Oh, Honey....From Bees, That is.

I live in the country, and I have lots of bees out here; all different sizes, shapes and colors from wood bees to the honeybees. Typically, I know the bees are around because I can hear them - a true buzzing. The other day I was watching the most beautiful chunky (and I mean chunky) black and yellow honeybee flirting with a tubular, bright orange flower on a trumpet vine. As if courting the flower, the big yellow bee flew around the cluster of flowers for a while before it gently lit upon one of the trumpeted flower openings. It adjusted its back legs, tweaked its wings a bit while rubbing its face. Then it walked straight into the 4" flower, and proceeded to gather pollen. It stayed inside the flower for several minutes before finally exiting with leg pouches full of pollen.

What a magnificent site!

Bees lay down honey as a food source. In cold weather or when food sources are scarce, bees use their stored honey as their source of energy. There are three types of bees in a typical beehive: a single queen bee, a number of drone bees that fertilize new queens, and the worker bees. The worker bees raise larvae and collect the nectar that will become honey in the hive. Like my chucky yellow resident bee, worker bees go out and collect the sugar-rich flower nectar that they bring back to the hive. In the hive, the bees use their "honey stomachs" to ingest and regurgitate the nectar a number of times until it is partially digested. The bees work together as a group to regurgitate and digest nectar until it reaches a desired quality, and then store it in the honeycomb.

Nectar is high in both water and natural yeasts, which cause the sugars in the nectar to ferment. After the final regurgitation, the honeycomb is left unsealed. Bees inside the hive fan their wings to produce a strong draft across the honeycomb that enhances evaporation of the water from the nectar. This raises the sugar concentration and prevents fermentation. When removed from the hive, ripe honey has a long shelf life and will not ferment.

Honey contains trace amounts of several vitamins and minerals. As with all natural sweeteners, honey is mostly sugar and is not a significant source of vitamins or minerals, yet honey contains small amounts of antioxidant compounds, such as chrysin, vitamin C, and catalase.

Honey can be considered a complex carbohydrate because it contains a mixture of different types of sugars; mainly fructose (about 38.5%) and glucose (about 31.0%), plus small amounts of various natural sugars like maltose, sucrose, and other complex carbohydrates.

In a recent review of related literature, Dr. Susan Percival of the University of Florida's Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition found that honey contains vitamins, such as vitamin B6, thiamin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid. Essential minerals, such as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc are also found in honey. "In addition, several different amino acids, the building blocks of protein, have been identified in honey." says Dr. Percival. "Honey also contains several compounds that function as antioxidants, one of which is unique to honey called pinocembrin." - (Honey Benefits)

Traditionally honey was preserved in deep cellars, but not together with wine, beer, or other cold-stored products. It is more sensitive to cold storage conditions than the best wines! Exposure to fresh air brings about the soaking up of external smells, oxygen and moisture, and this can cause a chemical change in honey through the decay of valuable amino acids, vitamins, and enzymes naturally found in the honey. Sunlight has a similar influence on honey, too.

Honeybees represent only a small fraction of the approximately 20,000 known species of bees. There are bumblebees and stingless bees, my chucky yellow bumblebee, wood bees, and the Africanized bee, also known as the "killer bee." Africanized bees are highly aggressive hybrids between European stock and the African subspecies A. m. scutellata. Originating in Brazil at the hand of humans (but by accident, they justify?), killer bees have spread to North America and constitute a danger in some regions of the US. However, these strains do not over-winter well, and so are not often found in the colder, more Northern parts of North America.

Beekeepers in Western countries have been reporting mysterious slow declines of honeybees over the past years. They want to blame climate changes causing more unpredictable local weather conditions, but I lean toward apparent changes in agricultural practices as the primary cause; specifically toxic agricultural chemicals sprayed on the plants, and GMO technology (genetically engineered seeds). When humans insert pesticides into a seed, how can we expect the bees gathering pollen from that poisoned plant to be immune to the poisons inserted to kill insects??

In early 2007, abnormally high die-offs (30-70% of all hives) of Western honeybee colonies occurred in the US. This has been christened "Colony Collapse Disorder" (CCD). Corporate and government research has failed to determine what caused it, but the weight of evidence provided by these institutions focuses on CCD being caused by a combination of various contributing factors rather than a single pathogen or poison.

But in other countries and in specific areas of the Western United States where genetically engineered seeds are NOT used in farming, the honeybees are not disappearing. Now, how hard is that to figure out?? Seeds implanted with pesticides to kill pests cannot differentiate which pests are affected. A bee crawls into the plant's flower to capture its pollen - pollen tainted with poison - takes the toxic pollen back to the hive, churns it about in its stomach and shares the masticated pulp with the other worker bees - well, you get the picture. Dead bees! And we can't figure out that we poisoned the bees?? Just another example of the politics of greed in the hands of corporate farming...

On a positive note - for the organic farmers, gardeners, country dwellers, and overall nature lovers out there - maybe the carpenter bee, the digger bee, the honey bee, the Orchid bee, or the sweat bee will find a happy home where you live and share with you some of the sweetest natural sources of honey on Earth. Most bees make intricate nests and live in complex societies. You should feel honored that they choose your land to live and flourish.

For more information on the benefits of honey, visit World's Healthiest Foods

To locate suppliers of honey, visit the National Honey Board.

Posted September 2008 | Permanent Link

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