Local honey supports your community. But can it also boost your health?
You probably know that buying products from local farmers supports your community and regional economy. Hopefully, you've also found that shopping near home results in food with higher quality, nutrition, and transparency.
So how does this apply to honey? I turned to our local beekeeper and friend, Dustin Adams, to hear his answer. As Dustin explains, everything about bees relies upon community - from the way they work, to the relationship between the plants we provide for them and the honey we then consume. As it turns out, buying honey from your neighbor isn't just something that you can feel good about - it's actually better for you, too.
Q: Why do you keep bees? How did you start?
A: I’ve always had an interest in husbandry, caring for the environment, and eating healthy with a focus on knowing where my food comes from. Honeybees have a significant role in all of it. In June of 2018 a friend, who keeps bees, offered to give me two hives and a few lessons to get started. I jumped at the opportunity, and I've learned a lot from the bees in the last three years!
Q: Tell us what’s going on in a hive. What are the bees (especially the queen!) doing?
A: Inside of a beehive there is one queen bee, typically a few hundred drone bees (male bees), and tens of thousands of worker bees (female bees).
The queen bee is the most important bee within the hive. She is the only fertile female bee and is responsible for laying all of the eggs to produce more bees. The queen bee also emits a pheromone to the other bees as a way to communicate with the other bees. She tells the bees if all is well in the hive and keeps them calm and working. She can also give off an “attack pheromone” if there is a danger to the hive.
Although the queen is the most important bee in the hive, if she stops doing her job or isn’t doing it well enough to ensure the colony's survival, the colony will replace her.
The drone bee’s only job is to mate and care for the queen bee. Drone bees do not have stingers and are unable to protect themselves or the hive.
The worker bees are all female bees and have many roles depending on the needs of the hive. They guard the hive by attacking threats to the hive. They are the foragers that fly out in search of pollen. They are nurse bees, and care for sick bees and will carry diseased bees away from the hive in hopes of protecting the rest of the colony. They also clean the hive by removing foreign matter and dead bees from the hive. The nurse bees also regulate the temperature inside of the hive.
A beehive functions at its best between 90-95 degrees. When the hive is too cold, the worker bees will vibrate their bodies inside the hive to create heat. If the hive is too hot, the worker bees will carry water back to the hive, and as the water evaporates it cools the hive. They will also gather on the front of the hive and fan their wings to create air circulation through the hive.
Q: Now that we know what’s going on inside of a hive, how do you care for and manage your hives?
A: The first two hives I received in June 2018 didn’t survive the winter. So, the next spring I purchased two packages of bees. Beekeeping can be an expensive hobby between buying bees, replacing older queens, and buying hive components. So, along with learning how to care for the bees, I’ve also focused on not buying bees and queens to cut some of the costs.
To do this, I split my hives to reduce crowding and swarming. This creates more bee colonies. I also set up swarm traps in trees to catch feral bees. When I have a new split, failing queen, or queenless hive, I add a frame of eggs, lava, and broad from a strong hive to the queenless hive. The queenless hive will feed their royal jelly to some of the eggs and open lava, raising their new and future queen.
Raising bees this way is a slower process than buying a queen and adding her to the hive. To me, though, it’s more natural, and I believe it creates a stronger hive.
Q: I often see honey at the store that’s marketed as organic and natural. Why do you think buying honey from someone in your own community is better?
A: When you purchase and consume honey from a local beekeeper, you’re receiving honey that contains pollen from local plants that cause many of us allergies. By consuming the trace amounts of that pollen in honey, you can help combat those allergies. In contrast, most of the honey sold in grocery stores has been filtered, a process that removes those trace amounts of pollen.
Purchasing local honey also supports the local beekeeper. As I mentioned earlier, keeping bees can be expensive. We need beekeepers to care for and support the bees that help pollinate the fruits, vegetables, trees, and flowers we all enjoy. Most of the money I generate from selling honey gets spent on buying more beekeeping supplies.
Q: You offer honey with and without the comb (something I definitely don’t see at the grocery store!). What are the benefits of including the comb?
A: When you process and bottle honey with the comb, you leave the comb sealed, which keeps all the good stuff in the honey. Honeycomb is packed full of vitamins (C, B6, B12, A, E, D), enzymes, antioxidants, and pollen. These are all good things that provide wonderful health benefits. There are many ways to consume the comb. For me, I prefer to spread it straight onto toast, and let it melt in.