What to Ask, How to Find the Best Local Honey for Your Health

by Rebecca Conroy, Urban Beekeeper January 30, 2014

Local honey
The benefits of local honey are widely known, especially for boosting of the immune system and keeping allergies at bay, but is the local honey you are eating providing these full benefits?

Traditionally bees were kept in a completely natural, nontoxic manner, but this began to change as recently as 1987.

This was when the varroa mite arrived in the United States. The varroa mite lives on bees like a tick, it weakens them and can infest a hive to the point where it dies. For some beekeepers, avoiding infestation started them on a downward slide of chemical use inside bee hives.

At first, this may not seem to make sense – chemicals to kill insects put inside a box full of honeybees, which are of course, insects themselves!

However, beekeepers were losing hives and they were scared.

The first mite-killing pesticide beekeepers tried worked wonders but, as often happens, the effectiveness didn’t last long and more chemicals came along. Over the past couple of decades, keeping mites at bay with whatever chemical concoctions are working at the moment seems to have changed the culture of beekeeping to the point where many beekeepers now use chemicals and other treatments extensively in their hive management.

Here are some management techniques and practices used by most big commercial beekeepers and, surprisingly, many small beekeepers too:

  • Pesticides in their hives to kill varroa mites, small hive beetles, and wax moths.
  • Antibiotics in their hives, often as a preventive.
  • Plastic foundation for the bees to build comb on, rather than beeswax and wood.
  • Placing hives on conventional farms for pollination of crops.
  • Feeding a pollen substitute which is GMO soy and powdered sugar – this is to increase the hives population at unnatural times in the season so they will be ready for pollination.
  • Feeding sugar water or GMO corn syrup — also to artificially increase bee populations for pollination or because they took too much honey and the bees need extra food – if they are not careful this will end up in the honey and, just like for us, this cannot be healthy food for the bees.

Prior to keeping bees, I did not know that it was common for beekeepers to manage their hives with the techniques above. Now I know that it is extremely common, even among my small scale beekeeper friends.

I have chosen not to do this and use no treatments in my hives.

Do my hives survive?

Yes!

I do experience some loss but no more than other local beekeepers who use chemical treatments, antibiotics and/or GMO pollen substitutes. It is possible to raise bees naturally, and there is a small, but hopefully growing, movement of treatment-free beekeepers. By carefully sourcing your honey you can support and encourage this movement.

How to Source the Best Local Honey Possible

So, how can you source the best local honey?

bees 2_mini (1)Know your beekeeper!! There is no substitute for this step in finding the healthiest local honey possible.

Where do you find a beekeeper? That can be a treasure hunt.

One place is to check your local farmers market. Often, however, you will find a retailer there who buys local honey from beekeepers wholesale and bottles it to resell so be sure to ask if they are beekeepers and selling only their own honey.

Another place will be through your local beekeeping association; these generally have websites and monthly meetings. Go to a meeting and ask around, find the one with hives closest to your home and then ask them some questions about how they keep their bees.

Important Questions to ask your Prospective Beekeeper

  • Where are your bees located? (The closer to your home the better.)
  • Do you put bees on pollination?
  • Do you feed your bees sugar or pollen substitute?
  • How do you treat for varroa mites?
  • Do you use antibiotics preemptively? Have you had to use them?
  • Do you treat for small hive beetles or wax moths? How?
  • What kind of foundation do you use? (Options are: plastic, wax, or none)
  • Do you heat your honey to bottle it? How do you filter your honey?

Which Local Honey to Buy?

The absolute best local honey would come from YOU keeping bees in your own backyard. With advice and support from your local beekeeping association it isn’t much harder than growing a garden, at least where I live in Florida; actually it takes less time and space.

Bees in your yard will visit flowers within an 80 square mile area (5 mile radius) around your home; they are intricately connected to the environment and benefit your local ecosystem.

The next best is local honey directly from a beekeeper in your area who uses no chemicals or other treatments, does not feed or move their bees, does not filter or heat their honey, uses wooden frames and natural wax foundation and has bee hives within 5 miles of your home. If you can’t find all that aim for meeting at least some of these criteria.

You have to weigh this for yourself. If you have a neighbor with bees but they use some treatments, that honey might be best for you because those bees are harvesting from your environment rather than honey from a completely treatment-free beekeeper an hour or two away.

I love bees and I know they can thrive without treatments. If you are actively promoting your health through nutrient dense foods and using honey as medicine it is important to know this information about how honey is produced. You can carefully source your honey just as you do other precious foods or, better yet, raise your own!

About the Author

Rebecca ConroyRebecca Conroy is an urban beekeeper of 15-20 hives in Pinellas County Florida and raises honeybees naturally without any chemical treatments in the hives, artificial feeding of the bees, or processing of the honey. Using the chemical free beeswax her bees produce she makes soaps, balms, and healing salves. One of her great joys is supporting a vibrant local community.

She started and runs a monthly Pinellas Beekeepers group for new and experienced beekeepers to learn from each other which has grown to over 60 members. Rebecca is also a teacher of natural living skills such as beekeeping, fermenting foods and homemade body care; is vice-president of the Florida Herb Society; and new partner in managing the Indian Rocks Beach food co-op.

Sources: 

Varroa destructor 

IPM 6 The Arsenal: Our Choice of Chemical Weapons

The Practical Beekeeper, Beekeeping Naturally by Michael Bush

Food Safety News: Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey

Caution In The Use of Chemicals, Drugs, and Antibiotics (in bee hives)

Florida State Beekeeping Local Associations

Rules for keeping bees in a Florida backyard

 

Comments (43)

  1. I bought some raw, forest honey from local man, not filtered yet, there are some cyrstalized things, might be the pollen. Rebecca, How to filter honey? Seems its quite dirty inside my honey plastic bottles.

    Reply
    • Honey will naturally crystalize over time. You can place the jar into a pan of warm water, 100-110 F and it will melt back into liquid honey. If it still has stuff it in it, perhaps pieces of wax or random bee parts you can strain it through a stainless steel strainer.

      Reply
  2. Danette Rieckhoff via Facebook April 12, 2014 at 11:53 pm

    Janis Lyskawa check this out. Laura has been taking a little raw honey and it’s been helping her allergies. I’ve never heard of this.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Beekeepers Honey Secrets | Beekeeping Made Easy for Beginners

  4. Pingback: Feed The Beekeepers, Buy Raw Honey | Beekeeping Made Easy for Beginners

  5. The only way to find best local honey is to search in the areas having flower plantations. Many beekeepers start a farm near flower plantation. In my opinion Manuka honey is the best type of natural honey. Natural honey consist more amount of anti-fungal properties than any other type of honey.

    Reply
  6. Hey Rebecca,
    Great article, do you think honey that is certified organic includes some of these practices, even if the only ingredient listed on the bottle is 100% pure honey?
    Austin

    Reply
  7. I use coconut oil melted , a piece of paper towel soaked in this….place the towel in second box and the bees will take it out of the hive. In the meantime, the bees get this oil on
    themselves and others will groom each other and get rid of mites.

    Reply
  8. Pingback: Brushy Mountain bee farm Coupon Code

  9. Lenita Wall via Facebook January 31, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Another thing to watch for is that some bee owners buy 55 gal. drums of high fructose corn syrup, water it down some and feed the bees close to the hives. The bees don’t have to travel very far, so produce more.

    Reply
  10. We started keeping bees a couple of years ago… they are absolutely fascinating.

    I signed my husband up for a beekeeping course a number of years ago. We put a hive in our backyard. He ended up traveling for business and one day I heard this odd sound and looked out the window… the hive was swarming.. That was my introduction to beekeeping! (remember he took the class, I didn’t). With the help of another beekeeper we managed to capture the swarm… the temporary box we put them in wasn’t big enough as they swarmed the next day! (so much for what they teach in class about hives not swarming in their first year!) I then signed up for a beekeeping class as soon as they were open for enrollment. I was absolutely shocked at what I learned about how unnatural so much of the beekeeping process was.

    A few months into my class a local environment group sponsored a movie on bees at our local health food store. They had a “natural” beekeeper there who claimed to treat his bees naturally. When I asked him if he fed his bees (yes) and what he fed them… he replied corn syrup! He tried to tell me that was all natural and in the course of the conversation I learned he had no idea what a GMO was. His mentor was teaching classes locally on natural beekeeping where he advocated using essential oils instead of pesticides. I signed up for his class for a different perspective than what I was getting from the local beekeeping association. At one of the meetings he discussed using essential oils to calm the bees but he also talked about making “vitamin patties” as extra food in the winter. He talked about the different essential oils he used to keep them strong and healthy and kept stressing how whatever blend of oils we used they couldn’t exceed 3%… then he proceeded to tell us he put this “vitamin” in a base of Crisco! He really thought he was being healthy and thought he was a natural beekeeper and he was teaching other to do the same thing! So all that to say, it’s really important to ask questions, lots of questions, to make sure you understand exactly what the beekeeper is feeding the bees and how the bees are being cared for.

    Like the author said, the best honey comes from hives you keep yourself. I had no idea about what was potentially in the honey we bought until we started beekeeping… now I can’t imagine consuming honey that doesn’t come from our own hives!

    Reply
    • Hi Barbara,
      That is exactly the type of thing I have encountered. Beekeepers are a really wonderful bunch and I have learned so much about bees from many of them but they are also people living in our society often still eating and taking the mainstream foods and medicines and it spills over into how they raise bees. My loved mentor understood bees in a beautiful way but he wouldn’t think twice about eating marshmallow fluff and conventional hotdogs :)
      Rebecca

      Reply
  11. There is nothing good about honey from a nutritional point of view. Honey is a cross between table sugar and high fructose corn syrup in terms of its sugar composition. 46% glucose 50% fructose 3% galactose. It sure taste good. Just read the book “Primal Body Primal Mind” by Nora Gedgaudas.

    Reply
  12. Pingback: LOCAL HONEY | sondasmcschatter

  13. where can i get honey from without all the chemical in it
    I have been using really raw honey and like it, but what do you
    recommend. I live in anoka mn 55433
    John

    Reply
  14. Do you mind if I quote a few of your articles
    as long as I provide credit and sources back to your
    site? My blog is in the exact same area of interest as
    yours and my users would truly benefit from some of the information you provide here.
    Please let me know if this ok with you. Regards!
    health hazards\’s last post: health hazards

    Reply
  15. Rebecca, thank you for writing this informative article. I too, was shocked when I found out about the typical beekeeping practices of even individual beekeepers. I also do not use any antibiotics or anything artificial to counter disease in my hives. Initially I began using plastic frames, but have come to realize that the bees do not like them and they are not natural. Unfortunately when you’re first starting out, you’re told that many things are okay and then you learn your own way of doing things. Something you might be interested in, if you’re not already familiar with Gunther Hauk’s work, is the site http://www.spikenardfarm.org. I have been using his biodynamic medicinal teas which I combine with honey for the bees to strengthen their immune system and it has worked well. I also do not use sugar water to feed my bees. If it’s not good for humans, how could it be good for the bees? If you’re interested, I have also written some blogs about my beekeeping experiences. They have taught me so much. Thank you for writing and helping the bees!

    Reply
  16. I also live in FL, Space Coast, and would love to keep bees, but we live in an HOA. If we can ever manage to figure out how to sell our house without a loss, we’ll be out of there! Glad to hear you have a great hive!

    Reply
  17. Pingback: What to Ask, How to Find the Best Local Honey for Your Health » Nourishing News

  18. Rebecca,

    Very interesting article. We used to get our local honey from a beekeeper who used garlic powder to sprinkle on his bees in place of a pesticide to get rid of the mites. He found that by sprinkling the garlic powder on the bees, they would instinctively try to scratch it off and therefore would scratch the mites off at the same time. What do you think?

    Kathy

    Reply
    • Kathy,
      I have not heard of using garlic though some beekeepers sprinkle powdered sugar in the same way to get the bees to clean off the mites – garlic seems a much better choice. I personally try to avoid adding anything foreign to the hive because I think the bees know best and I don’t want to mess things up for them. There are some other things I use for mites that seem to work for me.
      Rebecca

      Reply
        • I use a bunch of techniques to help with mites. I think the most effective is to split my hives and let the bees raise a new queen in the stronger side; this gives a break in the cycle of baby bees being raised and since varroa mites need bee larvae to reproduce not having them for a time reduces the population of mites. The other main things I do are use screen bottom boards and have small cell bees (which are said to spend a shorter time as larvae).

          Reply

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Login to your account

Can't remember your Password ?

Register for this site!