Honey supplies

On Friday, my dad and I went down to Thornes of Devon and got a carload of equipment for the summer. Two hives, 9kg of feed, 20kg of smoker fuel, some stands, and other stuff. Thanks to my dad for saving me the considerable costs on pallet shipping!

I was chatting to Dave on the phone, and him and Ⓓ have been down to the hive to check on the new residents. They, like other friends who have passed the apiary, report that there are bees going in and out of all four hives. Apparently, the bees are going to the wrong end of the nuc (ie, the end without an entrance), and flying underneath it to get in. I think when I next go down there I'll turn it around, since there appears to be a revealed preference there!

Also on the phone we talked about how there's a feeling of information overload when inspecting, and how we could try out having a head-mounted video camera so that the inspection can be reviewed later for things like quantities and types of brood and store, and we could just concentrate on the surprising stuff during the actual inspection. I think both of us love technology and there's always a tendency to include it in our beekeeping!

I've been watching the first episode of 'Rotten', Netflix's series on the process of food supply. It's called 'Lawyers, Guns and Honey'. an hour-long documentary focussing on honey.

As well as giving a nice background to beekeeping, it covered a lot of ground about the methods, economics and politics of the honey supply chain.

The documentary begins with the cachet of honey, and the resulting demand and boom of the honey business. With all that demand, there's not enough supply, and honey is cut with cheap substitutes. Earlier in the year, we went to a pollen workshop. For a while now, pollen, along with a bunch of other signs, has been analysed in government and private labs to detect compromised honey, antibiotics, and so on. Because it gives away so much, pollen is filtered by producers practising honey adulteration. There's something of a battle of ingenuity between labs and unscrupulous producers in getting around detection. In recent years, quite advanced technologies like nuclear magnetic resonance are used to detect honey fraud.

Another topic of the film is the effect of industrial bee farming on the bee population, including habitat destruction, monoculture, use of insecticides. I was surprised to learn that two and a half million hives are transported across the USA to California to pollenate almond crops, which are now highly in demand with the popularity of milk substitutes. All the pollinating power of the country thus concentrates into a tiny area of the USA, which should bring out any beekeeper in a cold sweat about disease transmission.

Global economics of course affects bee farming, and the film goes into the history of international tariffs and their avoidance by transshipment. In particular, there is the Alfred L Wolff 'Honeygate' case where US$260 million in fraud was committed by the illegal transshipment of cheap and contaminated honey imports, ultimately from China.

There's also more general stuff on how honey comes about, and the bee life cycle, etc. If you're interested enough in bees to be reading this, it's worth an hour of your time.