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“The bee master must be first of all a bee lover, or he will never succeed.� Ticknor Edwardes


curiosity of bees but I must admit before making this book my knowledge of them was somewhat limited. In fact, I hadn’t really even interacted with bees, not even by a sting, until last September when I was living at an ecohome in southeast England. The family that I lived with kept bees in order to pollinate their urban garden and, of course, to have an almost endless supply of honey. After that experience I had a bit more of a general understanding of bees and extracting honey but even still I never experienced a bee

sting. I took the opportunity while creating this book to dive deeper into the world of bees. This book presents a very broad overview of bees. It begins by defining bees and how they function; then explains how bees are used as a resource, highlighting honey produced in Italy; then explains the bee’s place within food systems followed by an introduction to beekeeping; and finally it ends with exploring how I plan to apply this knowledge to the work I will be doing in Italy for the spring term.

THE HONEY BEE Apis mellifera

H oney bees are a subset of bees in the genus Apis which

includes seven species and 44 sub species. Honey bee traits such as temperament, disease resistance, and productivity vary with species and things such as their environment and genetic make up can cause variations within specific species.


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ITALIAN HONEY BEE Apis mellifera ligustica

Ithetalian honey bees are one of most common commerical

subspecies. They are popular worldwide because they have extended periods of brood rearing (they harbour more bees for longer), are less prone to disease, and produce excellent honey. Italians, however, may consume large amounts of honey due to their long periods of brood rearing

and they are kleptoparasites (they burgle honey from their weaker neighbor bees). In general Italians have a lighter yellow-tan color and have three yellow segments outlined with black. They are smaller than other species overall and have much shorter overhairs. Normally they are more docile than other honey bees and less likely to sting.

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H oney bees live in colonies that contain three types of bees: the drones, the workers, and the queen. While there are on average 60,000 bees in a hive only one is the queen, a few thousand are drones, and the rest are all workers. The DRONE bees are all males whose sole purposes are to mate with the queen. They do absolutely nothing else to contribute to the hive. The drones are however permitted to live in the hive during certain months of the year and eat as much pollen and nectar as they please. In the fall the workers bees generally kick the drones out of the hive in an effort to save on supplies through the winter. The WORKER bees are all non-sexually developed females. They are the most common and generally the only bees you ever see. It is the workers who build and protect the hive, forage for pollen and nectar from flowers, keep the hive clean and tidy, and tend to the queen. In the summer, when work is the hardest, the lifespan of a worker is four to six weeks. 3

RA RARC RAR R RARCHY ARC A AR RC R CH C The QUEEN, like all other females in the hive, is the product of a fertilized egg. She however receives a special diet during her larval stage consisting of royal jelly and modified jelly. It takes 16 days to produce a queen who will be the biggest of all the bees. Generally, only one queen can rule a hive and in the case of more than one queen the queens will either fight to the death or swarm to create new hives. Once a sole queen has been established she will fly out of the hive and mate with one or more drones. The queen is now most likely set to lay eggs for the rest of her life. A queen will normally live for two years, laying up to 2,000 per day. The queen’s death can occur suddenly and unexpectedly but sometimes it’s not unexpected at all, sometimes she’s murdered. For whatever reason, when the queen dies the worker bees must prepare for a new ruler. They do this by making queen cells which are larger than regular brood cells and placed vertically on a brood frame as opposed to in line with the other cells. The royal jelly that is fed to the queen during her larval stage is a viscous mixture of B vitamins, amino acids, sugars, and trace minerals.




makes the sting hurt not the stinger itself. When a bee stings a mammal her stinger and poison sac get stuck and she loses them, however, this is not the case if she stings another insect. If she does sting a mammal soon her death will follow as she cannot live without these parts.

lthough Italian honey bees are very docile and less likely to sting any bee will sting when it feels threatened. When a bee stings it releases alarm pheromones that alert other bees to attack. Bee venom, produced in a bee’s poison gland and transfered to her poison sac, is what


1 If you are stung by a bee and there are other bees close by the best thing to do is to go inside so that the other bees won’t pick up the alarm pheromones. 5

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2 Get the stinger out. Pulling the stinger out may force more venom into your body. Instead scrape the stinger out at an angle.

Keep an eye out for allergic reactions! One out of every 1,000 people are allergic to honey bees.

3 Apply ice, toothpaste, onions, and/or various creams such as hydrocor tisone or calamine lotion in order to ease pain and reduce swelling.


n order to make viable Ihomes bees must produce

honeycomb. Honeycomb is created from beeswax which is then sculped into thousands of tiny hexagons. It is used to store honey and to house developing baby bees. Beeswax is an excellent and strong building material for hives and can withstand temperatures up to 148 degrees Fahrenheit before melting.

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It takes eight pounds of nectar to make one pound of beeswax. To make beeswax young worker bees group together in order to increase the temperature around them. Because of the warm temperature the bees will then secrete liquid wax along their underbellies. As the bees move apart, temperatures decrease the wax begins to harden onto their bodies. The bees then scrape the wax off of themselves and chew on it until it is soft enough to cap exisiting cells or create new honeycomb.


HONEY PRODUCTION B ees need honey in order to survive through the winter. A typical hive needs at least sixty pounds of honey stored up to make it. During the winter the bees in a hive will group together and flex their flight muscules in order to generate heat. For energy they will lightly snack on the honey located in their vacinity and once all the stores in that location are used they will altogether move to a new well stocked area of the hive.



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Collect nectar.

Worker bees travel to flowers and collect nectar into their “honey stomachs�, which is a seperate second stomach that workers have specifically for this job. The honey stomach adds enzymes into the nectar that begin to turn it into honey. While collecting necter bees inadvertently collect pollen from flowers which helps flowers to pollinate.

Bees may have to travel up to six miles in search of flowers but in well flowered areas they only need to go as far as a couple tenths of a mile. On average bees will fly two to three miles from home at a speed of fifteen miles per hour.


Transfer nectar.

Once the worker returns to the hive she shifts her stomach contents into her fellow workers with empty stomachs. At this point the nectar has a high moister content and more enzymes must be added to it in order to turn it into honey. The workers add more enzymes as the nectar sits in their stomachs and slowly they bring some up into their mouths and chew on it.


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Fill honeycomb.

Finally, the ripening honey is transfered to a honeycomb cell where it is then fanned with the bees wings until it begins to thinken. The honey stays stored in the honeycomb until winter. Image from

It takes about a dozen bees to produce one teaspoon of honey. In order to make that teaspoon of honey each of those dozen bees would have had to visit more than 2,600 flowers. 8

H umans use bees as a resource primarily for honey. There are hundreds of varieties of honey because honey is influenced by its botanical source, geography, soil conditions, rainfall, and time of harvest. Honey extracted in the spring is generally clearer and lighter colored than honey from later in the year. In order to harness honey produced from a specific flower or crop beekeepers must be intune with their bees and aware of what is in bloom or simply expose their bees to one type of flowers. Lighter colored honey tends to be more popular among consumers and so it is generally set at a higher price. In order to determine an exact shade honey is sampled by a digital honey analyzer which measures the amount of light


BEES AS A R that it is able to absorb. Honey is good for you and it never expires. It contains protein, antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, however, at such small amounts that you must eat a lot of honey to get any substantial amount of any. Honey is a tremendously ecofriendly sweetener because it has a tiny carbon footprint in comparison to other sweeteners. This is because, unlike sugarcane, beets, and corn, honey does not require irrigation, fertilizers, or pesticides and it requires less growing time, processing time, transportation, and storing.

B esides honey humans also extract beeswax and royal jelly from honeybee hives. Beeswax is harnessed for a number of different reasons and is used in a variety of products ranging


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from food and cosmetics to candles and phamaceuticals. Royal jelly is harnessed primarily for homeopathic uses however there is little scientific information about its actual effects. The extraction of royal jelly is a somewhat contoversial topic because it stresses out and confuses bees into making far too many queen brood cells than necessary. In order to extract royal jelly queen brood cells must be opened and the contents inside gingerly scooped out. It takes a lot of queen cells in order to accumulate worthwile amounts of royal jelly; it takes over 100 cells to make only a couple of tablespoons worth.

S ome honey producers choose to pasteurize their product before selling it. Honey is pasteurized by heating it to a high temperature and sometimes injecting it with high pressure. Often times it is only large company producers who pasteurize in order to kill any yeasts that may have come into the honey, in order to increase it’s shelf life so it is less likely to granulate and ferment, and in order to remove any blemishes such as bits of wax or pollen. Non-pasteurized honey is perfectly safe though and pasteurizing honey is not necessary. HONEY REGULATIONS


lthough the US has standards for honey they are only lightly enforced and inspections of honey do not occur. Producers can even put the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) seal on their products although no USDA certifications exists, however, this is perfectly legal because there are no laws against making false claims in this case. 10

So how does a consumer know they are getting good honey? Good honey standards are met by the following criteria: ❋ it contains only honey and no other food ingredients, colors, flavors, or preservatives ❋ it is not fermented, heated or processed in any way ❋ it is not produced by sugar fed bees and sugar should not be added into the honey ❋ it is labeled according to the removal process that was used to harvest it, by the type of honey it is (e.g. honey, comb, and chunk), by its botanical source, and labeled as raw or organic if applicable


n 2003 the European Union (EU) banned imports of honey from the US due to a differentiation in regulatory approaches to product purity. This ban did not last long because the US decided to change their honey quality in order to meet EU standards. There are however still specific requirements implemented in order to make sure that honey being shipped to the EU is up to par. These requirements include the following: ❋ Producer Purity Certification: a certification that producers must obtain every year that states that a product is not misbranded or adulterated within the parameters of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and that their methods of production have been approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency. If a producer is found violating these agreements their shipments may be rejected. ❋ Batch Control: the separation of EU honey and honey destined for other locations while it moves between ports and destinations. Honey shipments traveling to the EU are thoroughly tracked in order to keep a detailed inventory. ❋ Testing and sampling. Sampling must be done from at least one per producer per shipment. Two laboratories located in the EU are used specifically for product testing. ❋ Documentation of procedures, sanitary certificates, and origin of honey shipments.



H oney extracted within the EU, Italy specifically, can be

protected under the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). The PDO is important because it certifies the geographical location of where a product was produced, how it was produced, and how it was prepared. In order to qualify as PDO products must have characteristics or qualities that are exclusive to a specific area taking into account both natural and human factors. What this means for honey is that only producers within certain areas can register their honey as PDO, assuming they fit the local PDO honey criteria. In Italy there are approximately 72,000 beekeepers, 10% of which are are professional. From them Italy produces a large number of monofloral, local, and wildflower honey that are unique to their place and season of production. Despite this fact Italians are not very large consumers of honey, only consuming .9 pounds (400 grams) per capita per year. This consumption is far below the average for other European countries and surprising when the average

annual production of honey in Italy is approximately 9,000 – 12,000 tons. Le Città del Miele

The City of Honey is a group comprised of 46 cities and three mountain communities in Italy that all have an established tradition of beekeeping and honey production. The aim of the group is to promote Italian honey and they are committed to upholding the regional, national, and international standards of honey. The group supports the honey industry by promoting events and demonstrations and every 72,000 BEEKEEPERS 10% PROFESSIONAL




WHICH EQUALS 1 IN EVERY BITES OF FOOD year the cities put on events about beekeeping and honey. They also promote knowledge sharing among researchers, scholars, practitioners, producers, and consumers. Most importantly the group is committed to the defense and protection of the environment and biodiversity, as they understand that bees have an important yet fragile role within both. FARMING & PERMACULTURE

B ees are immensely important for our food system and for pollination. When collecting nectar bees get



covered in pollen and subsequenctly pollinate the flowers they visit. Bees are responsible for pollinating 80% of the plants on the planet which in terms of our food equals one in every three bites. It is becoming more and more common for farmers to have to rent beekeepers’ managed bees in order to pollinate their crops. However, this wasn’t always the case. In the past there were more wild bees that took care of pollination but with the increase of deforestation, ironically in order to make farmland, wild bee habitat has been reduced.

“If you want to harvest honey, don’t kick over the beehive.” Abraham Lincoln


ollination is a crucial process that humans and other organisms rely on for their food. Because bees do so much of the world’s pollination they have become an important player in the economy and security of food. However, bee populations have been declining. Bee populations can be negatively affected by things such as habitat loss; pesticides; bee pests like wax moths, vampire mites, and tracheal mites; stress induced by moving colonies; and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) where bee colonies literally disappear overnight. In 2001 the EU and its Member States at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity recognized that biodiversity was declining in Europe and that habitats and natural systems needed care and to be restored. They also highlighted the importance of the “pollination crisis” and its links to biodiversity and

humans livelihoods. From this concern the Conserva tion and Sustainable Use of Pollinates also known as the International Pollinator Initiative (IPI) was established. The IPI works on regional initiatives, programs, and projects that help to promote conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of pollinator diversity in agriculture and related ecosystems. In 2010 the EU Environment Council agreed on a long-term vision and target for biodiversity which focused on protecting natural-capital in order to restore biodiversity’s intrinsic value of contribut ing to human livelihoods, wellbeing, and economic prosperity. This goal is to be met by 2050 in hopes that catastrophic changes will not be caused by the loss of biodiversity.





ne of the most popular types of hives that both amature and commerical beekeepers use is the Langstroth. It is an ideal hive because it is composed of easily moveable internal frames that make it convinent for both bees to make honeycomb and for keepers to extract the honey. It is important to note that beekeeping can be an expensive venture due to equiment needs and that beekeeping requires time and patience, especially during honey extraction. There are a lot of ins and outs one needs to know in order to be a successful beekeeper. BROOD FRAME


Brood frames are removable wooden frames where bees build honeycomb.


ncapping knifes are used to remove the wax capping from the tops of honeycomb in order to access the honey underneath.


Supers or brood boxes store brood frames vertically next to eachother. They can either be shallow or deep and store, respectively, honey or a brood. Supers easily stack on top of one another and more or less can be added or removed to a hive depending on its population size.





A smoker is used when collecting honey and working in a hive. Smokes does two things: it masks the alarm pheromones bees set off, making them less aware of threat; and it encourages bees to eat honey which weights them down making them less able to sting.

QUEEN EXCLUDER A queen excluder is a mesh grid that is big enough for worker bees to fit through but too small for the queen. This allows for the seperation of the queen from honey stores where she may try to lay eggs.

The traditional outfit beekeep ers wear is a fullbody suit with a veil and gloves. The suit helps to prevent bee stings, which are inevitable, especial ly for amature keepers. A full outfit is not necessary when beekeeping and many professional keepers opt not to wear them and instead wear light colored and nylon clothing.




n making this book my understanding of bees and their connections with humans has increased immensely. I hope to take my newfound knowledge and turn into practical experience. In Italy I am staying with a farmer who is starting a bee business and I hope to work alongside him in his everyday life as a beekeeper from both the business and physical side of his venture. I want to be able to understand why bees are important for him and the connections he makes with them and farming, the methods he uses and why he uses them, as

well as his ideas of honey standards and regulations. Outside of my host family I hope to talk to other beekeepers or farmers who are concerned about bee populations or just interested in the connections between humans and bees. I want to get at this question of local food systems and organic food in order to understand how people from the Veneto, even if only a small portion of them, are concerned and/or connected to their food. I suppect to encounter unforseen challanges and even unforseen processes and experiences that I didn’t know where possible

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without experience. However, I am more than excited to take my new knowledge and turn it into experience and practice. Furthermore, I am interested in finding my own personal connections between my interests of farming/permaculture, bees, and art. At the end of my time in Italy I hope to produce some sort of book or journal (graphic journal) that records not only the things I’ve learned but also my experiences and thoughts about what I am doing and what is going on around me. Finally, I hope to be stung by a bee for the first time because only then will I be able to fully understand bees.

“About us.” n.d. Web. 10 March 2014. Bee covered in pollen. Photograph. 2013. 5th March 2014. Bees and flowers. 8th March 2014. Bee sting. Photograph. 2014. 28th Feb. 2014. Biesmeijer J.C., et al. “Pollution and Biodiversity.” 22 April 2010. Web. 10 March 2014. Bishop, Holly. Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey the Sweet Liquid Gold That Seduced the World. New York: Free Press, 2005. Brackney, Susan. Plan bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest-Working Creatures on the Planet. New York: Penguin Group, 2009. Brood honeycomb. 2012. 28th Feb. 2014. Filling the honeycomb. Photograph. thehoneygath 2nd March 2014. Food transfer. Photograph. hehoneygather 2013. 2nd March 2014. Honeybee on honeycomb. Photograph. 2013. 5th March 2014. Honeycomb. Photograph. 28th Feb. 2014. Italian honey bee. Photograph. callenshoney 2013. 5th March 2014. “Italy Honey.” 2014. Web. 10 March 2014. Longgood, William. The Queen Must Die And Other Affairs of Bees and Men. New York: WW Norton & Company, 1985. Queen brood cells. 2012. 26th Feb. 2014.



To Bee or Not to Bee