Saturday, May 2, 2015

How well did our honey bees survive this past winter?

These notes are from a presentation given by Ellen Topitzhofer, former University of Minnesota graduate, research assistant at Oregon State University, and crop analyst for the Washington/Oregon/Idaho area. She spoke at a recent fundraiser for the Woodlake Nature Center, a 150-acre preserve in Richfield, MN. (Author’s note: I made every attempt to verify my notes and apologize in advance for any misstatements or inaccuracies.)

Ellen opened her presentation with a perspective on honey bee losses over time. Looking back, declines started in the 1950s; the population in the U.S. was recorded at about 5 million colonies. Today, it’s half that number, 2.5 million. Extreme losses occurred in 2006-07, and since then, five of the last seven years have seen 30% or more loss. This past winter (2014-15), losses were in the range of 20-30%. The sustainable loss rate is 15% or less, so you can see why there is great concern!

The term Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) came about when significant colony losses were observed in the U.S. in 2006-07. There are many reported causes for CCD. Among them, malnutrition due to lack of access to diverse food sources, mono farming and habitat loss; pesticide use and the sublethal effect of multi-chemical applications; pests (i.e. varroa mites) and pathogens.

Multiple factors are likely contributing to stress, loss and overall weakening of bee and colony health. For example, the average lifespan for a queen bee is reported to be about 2 years, down from an average of 2-5 years.

For other information and potential causes, read the UMN Bee Lab newsletter, April 2015, Marla Spivak, Bee Lab Research Update. (Congratulations to Matthew Smart for successfully defending his PhD dissertation and furthering bee research / discovery.)

Honey bees perform very critical functions for us humans. First and foremost, they pollinate plants and crops in ways that we cannot. These small creatures transfer pollen from plant to plant to increase crop yields for farmers, and they pollinate about 30% of the food we put on our tables every day! I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention their delicious honey, naturally produced for us to enjoy.

Economically, bees are responsible in large part for industrial crop production, like almonds for example. California produces 80% of the world’s almond supply across 750,000 acres. Each acre requires 2-3 colonies, which calculates to about 1.5 million colonies, just for almonds alone!

While there is much to do at the agricultural level to address these issues, we can help support our local honey bees in a few simple ways. Ellen suggested creating nesting habitats, reducing pesticide use and planting bee-friendly gardens.

Post Note:  Carefully select native plants, and purchase them from trusted resources. Be sure they’re really organic. Bill HF2029 is currently being debated in the MN legislature, and the final vote could negatively impact the labeling of ‘bee-friendly’ plants. Contact your legislators ASAP and insist on full, transparent labeling.

Minnesota legislators attempt to roll back protections for bees - Pesticide Action Network North America, March 27, 2015 article.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Boy meets swarm

This fond memory came from one of our customers who grew up on a farm in northern Minnesota.

The young boy and his Dad were out in the field one fine spring day when they came upon a tree with a honeybee swarm high up on a limb. His Dad promptly went for a ladder and climbed up to saw off the branch. Watching with nervous curiosity to see what would happen next, his Dad tied a rope to the end of it, sawed it off and carefully lowered it down. Grabbing the branch, his Dad handed the end to his son and told him to take it to the bee box nearby. Scared but obedient, he took the limb and walked it to the box. His Dad then said, “Shake it gently on top of the box.” And so he did. Immediately and to his surprise, all the bees flew into the hive!

Do you know why? All of the bees in the colony followed the queen; she knew where she needed to go. The queen puts out a pheromone (chemical secretion) that communicates to the others her movements, and they loyally follow her.

Our customer learned that, if you are careful around them and do not put the bees in a defensive position, bee swarms are not to be feared. To this day, he realizes what an amazing, rare experience he shared with his Dad.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Spring allergies appearing early this year...

The early spring thaw is wreaking havoc for some allergy sufferers. Ground molds may be one source of the problem; exposed, dried plant materials and pollens may be another. While no medical claims have been made about treating plant allergies with honey, there is certainly a lot of anecdotal evidence that tells us honey helps minimize the effects. We hear it from customers on a regular basis.

The theory is - raw, local honey contains beneficial properties that contribute to improved immune functioning.

Bits of pollen found in the honey help build immunity specifically against regional native plant pollens. This explains why allergy sufferers specifically come in asking for raw local honey; they eat honey every day to address this regional ailment.

In addition to raw honey, many allergy sufferers ask for bee pollen. Bee pollen is actually harvested from the bees’ little legs as they crawl into the hive. Beekeepers have a system to collect pollen using little brushes and trays at the entrance to the hive. Allergy sufferers tell us they ingest pollen slowly into their diets - in smoothies, yogurts, cereal and the like - to increasingly build immunity. This doesn’t eliminate the allergy, but it can significantly reduce the intensity of the symptoms. As always, check with your medical provider before adding pollen to your diet. (Another side benefit of pollen - it's a good source for protein.)

If you’re looking for the benefits of both raw honey and bee pollen, check out our Pollen-Fortified Meadow Wildflower Honey. It’s a seasonal offering just in time for allergy season!

Monday, March 30, 2015

About our blog

Whether you are new to honey or keep hives on your property, we’re here to offer a variety of perspectives on the world of honey, and particularly Minnesota ‘local’ honey. Honey has been around for centuries, yet most people don’t give a second thought to that bottle of honey sitting on their grocery store shelf. We’re here to change that understanding.

Our blog will cover interesting, amazing, helpful and, at times, comical stories about honey, bees and hive-related things. We’ll share information, recipes, humor and stories that come from conversations with our customers. Look for updates weekly. We promise a fresh look at one of the oldest foods on earth that doesn’t spoil.

Why read our blog? Because we know honey. We know about bees and beekeeping. We’re passionate about what we do at the Minnesota Honey Company. We love talking to like-minded people, young and old, who appreciate the natural goodness of raw honey and hive-based products. We talk to people every day about honey, answering their questions and helping them explore the nuances of flavors that bees and beekeepers collect from the various plants and trees in nature. Product preferences and taste are very personal things. We offer options and let people decide what’s best for them.

This is a joyful business. It’s a sticky business too (pun intended!), but somebody has to do it. Welcome to our hive! You’re invited back any time to explore with us the wonderful world of honey and everything the bees have to offer.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Top 5 ways to use honey

Raw honey is a real mainstay sweetener in today’s kitchen for a variety of reasons. It’s delicious, nutritious, available from local sources and more accessible in the marketplace. Based on conversations with our retail customers, we’ve come up with these top five ways people use honey:

1 - Tea and coffee - tea and honey have long been endeared as the eternal ‘couple.’ Add coffee to the list! Many coffee drinkers are now asking for honey to sweeten their mugs.

2 - Breads - fresh bread, toast, english muffins, cornbread. Smooth it on directly, or pre-blend the honey and butter together. Honey butter is an excellent addition to special-occasion table settings (you might want to add a little cinnamon or vanilla flavoring!). Start with a 1:1 ratio of honey and softened butter; mix by hand or with a beater; adjust to taste.

3 - Cereal - Hot cereal, cold cereal, granola...why stop there for breakfast! Honey is a great addition to pancakes, waffles, yogurt, fruit and smoothies.

4 - Baking - families are finding ways to incorporate raw honey in food preparation. A recipe calling for sugar needs some tweaking to replace the sweetener with honey, but it’s worth the effort to experiment when you have a great recipe. Here are some general rules:
  • start with less honey than sugar (try ½ to ¾ of the amount of sugar called for), or replace only part of the sugar with honey
  • for each cup of honey used, reduce other liquids by about ¼ cup, and add about ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees to prevent over-browning

5 - Toppings - it doesn’t take much to dress up ice cream, cheese-and-cracker appetizers, baked apples or fruit compote. In fact, skip frosting on your next cake, and drizzle a little honey on top, or dollop some nice whipped honey on it before serving. For a super easy dessert, top off a teaspoon with your favorite honey - a quick way to solve that sweet craving!!

What’s your favorite way to use honey?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

King Tut's honey?

If the story is true about how archaeologists found honey in King Tut’s tomb, it conjures up a humorous cartoon vignette about ‘Larry, the research intern,’ who was chosen to taste a sample and declare it was still ‘good.’ Good tasting or not spoiled? We assume the latter.

While we want to believe that honey virtually lasts forever, there is sufficient information to indicate that honey lasts for a very, very long time. Honey contains natural antimicrobial properties, which prevents spoilage (assuming no other bacteria enters the container). Over time, honey does its natural ‘aging’ thing - it crystallizes, or becomes more solid. This does not diminish the quality of the honey. Its texture changes, but its taste is virtually the same.

To return aged honey to it’s earlier liquid state, place the container in continuous hot water baths. Microwave heating is not recommended. As with raw honey, overheating can destroy the beneficial properties of this truly amazing gift of nature. Something that’s been around for centuries!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Welcome to the Minnesota Honey Company!

We are an urban, artisanal bee farm and specialty food retailer for locally sourced gourmet honey & hive products from local Minnesota farms, beekeepers and small local businesses.

Connecting small business farmers, beekeepers, and businesses with
a community of people who want high-quality, locally sourced
raw honey and beehive-based products.

Minnesota Honey Company's brick-and-mortar retail location (4956 Xerxes Ave So, Minneapolis, MN) offers a warm, inviting shopping experience in an easy-to-get-to location. Known as the everything honey store, we sell local raw honey and honey-based products including chocolate truffles made with local honey (sourced from beehives on the rooftops of downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul!).

Our online store is for your shopping convenience! Mail honey to your home, or send honey and bee-related gifts to other special people in your life. DIY products are available for custom gifts. Click here to buzz around our Online Store.

Learn more....