Usually, my job as the food writer for my local newspaper involves pretty straightforward interviews, but sometimes it’s a little more interactive. Such was the case when I got to talk with Martha and Curt Van Inwegen, the owners/operators/apiarists of TheraBee Culinary Honey.
Martha had hoped I’d be able to help her relocate some bees that had dropped in at one of her empty hives, and thus had me don a hat equipped with a mesh veil. (It’s really not a good look for me, btw.) Alas, the bees had already moved on, but I still got to check out a couple beehives up close and personal, and I also got to learn quite a bit about bees and honey.
- Raw honey is a rare food in that it never spoils – ever! As noted in my article …
That indefinite shelf life is because “anything bees produce (honey, royal jelly) absolutely has to be naturally anti-bacterial because of the climate inside the hive,” explained Curt. “It’s a constant 92-96 degrees F inside, regardless of the outside temperature, and it’s humid — it’s like a gym.”
“A lot of people think that if honey crystallizes, it’s gone bad, but honey never goes bad — unless you’ve raised that moisture content,” explained Martha. To get rid of any crystallization, by the way, just gently warm the honey in a pan of warm (not boiling) water or even on a warm windowsill — but never in a microwave.
(Honey should never be fed to infants under a year old, by the way. The honey can contain botulism bacteria that the infant’s immune system can’t deal with. Even foods such as honey graham crackers should be avoided.)
- If a bee flies through airborne pesticide spray, it won’t be allowed back into its own hive because the other bees will now regard it as contaminated.
- Honey is a hive’s food source. In a year like this on the Central Coast, where our record drought has severely reduced both food (flowers) and water supplies for bees, a hive that’s lacking in resources will turn into marauders and raid another hive for its honey.
- Bees may look like they’re just flying around randomly, but if you take the time to notice, bees have very deliberate flight patterns. That dramatically changes right before they’re going to swarm; they start doing a very distinctive dance that’s a dead giveaway to experienced beekeepers. Once they see that behavior start, they know the bees will be swarming within minutes.
- A swirling, buzzing ball of bee swarm can be a daunting vision that elicits primal fear and visions from any number of “B-movies.” However, there’s usually absolutely nothing to worry about. Typically, the bees swarm because they’ve outgrown their old hive and need to establish a new one with a new queen. There’s already been a lot of detailed advance work done by the bees’ scouts, so they know exactly where they’re heading. If you do have a bee swarm land that camps out in a place you’re not crazy about, “Stay Calm and Call the Beekeeper.” An experienced apiarist (beekeeper) can safely and easily relocate the swarm to another location where it can be happy and thrive in its important function as a plant pollinator.
- Speaking of which …. bees are responsible, make that RESPONSIBLE for pollinating the vast majority of our food crops. It’s estimated that one in every three bites of food come directly from plants pollinated by bees and other pollinators. To imagine a world without bees, take a look at the photo here – it shows what our supermarkets would look like if all the bees died off.