Yet one more reason why growing your own is always better

Honey is beginning to…

Rather, I should say “honey” is beginning to show up on your grocery shelf that most likely isn’t real honey.

Years ago the Chinese government began a program of heavy subsidy to its honey producers. The result was that a tremendous amount of extremely cheap honey was being dumped into the U.S. market. The honey producers lobby took two steps: they asked the federal government to put a steep tariff on Chinese honey (so that U.S. producers wouldn’t be run out of business), and they began having Chinese honey tested for content and purity.

Investigators discovered that most Chinese honey was heavily laced with antibiotics (some of them illegal in the U.S.), and that what was often labelled “honey” was actually the result of feeding the bees high-fructose corn syrup instead of letting the bees forage for wildflowers and cultivated plants.

And now another discovery has been made: a lot of Chinese honey (and honey from unknown origins and packed by U.S. companies) now contains no pollen.

The official excuse is that American tastes demand crystalline-clear product, and the lack of pollen is the result of a high-pressure filtering process. The more likely reason is that such honey comes from bees that never see a flower in their six-week-long lives, and whose origin now cannot be determined.

Some interesting discoveries were made by Vaughan Bryant, a melissopalynologist from Texas A&M University:

  • 76% of samples bought at groceries had all the pollen removed, The stores include TOP Food, Safeway, Giant Eagle, QFC, Kroger, Metro Market, Harris Teeter, A&P, Stop & Shop, and King Soopers.
  • 100% of the honey sampled from drugstores like Walgreens, Rite-Aid, and CVS Pharmacy had no pollen.
  • 77% of the honey sampled from big box stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Target, and H-E-B had the pollen filtered out.
  • 100% of the honey packaged in the small individual service portions from Smucker, McDonald’s, and KFC had no pollen.
  • Every sample bought at farmers markets, co-ops and “natural” stores like PCC and Trader Joe’s had the full, anticipated, amount of pollen.

Honey without pollen cannot be traced to its origin, and in truth it cannot be confirmed as to whether such material came from bees feeding on plants or bees feeding from buckets of high-fructose corn syrup. You can’t even prove it is honey at all.

The lesson here is that just like any other pursuit of quality food, whether it be honey or meat or produce or whatever, it is always best to buy local, from someone you trust.

As Michael Pollan has said, “Cheap food is an illusion. The real cost of the food is paid somewhere.”

About these ads

“Americans fear only one thing: inconvenience.”

This is a quote from the movie Fresh, which concerns itself with…well, take a look-see for yourself:

There is a growing movement to take back the production of food to move it back to where it should be: local or homegrown. Mass-produced food is an abomination because of the scale required to do the mass production; in an attempt to make cheap food, you get cheap food.

When you buy food that way, it tends to be less processed, fertilized and cultivated more naturally, and raised with less poison applied to it (pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides are nothing short of poison).

We grow some of our vegetables, herbs, and some of our own fruit (apples, plums, and grapes–Minnesota is hell on fruit blossoms, and the hardy varieties of apricots, peaches, and cherries just can’t beat our late frosts). We make our own honey and propolis. What we don’t grow (or grow enough of) we buy at local farmers’ markets when it’s in season.

St. Paul's downtown farmer's market

We’re slowly destroying our front lawn to make way for our gardens. Lawns were originally used to pasture sheep inside secure manor compounds in England; now they’re an affectation that serves absolutely no purpose to pollinators and wildlife, and really only serves to enrich the lawn care industry and people like my ex-neighbor the Lawn Nazi.

Yes, what we’re doing is a highly inconvenient way to make food. It also guarantees the quality of our food, and it’s highly satisfying.

…and that’s good enough.

urban homestead urban homestead urban homestead

“Honey, I’m too tired to get a real job and work at it, since we been taking 3 tons of garden results out of our tiny 0.1 acre garden every year, AND raise pygmy goats, chickens, bees, and that tilapia farm–unbelievable as that may be. How can we make some quick money?”

“Why, Daddy, I’m not sure. We could…we could trademark the term “urban homesteading”! Yes, and then we could make a mint making people think we started the entire urban homesteading movement. Yeah, that’d do it!


“Only what, sweetpea?”

“How do we keep people from using the term “urban homestead” without crediting us? Could we sue ‘em?”

“Naw, sweetpea, we can’t do that. That wouldn’t be nice. We could just send cease and desist letters, only we won’t say ‘cease and desist’. We’d just get some Facebook pages shut down to show how serious we are, and then threaten bloggers with vaguely-worded threats.”

“Dad, can we really say we started the movement? We didn’t start growing garden produce until 1995, and there’s a book out there published in 1975 called Urban Homesteading.”

“We’ll just claim I started the movement, son, and then make myself sound real important. Something like

‘Now a burgeoning lifestyle movement, the modern urban homestead trend can trace its roots back to the the act of a man challenging himself to ever increasing levels of sustainability.’

“That’d be me.”

60,000 stockings to make for Christmas

We set up our two hives today.

Hive #2: how to set up a hive–

How to set up a hive properly

Note the small number of bees flitting about. We got the package nice and wet with sugar syrup, made sure the queen’s package was all the way in the bottom of the bottom brood box before releasing her, and there were very few bees left in the package when we finished.

Hive #1: how NOT to set up a hive–

How NOT to set up a hive

Note the large number of swarming, pissed-off bees. We didn’t wet down the bees enough, and when I released the queen from her package I didn’t have it far enough down into the brood box. She took off like a bee out of hell into the open sky.

(insert sad face here)

The local experts say to wait two or three days, because apparently they do come back sometimes. If they don’t, we’ll have to buy a new queen and slowly introduce her into the hive.

Overall, it was fun and exhilarating! We’re excited, and we hope we can recover hive #1. The apiary is being named the Four Horsemen Apiary, the successful hive is War, and the other hive is Famine. We’ll be setting up Plague and Death next year.

(First) Flight of the (Bumble)Bees

The Fiancé© and I are getting ready to have some new members of the family–40-60,000 of them.

We’ve prepared two new beehives to be installed in the backyard:

The hives are ready to go. We have our Italian bees coming in on April 21st, and except for needing to trim down a excluder bar (one of them is 1/8″ too long) and getting pollen patties (which we’ll get when we pick up the bees from Nature’s Nectar), we’re good to go.

We’re looking for two things from the Four Horsemen Apiary: pollinators for our fruit trees and gardens, and honey. We won’t get any honey this year.

At the rate our very early spring has sprung, we’ll have nectar flowing by the time the bees get here later this month.