Wednesday, September 18, 2013


There is considerable concern in the northern hemisphere about collapse of bee populations often the swift collapse of whole hives at a time.

An article in The Guardian has this week discussed this, noting the potential of urban areas to provide spaces for bees safe from agricultural chemicals. The same article also discussed the medicinal value of honey.

I offered the following comment:

Bees cram a lot of life into 40 days, more than many people do in 40 years.
The newborn have duties cleaning cells, including that from which each emerges, then stocking them some with honey and pollen (separately) capping the cells with propolis. Other cells contain eggs laid by the queen, which hatch as larvae which these junior bees feed.
The preparation of honey for the hive involves complexification and reducing of water content, a big part of this process achieved by deep kissing, so to speak, the transferance of honey from one bee's digestive tract to others in turn.
I expect that this process is fundamental both to the health benefits of honey and also to the risk of hive collapse if some aberrant organism or molecule gets into the collective guts.
The practice in large scale commercial honey production of heating pipes through which honey is asked to flow may kill off a lot of the health value. So local, unprocessed honey inherently is more likely to have health value. How thickly you have to dollop it on/in to matched the highly regarded Manuka honey is unknown. Note that Manuka honey is obtained by bees foraging this teatree's flowers:
... so source of honey and pollen will affect honey's health value, surely.
I once kept a pollen trap on a suburban hive for a couple of days when the honey run was at its peak. This is essentially a boot scraper at the door, to take of the cluster of pollen, see yellow blobs here:
During that period the pollen was remarkably diverse in colour and taste: dull earthy flavours from clover and other legumes; pale lemony-white from citrus, delicious; wondrous dark red wine coloured pollen from roses, with deep rich flavour.
As bees grow up their duties go closer to the door, where they add dancing to kissing in their social repertoire, increasing the lacework of communication, learning to navigate. And they begin to use their wings, fanning the hive for humidity reduction and cooling, as well as strengthening for guard duties near the door. There are a lot of predators who would like to get into the hive, from other bees to ants to Pooh and other bears.
And so, in last days, eventually out on the range, they fly to scout for nectar and pollen further away rather then immediately around, to suck the nectar up while getting the pollen attached to socks, staying with one species one trip. Finding way home, deep kissing the load away while others massage their feet, then providing a report to others of where they have been.
An organic farm inspector once suggested to me that the risk of chemical pollution of hives was reduced by the fact that poisoned bees were unlikely to make it home. I wonder if research needs to concentrate on the less toxic, the more clever substances being used out there on plants or in plants, which have slower impacts and which may really only explode in the hive world of unsafe sucks.
Bees are pretty clever. But not all that clever. They perhaps did not realise that people could count until the research was shoved under their proboscises. See

Experiments with bees show the same sort of understanding of numbers and intentions. An experimenter set out dishes of honey in a sequence, doubling the distance each time. After the first three dishes had been found by scouts, the bees showed up at the fourth location before the honey arrived, extrapolating from the experimenter's previous behavior and inferring his intentions.
 The Ray Peat article is worth a read if you have time. And if you don't think you have time, too.

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