Do Honey Harvesting Practices Need to Change?

jean the beekeeper

Some believe it’s time to return to the old ways for harvesting honey for the sake of the bees. Many blame viruses, mites, bacteria and beetles for the decline of the bees, but these are only symptoms of what ails them. Exploitative and mechanistic bee keeping methods could be the real culprits. What if the bee’s very existence is threatened by beekeepers’ practices? Bees are being overwhelmed by pests and disease and is the honey bee, in fact, trying to tell us something?

America is one of a small number of countries where beekeepers can afford to feed high fructose corn syrup and refined sugar to their bees. Some beekeeping schools and beginner’s books advocate feeding sugar syrup to bees in the fall to carry them through the winter. They recommend feeding more syrup in February to simulate a nectar flow that stimulates the queen to start laying eggs earlier than she would naturally. What would happen if we fed our kids high-fructose corn syrup and refined sugar every day?

According to the National Honey Board, the acidity of honey ranges from a pH of about 3.4 to about 6.1, with an average of 3.9. The acidity of any honey is directly related to the floral sources that created it. Acidity is measured on a scale of 1-14 called the ph scale. One is very acidic, 7 is neutral, and 14 is very basic. When you change the PH in a bee hive, it affects their finely balanced world and weakens the colony.

People will argue that sugar is sugar and that it is the same thing to the bees as honey. However refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are not honey. Those sugars have a different PH and they lack the enzymes that honey naturally contains.

The honey that beekeepers take is supposed to be “surplus” honey that the bees will not need to carry them through the winter. In the northeast, a bee colony theoretically needs about 60 pounds of honey for the winter. Many modern American beekeepers remove what honey they consider surplus in late summer or early autumn, a practice that began in the late 19th century. Until then, beekeepers left all the honey in the hive until spring when orchards began to blossom and a new flow of nectar was underway. Only then were beekeepers certain that the bees’ stored honey was truly surplus and ready for harvest.

Perhaps it is time to go back to the old way of harvesting honey … for the bees … for the planet … for us all.

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