Homegrown honey from backyard bees: Part two

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114124572816644.jpg’, ‘Photo by Mark Thompson’, ‘A full frame of honey: In the upper left corner, the bees have begun to “cap" the cells by sealing them with a wax cover.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11412468061617.jpg’, ‘Photo by Mark Thompson’, ‘Inspecting the hive early in the season, we see the bees have already filled a frame with honey and sealed it in by "capping" the cells with wax.’);

When we first heard about the benefits of eating local honey, we remember thinking it was the perfect food, high in vitamin content and protein, enough to serve as a main staple to meet the high energy needs of hard-working insects and their developing brood.

It was also touted at the time as a strong defense against seasonal allergies. The idea was that if one were to eat minute amounts of local pollen and nectar in the form of honey and increase the amount ingested on a gradual basis, the body’s defense system would re-calibrate and accept seasonal allergens as routine.

It is known, after all, that the average honey bee visits between 50 and 100 flowers during one foraging trip. To make 1 pound of honey, the bees must collect nectar from 2 million flowers. That would give the body a very efficient way to get a little taste of everything out there.

A recent controlled study did not support this theory. Still, some people swear that it works. Others see no effect at all. Perhaps for some, the vitamins within the honey strengthened the immune system and that’s all the body needed to make the allergies disappear on their own. Regardless, we had already adopted the food philosophy to eat close to the land and seasonally when at all possible. And we like to use sweeteners, but prefer something more nutritious than refined sugar.

Besides honey being an efficient way to ingest a nutrient concentration of all the local flowering plants, the bee enzymes in honey make it easy to digest. It has antibacterial properties and doesn’t spoil. It may lose some moisture and crystallize, yet can quickly be brought back to usable form by placing the jar in warm water. But the main reason to buy local honey in the age of global trade is that it reduces the possibility of getting unknown ingredients, or honey that has been pasteurized and depleted of healthy enzymes. Those cheap supermarket brands at “always low prices” blend various honeys from around the world, some of which are produced outside the regulatory food standards of the U.S. (China, for one, is notorious for using pesticides and chemicals in their hives, which end up in the honey they sell.)

Now that we are living among farmers and ranchers southwest of Rockford, we have two more reasons to buy local honey: to support local farmers and the local economy. We know that local beekeepers take great care to make sure the product they bottle for their neighbors is pure because we meet with them and learn from them. They teach us to produce honey from healthy bees without the use of chemicals. We suspect this is true of other local food producers. They live among their customers, and their reputation depends on providing the best and safest products. As more of us begin to buy “local,” we’ll all enjoy better food. And we’ll have the added satisfaction of knowing that we aren’t wasting precious fuel to bring our food from afar.

Janice & Ross Thompson are first-year beekeepers and have optimistically named their honey business "BeeBoppin' Honey". The last submissions in this 3-part series will deal with the state of the bee population in North America. You can visit their website at www.beeboppin.com.

From the March 1-7, 2006, issue

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