emerged. To my amazement, I found the virgin or possibly newly mated queen in the observation hive and all twelve mating nucs. In the observation hive, I found her in the lower chamber, below the queen excluder, which is where she needs to be to take her mating flight/s where she will hopefully mate with 15 to 20 drones in order to ensure that she will be a successful monarch.

I was also amazed to find all 12 queens in the mating nucs that I started on April 1st. I was very pleasantly surprised that all successfully emerged from their cells as not all the queens survive to emerge. Secondly, I was fortunate to be able to spot the young queens as they don’t look much different that the workers and move around the comb and hive rapidly and are found in places that a laying queen normally does not go.

Check out the picture and see if you can spot the queen. Remember that you can click to enlarge a photo, then use your back button to return to the post.

 

Can’t find her?  Maybe this will help.

 

Or this?

 

You may be able to see a mite in the third picture to the upper right of the queen. The mite is on the abdoment of the worker.

I am going to leave all the queens undisturbed for at least a week to be sure that they have taken their mating flights and will wait until I see eggs or larvae in the hives before trying to move them into full 10 frame hive bodies and attempt to mark them. The mating flights come with significant peril as they run a gauntlet of birds and dragon flies to find the drones to mate with. I will report back in a week or so to let you know how many made it.

 

A Honey Harvest Report

This is the busy, exciting  time of the year for beekeepers. Yesterday in addition to looking for the new queens in my mating nucs, I checked on the progress the bees were making on filling the honey supers that I had previously installed on some of the stronger hives on March 25th and also added a few more to hives that were ready.

Here is what I found. Click on photo to enlarge, then use back button to return to article page.

They are just beginning to fill the frames in the supers with a very light, almost water white nectar. Since most of my frames have drawn comb, it doesn’t take very long for the bees to fill them with nectar and the challenge is to keep adding empty supers on top of the full ones.  When the bees put the nectar into the cells it is between 40 to 70% moisture content. They then dry it to reduce the moisture content by fanning it with their wings until it is around 17% and then they put a wax capping on each cell, indicating it is “ripe”. At this low moisture content it will not spoil or ferment and will last for centuries.

The very first honey I harvested last  season was very light in color with hint of licorice flavor – very unique and very delicious! That was followed by a darker, fruity tasting honey that the bees gathered from the tulip poplar trees and blackberry bushes. I expect that will begin to harvest this first light honey around the first or second week in May depending on the weather.

I also installed a swarm trap yesterday to hopefully catch any swarms that might emanate from one of my hives. The trap is the size of a five gallon bucket and made from a paper mache like material. It has a 1 1/4 inch hole in the bottom for the bees to enter. A pheromone capsule is placed in the swarm trap to attract any bees with swarming on their mind. I caught a swarm last year in this trap in this same tree. I have modified the trap with a roof made of 3/16 inch plywood that I glued to the top cover as the original cover was beginning to deteriorate from the weather.