Beekeeper to Vegan: Let’s Get Real

“Belief is the death of intelligence.” -Robert Anton Wilson

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Full disclosure. I’ve spent most of my life as what many would call a vegetarian.  I’m not a vegan, although many days I eat like one.  I also have days where I may eat some fish or eat some dairy, so those days I’m only partially vegetarian in the strictest sense of the word.

I wasn’t aware vegans had any opposition to beekeeping until recently. A Los Angeles based blogger reached out to me about our products, only later to decide she couldn’t write about them because they contain honey (and other bee products) and this went against her vegan ways.  So I did some research, and I learned the rationale behind these notions and consequently feel it necessary to set the record straight as I can see many vegans are misinformed.  We’ve kept bees via natural management practices for over 15 years.  So what I have to say applies to how natural beekeepers tend to their bees and the vegan point of view.

 

Belief number one: Beekeepers exploit honeybees because they are kept like livestock and they clip the queen’s wings so she can’t leave.

Fact:  We purchase bees and a queen from time to time from keepers like us and set them up in a bee pad akin to a comfy, human luxury apartment. This home must have a fresh water source nearby and must be a in a place free of the predators that like to eat bees and their honey.  It also must allow bees to come and go as they please and have plenty of diverse foraging area within four miles of the hive.  If they want to leave forever they can, but believe it or not, most don’t.  I’ve never really talked to one to see if they went to visit a distant relative for a few weeks, but my point is a beekeeper can’t truly ‘keep’ a bee.  They tend to stay with the queen.  She’s the more important piece of the pie. Where she goes they go.  If she leaves they leave. Oh, and we don’t clip anyone’s wings.  No need.  In 16 years and many, many hives, only one queen has decided she wanted to leave, so we let her. Well, we couldn’t exactly stop her. Good by queen with intact wings along with all your little bees.  Safe travels.  Nice to know you.

Belief number two:  We take their honey and other hive products, plus we feed them sugar in exchange which exploits them and makes them ill.

Fact:  Bees live in hives which they love to fill with honey.  In fact, they tend to fill them with so much honey that the hive can become honey bound which will ultimately kill the colony because there is no room for new brood AKA baby bees.  We only take the excess they produce in mid-summer, and that is placed by the bees in an extra box we gave them to fill or not to fill. It’s truly their choice.  In reality, it’s not much honey.  That’s why we have so many hive, so we won’t stress our bees or even impact their lifestyle.  Believe me when I tell you if you live in a suburb or a city you are impacting bees far more than I ever will. The same goes for the propolis and wax we use.  It’s stored in that same extra box and these are the only products we get from our bees.  Bees generally make enough food for winter.  If they don’t we sure aren’t taking any from that hive, instead we watch them and help them out. When our bees have died, it was not due to lack of food.  Now and then ecology comes into play when some springs are longer than expected and the bees run low on honey before they are able to forage.  Take note of the fact that during such springs wild bees face the same issue.  This occurrence has nothing to do with our taking honey the year before.  It’s nature.  When it does happen we give our bees our stored honey.  On occasion we’ve given them a nutrient mixture that contain sugar if we have no honey to offer.  We do this to keep them alive.  Had they been in a hollow tree in the wild during a spring like this they would not survive.  If we didn’t do this, then we would be killing our bees.

Belief number three:  We kill bees in the process of taking their honey.

Fact:  Not true.  Vegans – please watch a natural beekeeper at work.  It’s an art.  No dead bees.  Why would we kill them?  We love our bees.  I think they at least like us.  Do you realize bees know their keepers? They don’t even try to sting us. They may sting you if you get near their hive because you are an intruder.  I’ve spent many moments with a butterfly net in tow getting a single bee out of the barn and back to its hive.  No, we aren’t in the business of killing bees.  By the way a honeybee’s life expectancy varies depending on many natural factors including the stress it is under.  The average is three months. I’d like to think ours have a longer life than average but no one can ever say for sure.  I can say this, they’ve been given every chance to thrive in our bee yard.

Belief number four:  Honeybees aren’t native to the United States and therefore are threatening wild bees by competing for forage, plus they spread diseases and viruses to them.

Fact:  They have found fossilized honeybees in the United States so they were here long before we were.  It is true, European settlers brought the European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) with them in 1622.  Honeybees live in large colonies where most native bees are solitary. There is clear evidence that native and honey bees cohabitate–the presence of one does not imply a lack of the other. Farmers who increase the diversity of foraging areas such as grasslands, wetlands, forest etc. near their farms, successfully increase both honey and native bee populations. So rather than being a detriment, the honeybees are a benefit. Why?  Honeybees prefer many flowers in ONE area. They gravitate towards plants that are loaded with flowers whereas native bees, such as bumblebees, mason bees, and carpenter bees will visit flowers just as efficiently regardless of flower density.  In the fields this equals increased pollination overall.  What’s killing all pollinators isn’t other pollinators.  It’s humans.

Can honeybees spread diseases to native bees? The simple answer is yes but the more complicated answer is that diseases and parasites are far more diverse than the thousands of bee species that exist. The bulk of the research which has been conducted has been on honeybees, not native species.  That research is severely limited.  So there is bias, which means the evidence to date simply is not there. Yet the research does show this.  Humans are killing all pollinators.

 

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More Pondering

As I said earlier by choice I’ve maintained a vegetarian diet for most of my life.  In doing so I’ve always been acutely aware that as altruistic as my choice may be, I could never accomplish my goal without the assistance of a complicated system of food cultivation and distribution.  Let’s face it I’m no native living in the bush.  I could never have gone to work outside the home and returned home to cultivate all of the foods I need to be healthy.  I freely admit I need grocery stores and the farmers who fill them up.  Beyond that even if I managed to survive without those things, most of humanity would not.  Without the systems we have in place there would be chaos and therefore I still could not hold onto my altruistic beliefs.  I may well be reduced to, God forbid eating a rabbit.

My point is, you have to be reasonable and realistic when proclaiming a belief.  It best be based on fact.  I applaud the goals of vegans within reason. I share many of the same goals. Yet the fact remains without beekeepers, most people would not have enough to eat.  Any crop with a seed needs to be pollinated and that requires a bee.  More often than not a honeybee.  If you eat any food that has a seed and you won’t eat honey, logic would follow that you shouldn’t be eating those foods because you are exploiting a pollinator.  Likewise I will go further and say if you live in a comfortable home, drive a car, shop in a grocery store, walk on a sidewalk, or otherwise live in the civilized world you have destroyed precious habitat that technically pollinators, native plants and all other native creatures relied on before you came along.  If you are eating any cultivated foods I can guarantee that some innocent critter has gotten squashed, smooshed or maimed in the process. Also as you are reaching for your sweatener of choice, the one you feel is superior to honey, I can offer a list of how non sustainable they all can be and how many creatures are impacted by the harvesting. So you see, ‘exploitation’ is a tricky word.  If you can’t disclaim all of the above activities then according to the vegan definition of animal explotation, you have ‘exploited’ some living creature, too.

As a foot note, I give full and total credit for the management, happiness and health of our apiary to our beloved beekeeper, my husband -Joel.

 

 

 

 

 

Is Manuka Honey Really Better than Other Honey?

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The Nature of Honey

Honey is one of the most fascinating and complex substances on the planet.  But what is it, exactly? Produced by bees, honey is made from nectar -a sugary liquid- collected from flowering plants.  Bees transport it to the hive in an area of their body known as the ‘crop’. While there, the nectar mixes with enzymes that change its chemical composition and ph. Once in the hive honeybees process the nectar, adding proteins, enzymes and nutrients. They fan it with their wings to encourage evaporation and thickening reducing the water content to 17.1 percent. Sealed in the honeycomb with wax away from air and water, honey can be stored indefinitely, providing bees with a nutritionally complete food source for use during winter months.

The medicinal importance of honey has been documented in the world’s oldest medical literature, and since ancient times it has been known to possess antimicrobial properties as well as wound-healing activity. The healing property of honey can be attributed to the fact that it offers antibacterial activity, maintains a moist wound condition, and its high viscosity helps to provide a protective barrier to prevent infection. The antimicrobial activity in honey is due to the presence of enzymatically produced hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), methylglyoxal, and defensin-1 protein.  Defensin-1 protein was only recently discovered as a protein which is part of a bee’s immune system. Levels of antimicrobial activity and other nutrients will vary slightly in all honey depending on complex factors such as the bees foraging habits, availability of foraging materials, weather patterns during a given season, the time of year, and likely factors only bees understand.

What is Manuka Honey?

Manuka Honey is a type of honey that comes from Australia and New Zealand where bees forage in areas containing an abundance of Manuka trees (Leptospermum scoparium).  In the early 1980’s biochemist Dr.Peter Molan received funding from the New Zealand Honey Industry Trust to research the antibacterial properties of Manuka Honey.  To distinguish the different types of Manuka Honey based on the degree of antibacterial/antimicrobial activity they possess, Molan developed a grading system he called the UMF (Unique Manuka Factor).

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This grading system can only be used to distinguish between different types of manuka honey. It cannot be used to compare Manuka honey to other honeys.  Manuka honey remains the single most widely studied honey because of the large body of research Dr. Molan produced over his career. This coupled with a heavy marketing investment on the part of the New Zealand government for its sale as a medicinal honey has grown it into a global empire. It has been touted as the super ‘healer’ honey of all honeys. But is it?

Basic Chemical Composition of all Honey

Chemically all honey is about 82% carbohydrate, those being fructose (38.2%) and glucose (31%); sucrose, maltose, isomaltose, maltulose, turanose and kojibiose.  Additional substances it is known to contain are the enzymes invertase, amylase, glucose oxidase and catalase. It contains the acid phosphorylase plus eighteen free amino acids.   Honey contains trace amounts of the B vitamins riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, pantothenic acid and vitamin B6. It also contains ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and the minerals calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, selenium, chromium and manganese.

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The main group of antioxidants in honey are the flavonoids, of which one, pinocembrin, is unique to honey and bee propolis. Ascorbic acid, catalase and selenium are also antioxidants.  Other compounds
honey contains are organic acids such as acetic, butanoic, formic, citric, succinic, lactic, malic, pyroglutamic and gluconic acids, and a number of aromatic acids. Honey contains hydroxymethylfurfural, and prebiotics, and as mentioned above it gains its known antimicrobial properties from hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), methylglyoxal, and defensin-1 protein.

Raw vs. Commercial Honey

Regular or commercial honey is pasteurized (heated to high temperatures) and filtered to kill any natural, healthy yeast that may be present which will eventually cause fermentation.

Raw honey is honey in its most natural state, meaning it has not been strained, filtered or heated.

Any processing, including gamma irradiation will alter some of the natural properties of honey.

Is Manuka Honey Better?

Put simply, honeys other than Manuka have not been studied as extensively, if at all.  So there is limited evidence to suggest Manuka honey is  superior because there aren’t comparative studies.  Also, it is important to note that not all Manuka honeys are equal. Like all honey, composition varies slightly from hive to hive and from season to season.  In conclusion, while some Manuka honey may be slightly superior to certain other honeys, the evidence to conclusively suggest this does not exist.

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Jewelweed, Nature’s Poison Ivy Care

What’s the big deal?

Jewelweed is an indigenous herb found in the North Eastern United States and thankfully, it is prolific in N.E. Ohio, where we live. It was the Native American Indians who shared their knowledge of the herb’s comforting dermatitis qualities, with European immigrants.  It was our great grandmother who passed this knowledge on to us.

Jewelweed neutralizes the resins of poison ivy and calms the skin inflammation which occurs after plant contact. Poison Ivy resin can contaminate wood brought in for your fireplace. Hunters can suffer from contact with the resin even in the Fall and Winter fields. For this reason I manufacture Meadowlake Farm’s Poison Ivy & Itch Relief, (aka Beepharmacy salve),  year round. Our salve is in constant demand because it works. Its comfort is close to immediate. It can be applied around the clock as needed without side effects and as often as desired.

Poultices and salves from Jewelweed are a folk remedy for bruises, burns, cuts, eczema, and insect bites. Jewelweed blooms May through October in the eastern part of North America from Southern Canada to the northern part of Florida. It is found most often in moist woods, usually near poison ivy or stinging nettle. It is commonly said that wherever you find poison ivy, you are likely to find jewelweed. In a pinch, you can apply jewelweed stem juice over skin exposed to poison ivy, oak or insect bites. However, I personally prefer our salve. Our jewelweed is tinctured and blended with raw honey and beeswax also known for their healing properties.

Give our salve a try! Have it on hand. Keep this soothing comfort an elbow’s length away, before you need it. jewelweed

 

 

 

Orange Jewelweed in blossom. Impatiens capensis

 

10 Health Benefits of Honey

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  1. Helps prevent cancer and heart disease:
    Honey contains flavonoids, antioxidants which help reduce the risk of some cancers and heart disease.
  2. Reduces ulcers and other gastrointestinal disorders:
    Honey treatment may help disorders such as ulcers and bacterial gastroenteritis. This may be related to the 3rd benefit…
  3. Anti-bacterial and anti-fungal:
    “All honey is antibacterial, because the bees add an enzyme that makes hydrogen peroxide,” said Peter Molan, director of the Honey Research Unit at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. This contributes to the incredibly
  4. Increases athletic performance:
    Ancient Olympic athletes ate honey and dried figs to enhance their performance. This has now been verified with modern studies, showing that it is superior in maintaining glycogen levels and improving recovery time than other sweeteners.
  5. Reduces cough and throat irritation:
    Honey helps with coughs, particularly buckwheat honey. In a study of 110 children, a single dose of buckwheat honey was just as effective as a single dose of dextromethorphan in relieving nocturnal cough and allowing proper sleep.
  1. Balances the 5 elements: 
    Honey has been used in Ayurvedic medicine in India for at least 4,000 years and is considered to affect all three of the body’s primitive material imbalances positively. It is also said to be useful in improving eyesight, weight loss, curing impotence and premature ejaculation, urinary tract disorders, bronchial asthma, diarrhea and nausea.

Honey is referred as “Yogavahi” since it has a quality of penetrating the deepest tissues of the body. When honey is used with other herbal preparations, it enhances the medicinal qualities of those preparations and also helps them to reach the deeper tissues.

  1. Helps regulate blood sugar:
    Even though honey contains simple sugars, it is not the same as white sugar or artificial sweeteners. Its exact combination of fructose and glucose actually helps the body regulate blood sugar levels. Some honeys have a low hypoglycemic index, so they don’t jolt your blood sugar. (Watch this video Sweetener Comparison where I compare stevia, brown rice syrup, honey, molasses and agave, and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each.)
  2. Heals wounds and burns:
    External application of honey has been shown to be as effective as conventional treatment with silver sulfadiazene. It is speculated that the drying effect of the simple sugars and honey’s anti-bacterial nature combine to create this effect.
  3. Is probiotic:
    Some varieties of honey possess large amounts of friendly bacteria. This includes up to 6 species of lactobacilli and 4 species of bifidobacteria. This may explain many of the mysterious therapeutic properties of honey.
  4. Helps improve skin:
    Its anti-bacterial qualities are particularly useful for the skin, and, when used with the other ingredients, honey can also be moisturizing and nourishing.