Saturday, 21 March 2015 01:48

What is Honey?

How many stomachs do bees have?

  • Latin Name:

    Honey: Mel

    Honey bee: Apis

  • Growth:

    Honey is a sweet-tasting food produced by bees using the nectar of flowers as their source. Although the most commonly produced, collected and consumed honey is produced by bees from the genus Apis, called “honey bees,” it is made by many types of other bees including bumblebees, stingless bees, and even honey wasps.

    Honey is a food source for bees. Bees live in hives where the colony works in teams to forage for nectar, which the bees then convert it into honey through a process of regurgitation and evaporation.  This alters the enzymes of the nectar and then removes its water content, making it into a sweet, gooey syrup.

    To produce 500 grams of honey, worker bees must travel the equivalent of three trips around the globe.


  • Harvest:

    Harvest honey in late summer, when the honey surplus is at its peak.

    Bees will not sting unless provoked, but a bee veil and a bee smoker are necessary equipment for a home beekeeper to have on hand at harvest time. The bee veil will protect from stings, and the smoker can be used to pump light shots of smoke into the hive. This will cause the bees to panic, assuming natural disaster, and gorge on honey before making an escape from the hive. Bees filled up on honey will be more docile and won’t sting unless highly provoked.

    To harvest liquid honey, purchase a honey extractor. This is a simple centrifuge mounted inside a stainless steel tank with a honey gate at the bottom.

    Stand to the side of the hive, outside of the guard bees’ lines of vision, while working. Use a screwdriver to remove the frames containing honey from the hive body.

    A honey extractor tank may hold two or more frames. Frames are removed from the hive body and slid down into a basket inside the tank. By hand-cranking a handle at the top of the tank, the honey extractor spins and throws fluid out of the frames and against the sides of the container. The harvest drips to the bottom and is let into a pail, filtered with cheesecloth, and bottled.


  • Storage:

    Store honey in a cool location, away from direct sunlight. Do not store in the refrigerator, as this will accelerate the crystallization process.

    Crystallization occurs when glucose sugar forms into crystallized patterns. Although it is not an indicator of spoilage or poor quality, it is generally unwanted. If crystallization occurs, place honey container in a pot of near-boiling water that has been removed from the heat and leave until both have cooled. Repeat as needed.


  • History:

    Humans have been collecting honey since the dawn of recorded history, and honey itself long predates the existence of mankind. Paleontologists have discovered fossilized honey bee specimens more than 150 million years old.

    Cave drawings in Spain that date back to 7000 BCE are the earliest known record of human interest in bees and honey, but the earliest records of beekeeping date to 2400 BCE in Cairo, Egypt. In ancient Egypt, honey was a natural sweetener and an ingredient in embalming fluids. The ancient Egyptians baked honey cakes as offerings to the gods, and the bee is featured frequently in hieroglyphs as a symbol of royalty.

    The practice of beekeeping among the ancients spans across the world, from the Mayan empire in South America to the dynasties of ancient China. In Hinduism, honey is one of the five elixirs of immortality. In the Old Testament, Israel is referred to as the “land of flowing milk and honey.”

    The ancient Greeks used honey in food, as well as medicinally. In ancient Rome, soldiers used honey to heal their wounds after battle. Honey was also a gift to the gods in ancient Rome, and once Christianity was established, the beekeeping industry boomed to meet the demand for church candles.

    In medieval England, kings and queens drank fermented honey wine known as mead. The arrival of sugar in Europe during the Renaissance reduced honey’s popularity somewhat, but despite this, the sweet syrup made by bees remains popular throughout the world to this day.

  • Top Producers:

    China, Turkey, Argentina, Ukraine, and the United States are the top 5 honey-producing countries (FAOSTAT, 2012).


  • Varieties:

    Unique varieties of honey come from different nectar sources, and range in color and flavor. In most cases, light-colored honey is more mild in flavor and darker honey has a stronger flavor.

    Some popular varieties include orange blossom honey, lavender honey, apple blossom honey, avocado blossom honey, blackberry honey, blueberry honey, clover honey, manuka honey (used for medicinal purposes), pine honey, tupelo honey, and wildflower honey (from miscellaneous or unknown sources).


  • Products:

    Honey is mainly used in cooking, baking, as a spread, and as a sweetener in beverages such as tea. When fermented, honey can be used to make an alcoholic beverage known as mead, or honey wine.  It is also an ingredient in some beers.

    Honey is also used medicinally, both topically and internally, as an antiseptic and an energy booster. It is also used cosmetically, in hair and skin care products.


  • Top Health Benefits:

    There’s a lot of buzz surrounding honey, and it’s not just the bees. In addition to being an irresistibly sweet treat, honey boasts an array of health and nutritional benefits.

    Health note: Children under 12 months should not have honey because it can contain a bacteria (Clostridium botulinum) that causes infant botulism.

    Honey has incredible antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal benefits, making it beneficial in wound and burn treatment. A study published in the British Journal of Surgery in 2005 found that in 59 patients suffering with wounds and leg ulcers - 80% of which had failed to heal through conventional treatment - were successfully treated with unprocessed honey.

    The aforementioned antibacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits of honey make it a useful tool in battling acne.

    Clinical studies have shown that medical grade honey is effective in killing foodborne illness pathogens such as salmonella, E. coli, and antibiotic-resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus. Honey also helps to reduce ulcers in the stomach and reduce gastroenteritis.

    Honey contains 17 grams of carbohydrates per tablespoon, making it an excellent all-natural energy source for endurance athletes. For a boost, add honey to your water bottle during workouts, or use honey sticks during endurance events.

    Some honeys have a low hypoglycemic index, and the exact combination of fructose and glucose found in honey can actually help the body to regulate blood sugar.

    Honey contains small amounts of vitamins and minerals such as riboflavin and niacin, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. For this reason, it makes a great sweetener substitute for sugar, with greater nutritional benefits.

    Flavonoids and antioxidants found in honey have been shown to help decrease the risk of heart disease.

    Honey can help to battle dandruff and itchy, scaly scalp. Dilute honey with 10% warm water and apply to the problem area and leave on for three hours before rinsing with warm water. Apply weekly to relieve itching and scaling and to heal lesions.

    Pediatric studies have shown that honey’s anti-inflammatory properties make it extremely effective in soothing coughs in children. In a 2007 study performed at the Penn State College of Medicine involving 139 children, buckwheat honey outperformed the cough suppressant pharmaceutical, dextromethorphan, in managing night time coughs.

    Although it has not been proven in clinical studies, many people say that consuming raw local honey may help with seasonal allergies. The theoretical reasoning behind this is that the low amount of pollen found in honey could desensitize pollen-allergic people, in the same way that allergy shots expose people to specific pollens or pollen mixtures.


  • Grow it yourself:

    Building a Honeybee Hive:

    The fundamentals for successful beekeeping is to make sure the hive is packed full of healthy, productive bees during peak honeyflow season (when nectar-producing flowers are in full bloom). To achieve this, you must first create a healthy environment where the bees live, breed, and produce honey.

    The apiary, or bee yard, is the area where the beehive is placed. The apiary should be near pollen and nectar sources, such as fruit and vegetable plants and flowers. There should be a clean water source no more than ¼ mile away. Apiaries should, ideally, be facing south or southeast, near trees that create shade for the hives in summer and allow sunlight to access them in winter.

    A basic beehive structure, or hive body, is a stackable structure of boxes that houses the bee colonies, similar to a high rise condo. The lower level is the brood chamber, where the queen lays eggs in comb frames and house worker bees raise young larvae. The upper stories of the hive body are called supers, filled with combs where the worker bees convert nectar into honey and store the finished honey. A hive body can have up to ten stories.

    Western pine is a good wood to use for building a hive body. Use a more water-resistant wood such as cypress, cedar or redwood for the bottom board.

    Start by building a hive body with two brood chambers and two supers, using a four-sided box structure with no top or bottom. Make the brood chambers 9 and ⅝ inches deep, and supers 6 and ⅝ inches deep.

    Purchase excluders and wax comb foundations to include in the hive body. Place the excluder (a plastic or metal grid with precise openings that prevent the queen from moving from the brood chamber to supers, but allow smaller worker bees easy passage) between the upper brood chamber and the lower super level.

    Wax comb foundations are beeswax frames that hang in the hive body, providing the queen a place in the brood chamber to lay her eggs, and a place in the supers for workers to store honey and seal with wax. Comb foundations are stamped with the same base pattern as a natural honeycomb.

    Cut equally-spaced grooves (frame rests) on opposite sides of each hive body to hold the frames. Make sure grooves are deep enough to hang frames flush against the top of the hive body.

    Cover the hive body using pine wood. Most beehive covers have a top, telescoping cover that extends over a flat, inner cover. The telescoping cover should slide about three inches around the uppermost super, and should be made of galvanized steel to protect the hive from rain and snow.

    Use a water-resistant wooden board as a base beneath the bottom brood chamber. Attach wooden strips across the bottom board to create a ⅜ inch entrance for the bees.

    Placing the bottom board on a set of cinders or ashes will help forager bees return home without injury (from sharp blades of grass and weeds). An inclined board at the entrance will also help a overburdened worker bee.

    Use an exterior latex paint to paint the hive body, either in white or a light pastel color, to help keep temperatures in the beehive cooler during hot summer months.


    Beekeeping 101:

    After the final frost date in spring, order bees to start your first hive, and follow the instructions from the provider to place them in their new hive in your backyard.

    Italian bees are the most popular honey bee for backyard beekeepers in North America.

    To make the process of transferring bees to their new home easier, feed the bees first by smearing a solution of two parts sugar, one part water on the wire screening. Secondly, make the transfer in the evening to avoid losing worker bees. In the dark, the bees will not stray far from the hive, and will wait until morning to explore the area around their new home.

    Continue to feed the colony artificially (using a sugar water solution, or pollen, which can be bought from most beekeeping providers for $2 per pound) for the first several weeks while bees are beginning to collect pollen and nectar. This will stimulate early egg-laying. You may purchase a feeder, such as a Boardman bottle feeder, for less than a dollar, for the sugar water. Apply dry pollen to a fabric cloth and drape over the frames in the brood chamber.

    As the colony gets into the full swing of honey production, you may need to add levels of supers to make space for surplus honey storage. This stage occurs in mid-summer, and harvest is ready approximately one month later.