What Makes Honey Taste Bland?

I’m asking because I don’t know.

I’m in New Brunswick at the moment. I picked up a jar of honey at a grocery store this morning. The honey is from a local apiary. The label on the honey jar reads “Pure liquid Canadian honey — Canada No. 1 White.” And that means… what exactly? Is the honey pasteurized or heated? Is it ultra-filtered? What does “pure liquid honey” actually mean? Whatever it is, it tastes like melted plastic to me, at least when I compare it to the raw honey from our hives.

What is it that makes grocery store honey, even “pure liquid honey,” taste more like a bottle of Elmer’s Glue than honey? Does heating the honey, whether to pasteurize or clarify it, kill all the goodness in it? Or does large-scale blending of honey from various hives through a single extractor result in a homogenous honey, a honey with a consistent — but bland — flavour?

I don’t know. But I sure do like our honey.

UPDATE (Dec. 09/11): Here are some informed responses to this post (much more informed than me anyway): Honey so bland it’s boring; So, What is Honey, Really? – Part 2; Pasteurizing honey… whatever for?; So, What is Honey, Really? – Part 3. And if you like that, you might also find this interesting: So is it honey or not?

Book Commentary: “The Buzz About Bees”

Jürgen Tautz’s The Buzz About Bees: Biology of a Superorganism is similar to The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum in that it’s full of detailed photographs that will help new beekeepers identify virtually everything that happens inside a honey bee hive.

But it’s not about beekeeping. It’s about the evolution and behaviour of honey bees. I learned much about the behaviour of honey bees from Mark L. Winston’s The Biology of the Honey Bee. That book had me spellbound. The Buzz About Bees (the book deserves a less cutesy title, by the way) goes over some of the same ground, explains a few extra things and presents another means of apprehending the behaviour of honey bees, that is, thinking of the honey bee colony as a single organism: the “superorganism.”

I don’t have time to write a detailed review of the book, but I’ll tell you what I got from reading it.
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Winter Preparations – Part 2: Hive Wrap

We finally got around to wrapping our hives for the winter. Here’s another how-to video narrated by me with a sore throat.

I thought about using corrugated plastic as a type of winter wrap, but I didn’t have time to mess with that, so I stuck with following the traditional roofing felt wrap method. We don’t plan to touch the hives again until late January or early February when we might have to feed them candy cakes and pollen patties. See Wrapping Hives for Winter and Winter Preparations – Part 1 for more info.
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Bring Out Your Dead

For those who haven’t seen it before, here’s a worker bee pulling out a couple corpses from the hive.

Nothing beats the Expulsion of the Drones though.

UPDATE (June 05/14): The original audio for this video, “Bring out your dead, bring out your dead,” was taken from a Monty Python movie and I thought it was funny, but I got a notice that I could violate copyright, so I replaced it with some free ambient music provided by YouTube.

Winter Preparations – Part 1: Insulation and Stuff

It went up to a stifling 11°C yesterday (52°F), so I took the opportunity to insulate our hives for winter and staple on some mouse-proofing mesh. This is as simple as it gets.

Hard insulation installed over winter-positioned inner covers (minus the top covers.)

The inner covers are in the winter position (with the convex side up, a.k.a. the flat side, which is misleading because both sides are flat, but basically you know it’s the winter position because it gives the bees more head space than when the “flat” side is down; anyway…). A piece of hard insulation is installed flat against the top of the inner cover. It covers the hole in the inner cover and you don’t have to make a tunnel for the bees through the insulation or anything because the bees have no problem getting outside through the upper entrance notch in the inner cover. Some beekeepers put duct tape over the inner cover hole so the bees can’t eat away at the insulation, but I didn’t use duct tape last winter and the bees didn’t get hungry for the insulation once. And that’s all there is to it. (See Making Insulated Inner Hive Covers for more info.) Just put the top covers on once the bees get out of the way, and you’re done.

The only problem with this method of insulation is that it doesn’t leave much space under the inner cover for feeding the bees candy cakes or pollen patties in late winter. To make that extra space, all you have to do is install a two or three inch rim (or an eke) under the inner cover. That’s what I plan to do. There are more than a few ways to insulate the hives for winter (moisture quilts, etc.) — and more importantly, to prevent condensation from building up inside the hives. This is just one of them. Along with wrapping the hives, it worked perfectly for us last winter. There are also plenty ways to feed the bees over winter (candy boards, etc.), but I can only talk from my own experience. Okay, then, let’s take a closer look at what I did yesterday…
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Mould on a Honey Frame

We pulled four deep frames of honey from each of our hives this past summer to prevent the queens from becoming honey bound. We stored the frames in a cardboard nuc box and kept them in our house. Later in the fall we fed all but one of the frames back to the bees (see Feeding The Bees Honey Instead of Syrup). This morning I took a look at the remaining deep frame of honey stored in the nuc box and noticed it had mould growing on it.

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Feeding The Bees Honey Instead of Syrup

We harvested more than enough honey to last us until next year, so instead of topping up our hives up with sugar syrup to get them through the winter, we decided to give them back their honey. It saves the bees the trouble of evaporating the syrup down to the consistency of honey; it reduces the risk of condensation building up inside the hive (evaporation creates condensation, especially in cold weather); and it saves us the trouble of having to mix the syrup and mess around with messy feeders — and the honey is much better for the bees than sugar syrup. So if we’re in the position to feed them back their own honey, why not?

We began feeding the bees their own honey from partially capped medium frames that we didn’t harvest from the honey supers. Then we switched to deep frames full of honey that we pulled from the hives earlier in the summer to prevent the queens from becoming honey bound.
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