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  • Writer's pictureZeezBeez


Updated: Sep 26, 2022

I've had many interesting conversations about my honey this year. I've changed the label following research into honey fraud and comments arising from discussions with my vegan friends. Those of you who know me will recall how I felt floored to find that vegans wouldn't touch honey due to how bees were treated by beekeepers. I thought we were the good guys saving the planet, but they had a point.

Well, it may not be acceptable with trading standards, but I like the term 'raw' when applied to honey. Raw in the sense of unprocessed. Many beekeepers will heat their honey to make it runny enough to jar, usually after spending months stored in plastic buckets. Some books and articles even advise that this is the best thing to do so that you can see how the honey behaves before deciding what to do with the honey to process it for sale - the idea being that it looks wonderfully clear or consistently set. It smacks of the same thinking that has led to so much food waste because that carrot is a bit bent or that spud is a bit misshapen. Nature may be a little inconsistent but there's generally nothing wrong with it. Anyway, if honey is filtered, heated, stirred, seeded or mucked about too much it has been processed and should not be called 'raw', in my opinion. There's not necessarily anything wrong with the more processed honey but I find that many people are unaware of this and are looking for their honey to be as natural as possible. Many like to see that I share the date the honey was removed from the hive and they certainly don't mind at all that it may not be absolutely crystal clear because it contains pollen and small bits of wax because it hasn't been finely filtered. Many also understand granulation and that all honey will eventually set (granulate) and I leave it to them to decide whether it needs gently heating. My intention is that the honey that goes into the jar is as it comes and that it will do what it naturally wants to do.

Now to 'bee-friendly'. Maybe trading standards would have an issue under current legislation but this is why I believe it is valid.

  1. I don't steal all the bee's honey and then feed them sugar syrup to get them through the winter. I feel very strongly about this. So many beekeepers do this because that's what the books say and that was what they have been taught. This is sad, but I have convinced many less greedy beekeepers to leave the bees with enough of their own honey to get them through the winter. Surely, that is the best thing for bees? Consider all the vitamins and minerals in honey compared to just sugar and water. But some aren't inclined to do so for financial reasons. A beekeeper can make a lot more money by selling every scrap of honey a colony produces and buying bulk bags of sugar to dissolve in water for the poor bees to store and eat. I don't have much sympathy for those that lose colonies over the winter if they have been greedy ... my sympathy is with the poor bees of course! Also, thinking of honey fraud, how can you guarantee that none of the sugar syrup ends up in any honey that is sold?

  2. I don't cull the queen every two years to keep the colony productive. I just couldn't do it. I would much rather they live their full, natural term. I have had at least one colony 'supersede', which was rather nice. The colony produced a couple of Queen Cells whilst the Queen was still laying. I diagnosed that they weren't about to swarm and left it well alone. A few weeks later the Queen and her daughter were both gliding majestically around the hive. The elderly queen didn't appear the next year but her daughter carried on. The colony didn't miss a beat. The old Queen had lasted five years, to the best of my knowledge, and was laying plenty of eggs right until the end.

  3. I don't clip the wings of the Queen. This is done to make life easier for the beekeeper during the swarming season. The idea is that if the colony attempts to swarm the queen drops to the ground as she is unable to fly. The colony will return to the hive frustrated. Again, I can't bring myself to do this. I have been very fortunate in that the way I keep bees (see Rose Hive Method) appears to result in fewer attempts to swarm. Maybe the freedom to wander the hive without the imposition of a queen excluder is less frustrating for the colony and pheromones are more easily disseminated to make the bees feel at home.

  4. I don't mark the Queens. I confess to trying once but my hamfisted attempt meant that I've never tried again. The poor queen was like a badger when I'd finished. Thankfully, she seemed OK. The idea is to make spotting the queen easier as she is the one with the coloured dot or disc on her thorax. I find it easy enough once you have your eye in. She has a beautifully graceful glide when moving across the comb that is so attractive. I have also become less inclined to disturb the colony if I can avoid it. If I see eggs I know that she has been active within the last three days. Depending on the position of the egg this can be narrowed down even further and you can be pretty certain the colony is queenright.

  5. I don't inflict them with chemicals. This has been contentious in the past but more beekeepers are coming around to letting nature take its course. I haven't treated my colonies for varroa for eight years and have never lost one due to the pesky little mite. I do see varroa on the inspection board, but the colonies are strong and vibrant despite this. I'm sure they learn to cope with them. I also wonder about the effectiveness of counting varroa on the inspection board. High numbers are meant to indicate a dangerous load and the need for chemicals, but it may also mean that the colony may be effective at grooming them from each other (cute thought) or clearing them out and maybe lower numbers mean there could be a problem. I don't know, maybe the scientists will tell us someday, but all I can say is that my colonies are strong and healthy despite them. I also don't like the idea of using treatments when the Queen is supposed to be laying the eggs that will grow into robust winter bees that will see the colony through the winter. Anything that interrupts or inhibits this cannot be ideal and I wonder if that accounts for some of the winter losses experienced by some beekeepers. Again, I don't know, but I prefer to rely on the bees to find a coping mechanism rather than be propped up by me. So far so good and I don't want chemicals in the wax and honey we use in our soaps either.

All of this makes my vegan and bee-loving friends very happy and it is also why I don't think it is misleading to call our honey 'Bee Friendly'.

Turning to the back label, experienced beekeepers or honey labellers may spot some minor (in my opinion) departures from the strict letter of the law, but nothing misleading. However, I like to put the date the honey was removed from the hive. This honey sells very quickly and has gained a loyal following. It is usually snapped up within a few weeks of harvesting. Those fortunate enough to enjoy it know that it hasn't been mucked about and that the welfare of the bees has been considered. But don't despair if I've sold out. There are lots of beekeepers around the country that share these views and I would urge everyone to seek them out. I guarantee that they won't mind at all if you ask them about how they keep their bees and what they do to the honey. The purpose of these words is to allow honey consumers to choose the honey they would like to eat and improve their chances of getting it. If more people ask 'do you feed your bees sugar syrup?' and walk away from those that do that would make me very happy.

Seek it out. It's well worth it!

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