WHAT IS HONEY?
Beekeeping is also called apiculture, named after Apis, the Latin
word for bee. Bees live in colonies. A colony consists of 1 queen
bee, several hundred male bees (drones), as many as 60,000 female worker bees. Honey is the
sweet, sticky substance that bees produce from the nectar of
WHERE IS HONEY PRODUCED IN BC?
Honey bee colonies are considered ‘livestock’ and are managed parts of the province with suitable climates and forage availability. Compared with other provinces, B.C.’s agriculture is limited by topography and climate and this also limits the size of beekeeping operations in the province. Apiarists often move bee hives into orchards and berry fields to meet the pollination requirements of those crops. Despite its small size, BC’s beekeeping industry is vitally important to the annual production of over $200M worth of crops.
HOW MUCH HONEY DO WE PRODUCE?
There are almost 2,000 registered beekeepers in the province operating between 40 – 45,000 colonies. Most beekeepers are hobbyists while the bulk of the annual honey harvest is produced by the 120 commercial beekeepers. Other hive products include beeswax, pollen, royal jelly and propolis. A small number of beekeepers are specialized in the breeding of bees and queens which are sold to other beekeepers of BC and Prairie provinces.
WHAT DOES HONEY LOOK LIKE WHEN I USE IT?
Honey is used as a spread on toast and bread, in cooking and as a sweetener in baked products, cereals and manufactured foods. Beeswax is used for candles, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Pollen is collected for feeding bees, but is also sold in health-food and drug stores as a dietary supplement, and used in special animal feeds. While nectar is the carbohydrate food source and provides energy to bees, pollen is the principal protein food source of bees and essential for the development of bee brood (larvae).
Propolis is a resinous material bees collect from buds which they use as a putty to close off holes in the nest, or embalm foreign materials that they can not physically remove, for example a mouse. Propolis has strong antimicrobial qualities and has been used in homeopathic preparations and by the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.
HOW IS HONEY PRODUCED?
It takes about one year to establish a honey bee colony. A queen bee may mate with 10 drones or more shortly after her birth. The sperm she receives is stored in a special organ, and remains viable for the rest of her life. A queen can lay as many as 2000 eggs a day during the height of summer. It takes 21 days for a worker bee to develop from an egg to and adult. Beekeeping management aims to maximize the adult bee population so that there will be enough foraging bees to optimize honey production in June – August.
Hives are placed near flowering crops or other nectar and pollen sources. On each foraging trip, bees visit many flowers where pollen is transferred from flower to flower, fertilizing them in the process. Some floral sources may offer only pollen while other types of flowers may offer nectar or both. The floral source determines the colour, flavour and consistency of the honey. A colony may produce a few kilograms in a season or as much as 200 kg depending on the area and the weather.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE HONEY LEAVES THE FARM?
Honey is extracted from the honey comb frames after the wax caps covering each cell have been removed. The frames are then placed in a drumlike machine called an extractor, which works like a centrifuge. Extractors may hold from two frames at a time to more than 120. The frames are spun around rapidly causing the liquid honey to flow out of the cells. The honey is then collected, and pumped through filters before being stored in a tank. Honey is bottled in glass or plastic containers of standard size, labeled and brought to market.
WHAT CHALLENGES DOES THE HONEY PRODUCER FACE?
Some microbes and other organisms are attracted because bees keep a nice warm nest (approx. 33 to 35 degree C). Some of these organisms are pests of honey bees or cause disease. Most of the diseases caused by microbes are controlled through the timely application of medication. Beekeepers must also deal with two different types of parasitic mites. The tracheal mite is microscopic and lives inside the adult honeybee's breathing tubes. The mite may not kill the bee but weakens it severely, reducing its life expectancy. The honey bee population of North America has developed a measure of resistance to the tracheal mite. The Varroa mite is much larger, lives on the outside of the bee, and parasitizes both bee brood and adult honeybees. This mite is very destructive and can kill a colony in a matter of a few months. Varroa mites are controlled through Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques which involve the carefully timed use of different management and chemical controls. Until now, no honey bee strains have been developed that are resistant to varroa mites
WHO'S INVOLVED IN PRODUCING HONEY?
- Bee Breeders
- Orchardists and Berry Producers
- Honey processors and graders
- Beekeeping equipment supplier
- Manufacturers of jars and other containers
- Entomologists (Apiculturists)
Interesting Fact About Honey:
- Honey has been collected by humans for thousands of years.
Until the Middle Ages, honey was the primary sweetener in food.
- In Canada, over C$1.5 billion of annual agricultural production can be attributed to bee pollination, while in the US this is estimated at over US$15 billion.
- For every kilogram of honey produced, bees must fly 100,000 km, which is more than twice once around the earth!
Contacts and other resources: