The honey that we all know and love is nothing more than nectar from plants and flowers. While the sources of honey vary widely, the way it is collected and created is the same. The process begins with the bee drinking up some nectar into their honey stomachs. The forager then returns to its hive where it will regurgitate the raw liquid and condense it.
Once the nectar is placed into a cell, the other bees will fan it and condense it until it has just the right moisture content so that it won’t spoil in the hive. At this point, the honey in the cell will be capped over by bees by running their wax glands over the cells. Thus a beekeeper can know when the honey in their hive is at the right moisture content (roughly 18%) because the honey frames are capped over with wax. Honey is very important for bees as it is their source of carbohydrates. They also derive their source of protein from flowers in the form of pollen.
Different types of honey
Just as no species of flower is the same, no honey derived from a flower is the same. They all produce a wide variety of colors, flavors, and viscosity. For example, Tulip Poplar honey has a dark, amber color and more mild flavor in comparison to clover honey which has a lighter color and sweeter taste. The honey that the bees collect all depends on what is available for them during the time of the year when they are foraging.
In the DMV area, the Tulip Poplar window for honey collection (aka nectar flow) is open from May till the end of June whereas the Aster nectar flow is on from May till November. These types of honey are called mono floral as they come from only one specific plant source. Honey that comes from many source plants is called poly floral. You might see it in the store as wildflower honey. It’s the result of bees having multiple source plants to forage from after their favorite sources have ceased nectar production for the year.
Understanding organic honey can get a bit sticky. The USDA will not give the USDA certified label to honey produced in the US, however, it will give it to imported honey that meets their standards and testing. This is because the USDA has no set standard for US honey to be labeled as organic, thus it is illegal for a beekeeper to claim and sell their honey as such. This is done primarily because it is impossible to guarantee honey’s purity of chemicals due to the use of chemicals in modern agriculture. Bees will forage from any plant they see fit, no matter what that plant has been treated with. So keep in mind, when you see the good old organic label on a bottle of honey at your grocery store, it came from another country.
Fortunately, the Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) program provides certification for honey that supports beekeeping practices that use little to no chemicals. CNG believes that in doing this, beekeepers will be encouraged to use fewer chemicals in their hive area despite not being able to control what their bees forage from.
A common misconception among consumers is that raw honey is organic or all-natural. Raw actually just means that the honey has not been refined or processed. Raw honey is generally only filtered once or twice to remove wax and larger objects that don’t belong in honey. If honey is not labeled as raw, it can mean that it’s been heated or pasteurized, thus taking away some of the many wonderful properties that raw honey possesses. It can also mean that the honey has been altered with additives such as other sweeteners.
There is also super filtered honey which has been strained from all the pollen that gives natural, raw honey its antihistamine properties.
The best way to find out if the honey you purchase is indeed raw or organic is to buy locally. It takes a lot of time and equipment to process or filter honey which small-scale beekeepers don’t usually possess. If you’re still skeptical of where they got their honey, ask them if you could tour their facility. Any beekeeper who is proud of their product will surely oblige.
Buzz on By!
The Bee Store has everything you need to start or grow your beekeeping operations in Northern Virginia. Contact us today for more information about our products or stop by our store in Lake Ridge, Virginia today.