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The Science Behind Honey’s Eternal Shelf Life

The Science Behind Honey’s Eternal Shelf Life
A slew of factors—its acidity, its lack of water and the presence of hydrogen peroxide—work in perfect harmony, allowing the sticky treat to last forever 

[By Natasha Geiling via smithsonianmag.com]

Modern archeologists, excavating ancient Egyptian tombs, have often found something unexpected amongst the tombs’ artifacts: pots of honey, thousands of years old, and yet still preserved. Through millennia, the archeologists discover, the food remains unspoiled, an unmistakable testament to the eternal shelf-life of honey.

There are a few other examples of foods that keep–indefinitely–in their raw state: salt, sugar, dried rice are a few. But there’s something about honey; it can remain preserved in a completely edible form, and while you wouldn’t want to chow down on raw rice or straight salt, one could ostensibly dip into a thousand year old jar of honey and enjoy it, without preparation, as if it were a day old. Moreover, honey’s longevity lends it other properties–mainly medicinal–that other resilient foods don’t have. Which raises the question–what exactly makes honey such a special food?

The answer is as complex as honey’s flavor–you don’t get a food source with no expiration date without a whole slew of factors working in perfect harmony.

The first comes from the chemical make-up of honey itself. Honey is, first and foremost, a sugar. Sugars are hygroscopic, a term that means they contain very little water in their natural state but can readily suck in moisture if left unsealed. As Amina Harris, executive director of the Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute at Univeristy of California, Davis explains, “Honey in its natural form is very low moisture. Very few bacteria or microorganisms can survive in an environment like that, they just die. They’re smothered by it, essentially.” What Harris points out represents an important feature of honey’s longevity: for honey to spoil, there needs to be something inside of it that can spoil. With such an inhospitable environment, organisms can’t survive long enough within the jar of honey to have the chance to spoil.

Honey is also naturally extremely acidic. “It has a pH that falls between 3 and 4.5, approximately, and that acid will kill off almost anything that wants to grow there,” Harris explains. So bacteria and spoil-ready organisms must look elsewhere for a home–the life expectancy inside of honey is just too low.

But honey isn’t the only hygroscopic food source out there. Molasses, for example, which comes from the byproduct of cane sugar, is extremely hygroscopic, and is acidic, though less so than honey (molasses has a pH of around 5.5). And yet–although it may take a long time, as the sugar cane product has a longer shelf-life than fresh produce, eventually molasses will spoil.

So why does one sugar solution spoil, while another lasts indefinitely? Enter bees.

“Bees are magical,” Harris jokes. But there is certainly a special alchemy that goes into honey. Nectar, the first material collected by bees to make honey, is naturally very high in water–anywhere from 60-80 percent, by Harris’ estimate. But through the process of making honey, the bees play a large part in removing much of this moisture by flapping their wings to literally dry out the nectar. On top of behavior, the chemical makeup of a bees stomach also plays a large part in honey’s resilience. Bees have an enzyme in their stomachs called glucose oxidase (PDF). When the bees regurgitate the nectar from their mouths into the combs to make honey, this enzyme mixes with the nectar, breaking it down into two by-products: gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. “Then,” Harris explains, “hydrogen peroxide is the next thing that goes into work against all these other bad things that could possibly grow.”

For this reason, honey has been used for centuries as a medicinal remedy. Because it’s so thick, rejects any kind of growth and contains hydrogen peroxide, it creates the perfect barrier against infection for wounds. The earliest recorded use of honey for medicinal purposes comes from Sumerian clay tablets, which state that honey was used in 30 percent of prescriptions. The ancient Egyptians used medicinal honey regularly, making ointments to treat skin and eye diseases. “Honey was used to cover a wound or a burn or a slash, or something like that, because nothing could grow on it – so it was a natural bandage,” Harris explains.

What’s more, when honey isn’t sealed in a jar, it sucks in moisture. “While it’s drawing water out of the wound, which is how it might get infected, it’s letting off this very minute amount of hydrogen peroxide. The amount of hydrogen peroxide comes off of honey is exactly what we need–it’s so small and so minute that it actually promotes healing.” And honey for healing open gashes is no longer just folk medicinein the past decade, Derma Sciences, a medical device company, has been marketing and selling MEDIHONEY, bandages covered in honey used in hospitals around the world.

If you buy your honey from the supermarket, that little plastic bottle of golden nectar has been heated, strained and processed so that it contains zero particulates, meaning that there’s nothing in the liquid for molecules to crystallize on, and your supermarket honey will look the same for almost forever. If you buy your honey from a small-scale vendor, however, certain particulates might remain, from pollen to enzymes. With these particulates, the honey might crystallize, but don’t worry–if it’s sealed, it’s not spoiled and won’t be for quite some time.

A jar of honey’s seal, it turns out, is the final factor that’s key to honey’s long shelf life, as exemplified by the storied millennia-old Egyptian specimens. While honey is certainly a super-food, it isn’t supernatural–if you leave it out, unsealed in a humid environment, it will spoil. As Harris explains, ” As long as the lid stays on it and no water is added to it, honey will not go bad. As soon as you add water to it, it may go bad. Or if you open the lid, it may get more water in it and it may go bad.”

So if you’re interested in keeping honey for hundreds of years, do what the bees do and keep it sealed–a hard thing to do with this delicious treat!

[Read original article via smithsonianmag.com]

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WATCH: Micro-Science: The Honey Bee [Interactive]

Earth Unplugged:
Did you know a honey bee has hairy eyes? Micro-Science takes you beyond the reach of your own eyes to reveal the tiny details you won’t believe are there.

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City Council Looks into Urban Beekeeping Ordinance

The Planning and Land Use Management Committee directed city staff to study the idea and report back in two months.
[Posted by Alexander Nguyen on Patch.com]

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

A City Council committee Tuesday took the first steps toward allowing residents to keep beehives in their yards for the production of honey and wax and to pollinate their gardens.

The Planning and Land Use Management Committee directed city staff to report back in two months on the best ways to allow “beekeeping” activity in single-family residential areas.

Council members who last year proposed overturning the city’s prohibition on beekeeping in those areas said promoting the practice will “foster a healthier bee population.”

The bee population has been reported to be “in steep decline,” prompting concerns that the local economy and the state’s agricultural industry would be negatively affected, according to a related motion introduced Tuesday by Councilman Jose Huizar.

His motion calls for city staff to come up with “humane and non-lethal” ways to relocate or remove unwanted bee hives to serve as alternatives to existing methods used by government agencies, “given the usefulness of bees to California’s agricultural industry and the growing popularity of urban beekeeping.” — City News Service

[view original post via Patch.com]

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SAVE THE DATE: 12/10 @ 2:30pm – LA City PLUM Committee BEE VOTE!!

RSVP: Meetup | Facebook
Tuesday, December 10, 2:30PM
@ City Hall (3rd Floor – Public Works Board Meeting Room)
Please come out and show your support for urban beekeeping in Los Angeles!
And if you haven’t done so already, please sign our petition and send a quick email of support!!

Sanctuary Group Jump 2013

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WATCH: Bob Redmond and the Flight Path project

Interview by Rob McFarland—HoneyLove.org

FLIGHT PATH PROJECT 
Produced by The Common Acre with support from the Port of Seattle and Urban Bee Company, the project will turn scrub land into pollinator habitat, and transform a corner of the airport concourse (Terminal “Bee,” naturally) into a sparkling art and education exhibit.

Core co-producers are Bob Redmond, Kate Fernandez, Rod Hatfield, Amy Baranski, and Charlie Spitzack, with collective experience managing and directing programs at some of Seattle’s most established organizations including Bumbershoot, Town Hall Seattle, Experience Music Project, Smoke Farm, the Capitol Hill Arts Center, Spaceboat, and others. We will involve 30 – 40 regional artists, with additional involvement from local scientists, engineers, and designers.

The Port of Seattle is the nation’s 15th busiest airport, with 34 million visitors per year. This project was inspired by related work in Chicago, as well as Frankfurt, Germany, and Düsseldorf, Germany.

Urban Bee Company is a progressive urban agricultural organization in Seattle, with a focus on bees, habitat, and sustainable agriculture. They deliver honey by bicycle and operate numerous apiaries in community gardens.

For more information please check out CommonAcre.org

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Gunther Hauk Interview by Focus on Food


Spikenard Farms Radio
Listen to the latest Focus On Food interview with renowned biodynamic beekeeper Gunther Hauk via instituteofurbanecology.org

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Flash Mob: National Honey Bee Day Waggle Dance

On August 17th HoneyLovers, beekeepers and honey bee enthusiasts across the country celebrated National Honey Bee Day to honor nature’s hardest working insect, and HoneyLove decided to celebrate with a Waggle Dance Flash Mob. We choreographed a routine and invited everyone to participate in person or by uploading a video. Special THANK YOU goes out to LUSH Cosmetics and all who joined in the festivities to help make it the best National Honey Bee Day EVER!!!

MUSIC: “When You’re Smiling” by the Leftover Cuties: http://goo.gl/eiGBR

Subscribe to our YouTube Channel HERE: http://full.sc/MRAY21

 

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Join us August 17th for National Honey Bee Day!

honeybeedaybee

Learn the WAGGLE DANCE and send it to us to bee in our compilation video!!

CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT NATIONAL HONEY BEE DAY!!

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How Fast Can a Honey Bee Fly?

[via ucanr.edu]

A honey bee can beat its wings 230 times every second. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee can beat its wings 230 times every second. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

 

We captured these photos today of a honey bee nectaring on catmint (genus Nepeta). The bee was moving fast. To blur the wings, we set the shutter speed at 1/640 of a second with an f-stop of 13 and IS0 of 800.

But just how fast can a honey bee fly?

Its wings beat 230 times every second, according to Douglas Altshuler, a researcher at California Institute of Technology who co-authored research, “Short-Amplitude High-Frequency Wing Strokes Determine the Aerodynamics of Honeybee Flight,” published in  December 2005 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The honey bees have a rapid wing beat,” he told LiveScience in an interview published in January 2006. “In contrast to the fruit fly that has one-eightieth the body size and flaps its wings 200 times each second, the much larger honeybee flaps its wings 230 times every second.”

“And this was just for hovering,” Altshuler said. “They also have to transfer pollen and nectar and carry large loads, sometimes as much as their body mass, for the rest of the colony.”

The Hive and the Honey Bee, the “Bible” of beekeeping, indicates that a bee’s flight speed averages about 15 miles per hour and they’re capable of flying 20 miles per hour.

If they’re not carrying nectar, pollen, water or propolis (plant resin), they’ll fly much faster!

[read original article via ucanr.edu]

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Top 30 Flowers For Bees

[Article via naturalcuresnotmedicine.com / Photo by HoneyLove.org]

Lemon Blossom Bee

Bees are vital. Without them, pollination of crops doesn’t occur. Bees work tirelessly to provide us with our food, but are struggling in the wild. In recent years it has become apparent that bees, not just the honeybee, are under threat and some have already gone extinct. Find out on this lens which flowers to grow for pollen and nectar that will feed them and help them to increase their numbers. Insects and plants must now be taken care of by gardeners if they are to survive.The private garden is now a better place than the countryside for wildlife, since much agricultural land is now devoid of the diversity of flowers insects need to give them their ‘five a day’. It is now thought by scientists in the field that insects need as much variety in their food as we do to get all the trace minerals and vitamins to keep them healthy, so go on, plant flowers for the bees!

HA= Hardy annual
HHA =Half hardy annual
P = Perennial
HB= Hardy biennial
HS= Hardy shrub

· 1
Cosmos (HHA) is an annual flower easily raised from seed. It’s also one of the very best for the bee. Grow it in groups, making the collection of pollen easier for the bees, who won’t have to fly as far to find their food. Cosmos grows 2-5ft tall, the majority reaching about 2ft. It’s from Mexico, so a half hardy annual. Plant out after all danger of frost has passed, and deadhead to keep them flowering continuously through the summer. These open, flat flowers will delight you as well as giving the bees a feast.
· 2
Aster (HHA) ‘Compostion’ or Michaelmass Daisies. Many modern hybrids have little or no pollen. easy to grow, colorful and late summer to autumn flowering, they provide food late in the season. Important if honeybees are to be well fed to get through the winter months.
· 3
Sunflowers (HA) are a great choice, available in many heights and colours to suit your garden space. Choose yellow or orange over red, which bees don’t like. Varieties exist now for the allergic gardener, containing no pollen. Obviously avoid these when wishing to attract bees.
· 4
Calendulas or marigolds (HA) are great for bees, especially the original single flowered pot marigold. Dead head regularly for a longer flowering period.
· 5
Primulas. (HP) The native primrose, (primula vulgaris), primulas of all kinds, even the drumstick ones are great early food for bees. Cowslips (primula veris) are also good members of this extensive family of perennial plants.
· 6
Rudbekia (HHA) are an extensive group of cone flowers from the aster family. A wide variety of heights, mostly available in yellows and oranges, sure to brighten your border and feed bees. There are also a few hardy perennial ones, of which ‘Goldsturn’ is my personal favourite. All are easy to grow from seed.
· 7
Scabious or cornflowers (HA), another aster family member, are mostly blue flowered and bees adore them. Dead-headed regularly, they’ll flower all summer long.
· 8
Lavender (HHS) There are plenty of lavenders to choose from, all needing plenty of sun and well drained soil, but they’ll reward you with plenty of fragrant flowers for cutting and drying. Just watch them get smothered in bees when they come into flower.
· 9
Bluebells (bulb) Another early food supply. Just a note of caution for UK growers. The native English bluebell in now under threat from the Spanish bluebell, which outcompetes and crosses with it. So please ensure you are planting the native bluebell to ensure you don’t endanger a bluebell woodland near you.
· 10
Hellebores (HP) The Christmas rose! A lovely flower to have in your garden from late winter to early spring, this plant will tolerate some shade and moist conditions, though not wet. When bees emerge from hibernation they need food fast. This one gives them a snack when there’s little else around.
· 11
Clematis (Perennial climber) The majority of clematis will provide pollen, and I’ve watched bees happily moving from flower to flower gathering their crop. Always plant clematis deeper than they were in the container, as this gives more protection against cleamits wilt. These plants are hungry and thirsty, so add good compost to the planting hole. They also like their roots in the cool and heads in the sun, so once planted I place either a thick mulch or a pile of stones or gravel around their roots, keeping them cool and conserving moisture.
· 12
Crocus (bulb) Early flowering, plenty to choose from, and planted in the autumn to flower year after year. These are great value and cheer me up as well as the bees!
· 13
Mint (HP), especially water mint, is loved by bees. It’s great in your cooking, too. Easy to grow, it can be a bit of a thug, so either grow it in a container or prevent its escape around the garden by burying a bucket (with holes in the bottom for drainage) and plant your mint into that.
· 14
Rosemary (HHS) A mediterranean herb, rosemary likes well drained soild and full sun. It flowers around April/May. A great culinary herb, bees will take advantage of the pollen as long as you prune it correctly. This is best done straight after flowering, as most of the flowers will appear on new wood. Don’t prune rosemary back to old, bare wood as these are not likely to regrow. Depending on where you live and soil conditions, rosemary can be short lived, so take some cuttings each year so you can replace the old plant should it dsie or become too leggy.
· 15
Thyme (H to HHS)) There are now quite a few varieties available, tasting slightly different to each other eg lemon thyme. However, I’ve noticed that the wild thyme (thymus serpyllum) attracts a lot of bee visitors and tends to flower more profusely. But they are all worth growing. Give them the same growing conditions as rosemary and lavender.
· 16
Hebe (HH-HS) This extensive group of shrubs have wonderful flowers for bees. Plenty of pollen, all on one flower and plenty of flowers on one shrub. They vary in height, are mosly blue or pink and tolerate most soils. They dislike too much wet, so a well drained soil is best. Water well, though, until established.
· 17
Borage, the bee herb. (HA) Borage is blue flowered, simple to grow and in fact one type grows wild in the UK, though originally from Syria. Easy, prolific and the bees love it.
· 18
Echinacea, the cone flower. (HP) Now available in a variety of colours, all of which will attract bees. Echinacea Tennesseensis will attract birds, bees and butterflies.
· 19
Mignotette. There are HA, HHA and Perennial members of this family. They are sweetly scented and will attract and feed your bees, especially Reseda lutea.
· 20
Thrift, or Sea Pink (HP) is a great plant for a rock garden, trough or wall. Holding its bright pink flowers well above the grass-like foliage, it will cheer your garden and make the bees come back for more! Give it well drained condiitons and lots of sun.
· 21
Sedums are also excellent plants for rock gardens and walls. There are many to choose from, but avoid Sedum Spectabilis Autumn Joy if you’re planting for bees. Biting stonecrop and English stonecrop (sedums acre and anglicum). are natives, and great for bees.
· 22
Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus) (HB) are fantastic flowers for bees. An old cottage garden favourite, bees are attracted to the pink or white flowers and we love the perfume! They are members of the dianthus family, as are Pinks and Carnations, all of which are good for the bees.
· 23
Monarda (Bergamot) (HP) This is the herb that flavours Earl Grey tea, but the bees love its flowers for pollen and nectar. Its folk name in the Uk is bee balm. It likes a moist but not wet soil and can cope with a bit of shade. Share it with the bees! Bergamot tea is a herbal treat in itself. Just pour boiling water on the leaves and allow about ten minutes before drinking.
· 24
Cornflower (HA) Easy to grow, cheap and cheerful, cornflowers are another cottage garden favourite. Thier blue flowers act like a bee magnet. Grow in as large a group as you have the space for. This makes it easier for the bees to spot them and saves them flying around more than necessary. It’s easy to save seed from one year to the next, too.
· 25
Poppies (HA-HP) All poppies are attractive to bees, and are laden with pollen in nice open flowers. Very easy to grow, especially the annual kinds, and easy to save seeds to sow next year. Enjoy their delicate petals while your bees enjoy a feast.
· 26
Verbena Bonariensis (HP) a tall, delicate looking perennial with purple/mauve flowers that add a tropical feel to your borders. This is easy to grow from seed and sown early enough will flower in its first year. One not to do without!
· 27
Snapdragons (Antirrhinum) (HHA) Plenty of choice in heights and colours. Have you ever watched a bee enter and leave a snapdragon? Their weight pulls the lower part of the petal down so they can get inside for their food, and you can hear them buzzing while they are in there. Lovely to watch.
· 28
Ageratum (HHA) Easy to grow, with heads of blue flowers and another member of the compositae family, so lots of food on one flower head. This is one of my favorite annuals in the garden. Just don’t plant out until all danger of frost has passed and dead head for more flowers.
· 29
Echinops (globe thistle) (HP) This lovely blue thistle is very ornamental, even when not in flower, standing about 36? tall. Bees and butterflies love the flowers which provide plenty of nectar. Easy to grow from seed and will come back year after year.
· 30
Digitalis (foxglove) (HB) Foxgloves make great food for bees. As they are poisonous, protect children from them and handle wearing gloves. As long as these precautions are taken these are wonderful plants for the garden and the bees. A woodland plant, they’re useful for a shady spot.

[read original post via naturalcuresnotmedicine.com]

Read full story · Posted in Yay Bees