This compilation of frequently asked questions is intended to help you gain knowledge on the honey tthat you purchase and on honey bees in general. Keep checking back, as I will continue to add content.
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There are particles in the honey – what is it?
My honey is coarsely filtered, and it is raw, meaning that it is not heated and nothing is added. So, particles can be present. Some particles could be crystals of honey but normally these will be easy to identify. Other types particles are small pieces of comb that come from the extraction process of getting the honey out of the comb. If this concerns you then consider comb honey which has never been touched by human hands. What you get is what the bees actually created and deposited the honey in the cells of comb.
Just what is a honey bees stinging behavior?
Most times when bees are about ready to sting, you will be “bumped” by one or a few. This is their system of warning you to stay away.
I have been stung near the hives by what I call a kamikaze bee. I am, say, 20 feet from the hives, just standing there and this type of bee will not mess around and drill me. Normally this sting is on my face before I have put on my veil. It was determined to die to make sure I knew to stay away from their home. This does not happen very often but when it does, it totally surprises you. Also, any stings on the face are the most painful.
In, say, 99.99% of the time, honey bees that are focused on gathering nectar will not be interested in you at all. Also, if they are in their “robbing” mode, they are not a threat at all. These bees are what I call desperado bees - they are deserate for a source of nectar or honey. This is the situation where honey was dripped, or a frame of honey was left open away from a hive and bees are swarming it.
Finally, swarming bees will not normally sting. You can stand in the middle of a flying swarm and a few may land on you, but they will not sting. When a swarm leaves a hive the bees fill themselves with honey. They are happy and are focused on finding a new home.
What can I do if there is a swarm of honey bees at my place?
First of all, make sure they are honey bees. If the bees are in a cluster like the picture here then they are definitely honey bees. If they have their hive in the walls of a building, then make sure the bees flying in and out of the hive entrance look like the single picture of a honey bee here.
It is important to understand that all healthy hives will swarm unless the hive is managed by a beekeeper that knows how to do it. This is the way bees populate new territory. The hive grows larger very fast in the spring. It gets so big that they outgrow their home. Normally, the old queen will take a bunch (but not all) of bees with her and go to a new location. She will have left a replacement queen so the original hive will survive and grow.
If the swarm is in a cluster hanging somewhere like in a tree or on a fence, then they will probably leave within a day and sometimes even within an hour or two. However, I have seen them hang as a cluster for over 8 days. The cluster of bees has scout bees out looking for a new home. When they move, the scouts have most likely found a location to set up their new home and all will go to it. It will most likely be within a mile or so of where the cluster is. It is an amazing sight to witness the movement and arrival of a swarm to a new location. IT IS NATURE IN ITS GLORY!! Please refer to my video here.
The spring/summer of 2020 I caught 32 swarms, either by catching the cluster that is hanging or the bees entered one of my bait hives or swarm traps. So, if you see a cluster hanging, call me on my cell phone – that number is 515/231-0215. Depending on where the swarm is – I may come, or I will call someone that is closer.
Unfortunately, most swarms that are left to relocate in a new location in the Midwest do not survive due to an introduced pest called the Varroa mite. The mites parasitize the bees so they cannot survive our harsh winters. However, bees that are caught and placed in hives have a much better chance of surviving due to good hive management which can include organic mite treatments.
I’ve heard that I should not feed honey to babies under 1 year of age. Why is this?
Clostridium bacteria that cause infant botulism usually thrive in soil and dust. It can contaminate some foods like honey. This is rare but it can occur. Remember that my honey is natural and raw so this is a good rule to follow. This toxin will not be a problem for any child or adult over 1 year of age as we have a natural immunity that we developed as an infant.
I see that you offer comb honey for sale. What is it?
Bees build comb for the Queen to lay eggs into and to hold the honey for their future consumption. The comb consists of wax that the bees produce a lot of. In the spring when the queen is laying a lot of eggs and there is high amount of nectar flow the bees build comb fast. Freshly built comb where honey is stored is almost white most of the time. Sometimes it will be darker especially near the brood area (where the babies are raised).
There are several ways to harvest honey from the hive. The most frequent and easiest for most beeks is to take the frames of comb that the honey has been deposited into and remove the cappings. Once the cappings are cut off then the honey can be extracted from the comb. Most of us do this with a centrifuge like machine called an extractor.
The other way to harvest the honey is to remove the comb with honey still inside it. The comb is still intact, and honey is not processed (touched) by human hands. Beeks can do this by setting up the frame in such a way that the comb can be cut out of it -- this is called cut comb. Another way is to add a special frame that the bees can build comb in that frame. The frame and comb are sold as a unit. The most popular style of this type is called Ross Rounds. This is how I set up my comb honey hives. So, on my Products page it is called simply comb honey. As I say on the packaging, human hands have not touched nor handled the actual honey in any way. You cannot find a purer form of honey. Even though my extracted honey is natural, pure and raw -- comb honey is even more natural, pure and talk about raw.
Finally, comb honey can be sold as chunk honey. This is both extracted honey and comb honey combined. So, you have the best qualities of both.
Honey Bee Decline
As a beekeeper, what do I have to do to keep my hives alive?
There a lot of things that must be done. They are;
• They need enough honey stored in the hive to overwinter.
• The Varroa mite needs to be controlled
• The hive needs to be off the ground to allow good ventilation.
• Protection from mouse invasion during the winter.
• Use different locations to place hives, if you can find one or two.
• Good apiary location – see “requirements of a good location” in these FAQ's.
• Timing of mite treatments, supplemental feeding is critical.
• Do not accidently kill the queen or drop her on the ground outside the hive.
• Do timely splits on the hives in the spring.
• Watch for robbing behavior. Move weak hives away from strong ones or add brood to weak hives.
• Do not “teach” bees robbing behavior.
• Find a good mentor.
• Use clean hive equipment.
Why do bees sting? Simple question but it deserves an answer.
They sting to protect themselves or protect their hive. In about 95% of the times that people get stung is when they are “near” the entrance to a bee hive. There are guard bees that their primary role is to protect the hive. So, how close is too close? Generally speaking, if you stay 15 to 20 feet from the entrance then the bees will not be threatened by you and you are “safe”. However, if the bees have been harassed by an animal like a skunk clawing at their entrance or a beekeeper that was just in the hive – then they can attack much further out from their hive. Mowing grass closer than 20 feet to the entrance will mostly likely cause them to defend.
Large mature hives have more to defend so they can be more aggressive.
Of course, if you accidently step on one or something similar, they will sting.
Honey Bee Decline
I have heard that all bee populations including honey bees are declining – is this really the case and, if so, why?
Yes, it is. Honey bees have recently gotten a lot of attention to this and you may have heard of Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD. This is where an entire hive dies, and the reason is difficult to explain. There is more than one reason why this is happening. The causes can be loss of habitat, heavy parasite/virus infestations, increased use of pesticides/ fungicides and herbicides. It is a complicated subject that is getting a lot of attention. We cannot let this to continue and all those reasons need to be reversed.
Our food supply will be jeopardy if this trend continues. Bees pollinate the majority of our foods!!
The honey is darker than others – why is this?
There are several factors that will determine the color of honey. Honey will naturally darken over time. There is nothing wrong with it. Another factor that determines color is the source of nectar. Dutch clover honey is naturally light in color but buckwheat honey in naturally very dark. The flavor of honey is determined by the nectar source. My honey is from all sources of nectar but it is mostly light in color. Finally, if honey is heated to hot for a period it will be darker. I keep my honey that I am about ready to bottle at 90 degrees F. It will not darken at this temp. It is also easier to dispense when it is this warm. Remember hive temps during the summer are at about 95 so keeping honey at this temperature is ideal.
Wanting Hives at Your Place
I would like to have honey bee hives at my place - are you interested, or do you know of anyone else that is interested?
Right now I have enough locations to place my hives. If for some reason I would want another, it would need to be near (within a few miles) my locations now. Those locations are all near Ames and NW of Ames for 18 miles. I may know of another beekeeper that may need a new apiary location so let me know where you live and a description of your property. You can contact me through the Contact Info tab on this website.
What are good locations to place hives?
Requirements of a good location are as follows;
• Good forage ground for honey bees which is lots of timber, river/creek valleys and prairie. A good mixture of them is ideal. Tilled ground consisting of row crops is not what bees want. Some is okay, however.
• Protection from the wind. Ideally, protection from all directions but in particular from the NW which are normally the most brutal during the winter.
• Good exposure to the sun.
• Not in an area where it can flood.
• Good access with a vehicle -- honey bee hives and equipment are heavy.
• Be willing to have the beekeeper have regular access sometimes on a daily basis for periods of time.
• Be willing to accept honey for the curtesy of the permission. Of course, everything that needs pollinating will be and more. Yields of fruits and vegetables will be off the charts. :-)
Why do some people do not react much to a sting while others will have to go to the hospital?
This is due to our immune system and how we are sensitized to bee venom. Genetically we are all different and what we have been exposed to in our lifetimes also will affect how we react to stings. People that get stung a lot will generally not react severely to stings. They have done studies of people that get stung over, say, 200 times/year will most likely never react severely to stings. Their immune system has developed enough antibodies against the venom. However, if a person only gets stung a few times a year – it is possible, they can develop what they call an anaphylactic reaction to bee venom. This is where you quickly need to get the person to the hospital. Of course, there are exceptions to the above but normally this is what is possible.
I have known good friends that started keeping bees without adverse reactions to venom. However, after only a few years they started to have severe reactions. Either they had to give up keeping bees or they had the bee venom therapy given to them so they can develop the proper antibodies, so they do not react.
Commercial beekeepers and some of us sideliners, like myself will get stung every day while tending to the bees. In my own case, I will get 1 to 5 stings a day normally. This number depends on how much protective gear I put on. If I completely suit up with everything protected, then it is unusual for me to get stung. BUT even then, I still can get stung. For example, while taking off my protective clothing, I got stung by a bee that got stuck in a fold of the clothing. I’ve even gotten stung eating lunch in the house by a bee that got caught in my hair.
Some beekeepers keep an antihistamine like EpiPen (epinephrine in a syringe) or even some Benadryl in their vehicle for an emergency if someone that is close has a severe reaction. The EpiPens need a prescription to get one. They are also so expensive and have a self-life that I do not carry one. The best option is to get the person that is having the reaction to a hospital immediately.
So, the moral of this explanation is to expect to get stung if you keep bees. If you cannot handle the thought of getting stung, then keeping bees may not be the hobby or profession for you.
How do you eat comb honey?
The most popular way to eat comb honey is spreading it on something warm or hot. Freshly made corn bread, pancakes or toast are popular. Combine with some jam -- it cannot get any better!! Spreading it on crackers is popular as well. You will be eating both the wax and honey together. The wax can be chewed like gum and swallowed or spit out. It does provide roughage :-)
What affects the rate of crystallization of honey?
Different nectar sources can determine the rate of crystallization. Also, if you keep the honey at cool temps (35 to 60 degrees F) then crystals will form faster. The colder the temperatures, the faster the crystallization. You can freeze your liquid honey or even your comb honey to keep it from crystallizing.
Glass or Plastic Containers
You have honey that is available in either glass containers or plastic. What is the best to use?
Most of the answer to this is what you prefer. Some people do not trust the possible chemicals that may be in plastic. The plastic that is used in all my containers is BPA Free. I trust this plastic as being okay to hold honey but many people do not.
Honey in a glass container really shows off the beauty of it's golden hue. Some of the glass containers that I offer are very unique and make excellent gifts. Glass is also more easily recycled than plastic so a lot of people prefer that as well. These containers cost more so I have to charge a bit more for the honey.
Some of the popularity of plastic squeeze bottles is due to the ease of dispensing the honey. There is a pour spout on most of them and it can be easily dispensed. Glass containers requires the pouring of the honey into another container in order to efficiently dispense small quantities.
I have heard that a honey bee will die after it stings a person – is this true?
Yes, that is true. The stinger has barbs on it and will stay imbedded after the bee flies off. Because of this the end of the abdomen of the bee pulls out and the bee dies. Other types of bees do not normally die. Wasps and bumblebees are good examples.
How do you dissolve the crystallized honey?
Warm water to 150 degrees F. Place your bottle of honey in it and let it come to room temperature. I have used hot water out of the hot faucet and that worked. How good this works depends on the temperature setting of your hot water heater. If it does not work, then the water was not hot enough. If you are interested in preserving your label on the bottle of honey, then place the bottle in a plastic bag and then place that in the hot water. If the bottle is sealed, then make sure it is unsealed before you warm the honey, as you could break the bottle since the honey will expand when warmed. Never microwave honey.
My honey crystallized, is it still good?
There is actually nothing wrong with it. If your honey crystallized this indicates that it is pure honey. If you have honey that has never crystallized, then it has been altered in some way. Either by heating too hot or it may have been adulterated. Some unethical honey suppliers will add rice syrup or other additives so they can reduce their costs.