Honey has a feel-good factor. Not surprising, really: it enjoys a pretty good press. But nothing is more undermining of the common sense of human beings than being exposed to an overwhelmingly positive consensus. Bees, honey and beekeeping now luxuriate in the inner sanctum of unanimous approval. So let’s start by sharpening our critical faculties with a little exercise.
Take one of those squeezy plastic honey-jars on a supermarket shelf. Then contemplate the rubric on the label which describes the honey’s provenance as: “A blend of EU and non-EU honeys“. You don’t have to have a degree in English Literature to figure out that this means: “Honey from anywhere on earth“. Perhaps we ought to be grateful that it is at least terrestrial honey (or else the label would have to say “A blend of honeys from EU and non-EU planets“, wouldn’t it ?). One heck of a good reason to buy local honey, I’d say.
And if you enjoyed the sting in the tail of that little exposition, you will surely appreciate this tale of a sting by U.S. Homeland Security, known as “Project Honeygate“. This link to Susan Berfield’s extensive article The Honey Launderers forensically exposes the largest food fraud in U.S. history – and it’s all about honey. And money, of course…..
ps: Groeb Farms, the organisation at the centre of this story, filed for bankruptcy earlier this month. A reorganization plan in the works which will see $27 million of debt being forgiven and a Texas private equity firm assuming control. That’s all right, then.
“The question is not what you look at, but what you see. We must look for a long time before we can see”. Thoreau.
This entry in Henry Thoreau’s Journal in 1851 is so Zen that you could plausibly add the epithet, “grasshopper” to the end of the quote without corrupting its tone.
It is also a fantastic piece of advice for beekeepers : looking alone will not help you with your bees. Granted, looking at bees is a rewarding occupation in its own right, but a deeper dimension of looking is deciphering – or “reading” – the condition of the hive from surveying the underlying comb and from the behaviour of the bees is the key to actually understanding what is going on inside a beehive.
To illustrate this notion in a real-world context, next time you are strolling along Piccadilly, knock on the door of the Geological Society (nb this doesn’t work if you just land on the yellow “Piccadilly” square on the Monopoly board!) and ask nicely to come in. Smile winningly and ask to see the “William Smith map”.
The map is on a scale of five miles to an inch and consisted of 15 sheets. Published by the mapmaker John Cary to Smith’s topographic specifications, it was meticulously hand coloured using 20 tints to represent the different strata, and shading to represent depth. This information was designed to assist mineral extraction and canal-building (and later, presumably, the building of the railways).
The map is a work of art from the Industrial Revolution. Its swirling, psychedelic pinks and pert yellows and greens, fringed with blues and greys penetrate the underlying composition of the UK’s territory, usurping the childhood certainty which carves the country into neat, conventional counties on traditional maps.
In Smith’s survey, we see below the surface, we gain a fresh perspective. It is even a little uncomfortable to observe, since it powerfully contradicts that cosy image of the U.K. which we have carried forward from the cradle. But that is the whole point !
So let your eye be still and open your mind to see. Piccadilly or SE1, Zen Buddhist or Industrial Revolutionary, 1815 or 2013, geologist or beekeeper, William Smith’s legacy helps us to transform plain sight into insight.
I hope that you will be entertained by “The Day The Queen Came To Tea“, which is 4-minute video which takes a gently ironic look at the British deference to monarchy and love of ceremony, morphed into an actual Queen bee introduction to a new hive.
Premiered at the London Honey Show 2013 on 7th October 2013. And what, I hear you ask, about my day-job ? Well, dear reader, let me confess that I was back at my desk in E1 at 6.50am the next morning…
Here is a video of a small group of my bees, “The Fan Club“, standing in a row on the landing-board of their hive, busily fanning air into the hive as foraging bees go about their business around them.
Regulating the flow of air, the internal temperature and the correct humidity levels are all crucial control factors inside a beehive. Let’s hear it for synchronised fanning!
Tests showed that exhaust degraded some floral scent chemicals the bees “home in on” when they are foraging. The study, published in Scientific Reports, also revealed that a specific group of chemicals found in diesel exhaust, known as NOx, diminished the insects’ response to floral scents.
Hive hygiene is important all year round to preserve healthy bee colonies from cross-infection by diseased bees. And even more so at this time of year, as we clean and repair the tools of our beekeeping trade in preparation for winter storage. But all year round, by far the most effective method of controlling the spread of disease is for the beekeeper to exercise a minimal, but crucial, cleansing ritual for the kit.
My own hive inspection routine involves using different hive tools (a hive tool is like a flat spanner specially designed to work with frames of comb and other hive components) for each of my 5 hives. After each inspection, and before I take my purple nitrile gloves off, each hive tool is immersed in a solution of washing soda and water. This disinfects and cleans the tools.
Any other equipment which is designed to go into and come out of beehives gets the same treatment. Porter escapes, for example, used for clearing bees from supers when it is time to separate the bees from the honey, often become propolised ! And nothing shifts sticky brown propolis stains quite like Washing soda !! And it’s only £1/kilo at Tesco’s !!! (A missed opportunity, I really could have scripted “Madmen” with copy like that…)