Royal jelly

So, what is royal jelly?

Royal Jelly
Raw Royal Jelly

Royal jelly, sometimes referred to as the bee milk is a product of the bee and not the flower. It is secreted by the hypopharyngeal glands of young worker bees and fed to the queen and young larvae three days and below.

Under normal circumstances in the hive, this product is fed directly to the queen throughout her life, it is also given for a limited period (three days) to the young larvae of workers and drones. Royal jelly is produced on demand and is not necessarily stored in the hive.

It is only under the circumstance of queen rearing that excess amounts of royal jelly are stored in queen cells to feed the growing queen larvae. This is the process beekeepers are able to exploit to harvest this rare product.

To give you a bit of background understanding of the effect of royal jelly on bees. Queen bees and worker bees are genetically similar, however, they bear significant morphological, developmental, reproductive and behavioral differences. They also have a significant difference in their lifespans and all this can be traced to their diet.

The worker bee larvae are fed on royal jelly only for three days of their lives while the queen larvae are fed on royal jelly throughout their lives. As a result, worker bees have a lifespan of about 60 days while the queen has a lifespan of up to five years.

This discovery elicited human interest in royal jelly with curiosity to find out if this product would have the same effect on humans. This led to the innovations of systems and procedures for production and unlimited trials and diversity in usage.

As a result, chewable royal jelly tablets are in the market for health-conscious individuals who would want to experience the benefits of this rear product.

In the next few paragraphs, I will explore some salient concepts about the royal including its harvesting, composition and health benefits

Royal jelly Harvesting

In order to harvest royal jelly from a bee colony, it is necessary that a queen rearing stimulus is triggered in the colony.

In a queenright colony (a colony with an active queen), grafted royal jelly caps are placed in the honey super. Worker bees will quickly fill the caps with royal jelly to feed the grafted larvae. After three days the caps are retrieved and royal jelly harvested.

The larvae are removed from the caps and royal jelly either scooped out of the caps or aspirated into a holding container.

Unharvested Royal Jelly Caps
Royal Jelly Caps ready for harvesting
Royal jelly harvesting

Composition of royal jelly

Interest in royal jelly has seen many chemical analyses to try to demystify this unusual product.

From the documented literature, royal jelly contains water, protein, sugars, lipids and mineral salts. These may occur within some level of variation but generally, the composition of royal jelly appears stable across regions and bee races.

In freshly harvested royal jelly, water makes up about two-thirds of the composition of royal jelly, however, when considered on dry matter basis, proteins and sugars form the largest proportion.

Some of the major proteins in royal jelly include glycoproteins, free amino acids, and peptides of nitrogenous substances.

All the 29 essential amino acids and their derivatives have been identified in royal jelly, the most important being aspartic acid and glutamic acids.

Free amino acids identified include proline and lysine

A number of enzymes are also present in royal jelly including glucose oxidase, phosphatase, and cholinesterase

Sugars in royal jelly majorly consist of glucose and fructose as in the case of honey, other sugars available in trace quantities may include maltose, trehalose, melibiose, ribose, and erlose

The lipid content of royal jelly is unique, it consists of a large percentage (up to 90%) of unusual fatty acids that do not conform to the carbon chain length of fatty acids from plant or animal origin.

The fatty acids in royal jelly have unusually short carbon chain – 8 to 10 carbon atoms (hydroxy fatty acids or dicarboxylic acids) in contrast to the usual 14 to 20 carbon atoms. These fatty acids are responsible in the main to the major documented biological properties of royal jelly

Royal jelly also contains minerals with some mineral salts are, in descending order: K, Ca, Na, Zn, Fe, Cu, and Mn, with a strong prevalence of potassium (Benfenati et al., 1986).

Several vitamins have also been identified in royal jelly some of which are: thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, niacin, folic acid, inositol, and biotin.

The above highlight gives us the main constituents of royal jelly, several other compounds have been documented which are not covered here, there are other aspects of royal jelly that remain unknown to the analytical science.

Health benefits of royal jelly

Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect

Royal jelly has been shown to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. phenolic compounds, some specific amino acids, and fatty acids are believed to be responsible for this property. Royal jelly reduces the release of proinflammation chemicals from immune cells

Boosts brain function and improves memory

The antioxidant properties of royal jelly provide a protective effect on the brain and nervous tissue. It also lowers the levels of stress hormones and enhances the central nervous system function. thereby alleviating symptoms of depression.

Anti-aging effect

Royal jelly slows the process of aging. It promotes increased collagen production and protects the skin from UV light exposure-related damage.

inclusion of royal jelly in skincare products for topical application promotes healthy younger-looking skin.

Royal jelly is also believed to increase lifespan and improve cognitive function.

Alleviates side effects of cancer treatment

Some cancer treatment procedures like chemotherapy are known to have severe side effects. Royal jelly has been shown for example to reduce chemotherapy-induced heart damage.

It is also effective in preventing mucositis

Lowers blood pressure

Certain specific proteins in royal jelly have been shown to relax the smooth muscles of cells of the blood vessels thereby lowering blood pressure.

When used in combination with other bee products, a significant reduction of blood pressure can be achieved.

Reduces the risk of heart disease

Royal jelly has been proved to have a positive impact on cholesterol thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.

Scientific studies have shown that oral intake of three (3) grams of royal jelly daily reduces bad (LDL) cholesterol by up to 11%.

For more health benefits of royal jelly click on this link.

Conclusion

Royal jelly as a primary bee product has immense medicinal properties that could heal so many of the diseases we suffer today.

Science and technology have availed capacity and means to accurately determine the composition of the product and to mix and manufacture high-quality by-products. This is a great opportunity, therefore, to take full advantage of the solutions nature provides to us and to explore new ways of alternative healthcare.

I invite you to post comments or questions below and don’t fail to contact me should you require any further help with the content of this post or any issue concerning beekeeping.

Thank you

David Palla

dpalla@beesforhelthandwelth.com

Beeswax

This is animal source wax that is produced by bees and used to build combs in the hives. Young worker bees in the hive have a set of eight wax glands on each side of the abdomen. These secrete wax that they use in building combs.

After honey harvest from combs or from the capping of extracted combs, beeswax can be processed. The comb remainders or the capping are boiled in water which is then allowed to cool so that beeswax forms a cake at the surface.

Uses of beeswax

Beeswax can be used in many different ways some of which include:

  • making of cosmetics – creams, lotions, soaps, lip balms etc.
  • making polishes – wood polishes, shoe polishes, and paints
  • used by dentists to fill teeth
  • used for making beeswax candles
  • used in batiks
  • it is also used in beekeeping to make starter combs and comb foundations

 

Bee pollen

Pollen grains are small, male reproduction units (gametophytes) formed in the anthers of the higher flowering plants. One of the target foraging goods for field bee is the pollen.

Bees use pollen as a protein source in their diets and for feeding raising young brood. Pollination is the process by which pollen is transferred onto the stigma of a flower. It can be aided by either wind, water or animals (mostly insects), among which bees are the most important ones.

So what is bee pollen?

Bee pollen is basically pollen grains collected by bees from the field. When bees are collecting pollen from the field, they use special brushes on their hind legs to brush the pollen into the pollen basket or the corbiculae. For the pollen to stick together in the corbiculae, they mix it with nectar or regurgitated honey, it thus forms into pellets. This is the bee pollen and may taste somehow sweet depending on the floral source.

Bee bread

This is a partially fermented pollen mixture stored by bees in the comb. It is the bee pollen from the field that bees have mixed with honey and water, and stored in the comb. It used to feed the young larvae and the young worker bees in the hive.

What is in bee pollen?

The chemical composition of pollen varies greatly among bee plants. Pollen from different regions, therefore, may show variation in quantities of the chemical constituents.

Major components of pollen include proteins and amino acids, lipids and sugars.

Minor components are diverse – essential amino acids, vitamins C, E, B complex (including, niacin, biotin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin (B2), and pyridoxine (B6), minerals K, Na, Ca, Mg, P, S, more than 100 enzymes, carotenoids, and flavonoids.

Of the fatty acids in pollen, palmitic acid is the most important one, followed by myristic, linoleic, oleic, linolenic, stearic acids.

So, is bee pollen good for you?

Pollen has many nutritional and medicinal properties with many high-performing athletes that use pollen attributing their performance to this “miracle food”.

The only downside is that some people are allergic to pollen

Health benefits of bee pollen

Many health benefits have been attributed to pollen, it has been associated with improvement in athletic performance, digestive assimilation, rejuvenation, appetite, hemoglobin content, skin vitality, and sexual prowess.

Pollen has also been associated with the cure of cancer in animals, high blood pressure, male sterility, anemia, ulcers, and nervous and endocrine disorders.

Science has proven the effectiveness of pollen in the treatment of prostate conditions ranging from swelling, infection to cancer. It has also been proven to treat allergies.

How is bee pollen collected?

Pollen is usually collected/harvested at the hive entrance using special devices called pollen traps.

Care should be taken not to collect pollen when there is spraying of crops within a three-kilometer radius of the apiary. This is to avoid contamination of the pollen with pesticides.

After collection, the pollen should be dried very fast to avoid the growth of mold or rapid multiplication of bacteria.

 

Honey quality assurance

Quality is a pertinent aspect for market access for commodities. Food commodities especially, have strict quality requirement for them to access markets given their potential to impact on human health. Honey is a rare high value product that command premium prices in most market and should therefore be assessed against strict quality requirement. Most honey markets like the EU market have prescribed quality requirements that must be met in order to access the market. As a nutritional as well as a medicinal product, the effectiveness and efficacy of honey for the stated roles lies within a narrow compositional boundary which must not be breached.

Laboratory Equipment
Laboratory apparatus

Inherent in its bio-chemical make up is the antibacterial property, reducing the possibility of microbial contamination of honey. It is however vulnerable to contamination or quality breaches from a variety of other sources. Chemical contamination in terms of pesticides and antibiotics, contamination by trace elements and heavy metals, and noxious plant chemical elements can all be traced to the bee foraging environment. Super-normal moister content, hygiene and color distortions, and excess HMF (Hydroxy-methyle-furfural) levels can be traced to poor handling and miss applied management practices. Other sources of honey quality concern include intentional dishonesty under which unscrupulous individuals adulterate honey with sugar, molasses, corn syrup etc with the intent of deceptively selling the product out as honey. Over-feeding bee colonies with sugar syrup especially during late colony build up or honey flow seasons may also result in bees preserving the syrup in combs in form of honey. Bees foraging on sugarcane syrup (especially after cane harvest) are also likely to store the syrup in the combs and produce honey high in sucrose content.

Given the foregoing possibilities, it is very important serious consideration is given to honey quality so that consumers are supplied with authentic high quality honey that meet their expectation and protect them from unnecessary health hazards. In this post I will delve into salient honey quality issues with a view of keeping you well-informed on honey quality

How safe is honey then?

Honey is rich in nutritional and medicinal qualities and can be utilized in different ways to meet the needs of different categories of clientele when used either externally and internally. Given its chemical composition and inherent opportunistic components (e.g. pollen), honey may sometimes exhibit allergic reactions in different individuals. In as much as this may be normal, availability of contaminants in honey or sub-optimal quality status is likely to intensify negative effect and may in some cases lead to acute or chronic health impacts or even resistance to antibiotics (in case of antibiotic availability in honey). International systems of honey trade have therefore set quality parameters to be met for honey to be accepted in the markets. Different regions and marketing blocks e.g. the EU have strict quality requirement with prescribed minimum residue limits (MRLs) for chemical substances in honey.

Honey quality
Lab analysis

Adherence to honey quality is a primary national government concern in most jurisdictions, governments at national or federal levels have developed national honey standards through their respective quality standards bodies. Regional and trading blocks have also developed quality standards reflective the long term average quality parameters for honeys harvested ins such regions under standard management practice. The standards provide guidance e.g. on acceptable moisture content, sugar content etc. Under such jurisdictions, accredited laboratories are identified where honey samples are sent for analysis to determine composition. Deviation from the acceptable honey quality standard leads to failed test result normally accompanied by disqualification from market access.

Market transparency and ease of follow up requires accurate traceability criteria for honey. Countries therefore implement national residue monitoring plans (RMPs). These plan provide detailed procedures for following back the honey to its production source, batch number date harvested and the environmental circumstances under which it was harvested. It also provides details on laboratory analysis results and the testing laboratory or institution. Competence or qualification of laboratories and staff are never under question because most honey testing is done in accredited laboratories with ISO/IEC 17025 Certification (a requirement of the RMP) making the results acceptable all over the world.

The aim of this section is to enlighten you on the honey quality issues but also to alley your concerns or doubts about quality and authenticity of honey whether it is locally produced and marketed or imported.

Bad honey – What causes poor quality?

There are environmental and management factors that contribute to compromised honey quality.

Environmental factors

  1. When bees are foraging on flowers that have been sprayed – traces of pesticides in nectar and pollen of the flower is likely to be transferred by the foraging field bees into the hives. This is likely to end up in honey and may raise residue limits above acceptable levels. It is therefore instructive that a keen beekeeper monitors and understands the foraging environment of the colonies to eliminate possible residue build up in honey. The beekeeper should also raise awareness to his neighbors about safe pesticide use and about the value of bees for crop pollination.
  2. When bees collect animal or human urine with traces of antibiotics
  3. Chemical substances used in the hive to control pests or treat diseases may also accumulate in honey
Liquid honey
Honey extraction

Management factors

  1. Harvesting unripe honey – beekeepers should harvest combs that are at least three quarters capped. Harvesting uncapped honey leads to high moisture content which reduces the quality of honey and makes it susceptible to fermentation. Furthermore, moisture contents above 20% (depending on local honey quality standards) will fail the quality test.
  2. Inappropriate storage of honey – honey is acidic in nature and would naturally react with metallic elements (e.g iron) to form salts. Appropriate storage materials for honey include food grade plastic, stainless steel and aluminum. Drums used in honey export packaging are coated on the inside to prevent chemical reaction with honey. Storing honey in open containers leads to high moisture content, honey is hygroscorpic and will absorb water from the atmosphere leading to high moisture content.
  3. Over heating honey during processing – honey is a highly viscous substance rendering straining very difficult in its basal natural state. It is therefore necessary during processing or refining that regulated temperature increase is carried out. It should therefore be warmed (indirectly) to a temperature of about 45 to 50 degrees Celsius. This reduces the viscosity to a level that allows easy straining. During this process however, if overheating occurs, the simple sugars in honey are converted into a complex chemical substance called HMF (hydroxy-methyle-furfural). High concentration of this substance in honey causes honey darkening and smell of burnt honey. Any amount of HMF above 40ppm in honey sample leads to failed test. It is also the substance used to measure honey freshness. The lower the level, the fresher the honey. Storage temperature above 25 degrees Celsius leads to increase in HMF levels.

Honey analysis – basic honey quality parameters

So how do laboratory technicians determine honey quality?

Honey quality standards prescribe thresholds for various parameters on which to base the test outcomes. In this section, I will briefly look at some basic parameters.

  1. Moisture Content – high moisture content causes fermentation, which is the only biological degradation process to which honey is susceptible. Honey naturally contains traces of yeast which remain dormant under the correct moisture content but is activated if the moisture content rises to certain levels. Should be below 20% inmost regions.
  2. Total reducing sugars (TRS) – the highest proportion of TRS is made up of glucose and fructose. There are however some traces of complex reducing sugars like maltose in varying quantities depending on the floral source of nectar. TRS content should be 65% and above for most honey standards around the world.
  3. Apparent sucrose – this parameter is used in estimating the amount of sucrose in honey. It should be below 5% for most of the honey standards.
  4. Acidity – natural honey is acidic with pH ranges between 6.5 to 3.5. Laboratories will accept acidic concentrations of 40ppm or below
  5. HMF – should be below 40ppm
  6. Residues
    1. Heavy metals – tested using Atomic Absorption Spectrophometer (AAS) or Atomic Emmission Spectrophotometer (AES)
    2. Pesticides and amino acids – tested using High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC)
    3. Vitamins – tested using UV/VIS

Does honey color affect its quality?

Honey comes in a range of colors. The colors may range from colorless, white, amber, dark amber, dark, and even greenish.

Honey colours
Different honey colours

The color is dictated by the floral source of honey and is never a quality indicator.

Different plant flowers give different honey colors and provided it is from a clean environment and is handled properly, it is just as good.

It is also worthy at this to note that different floral sources also produce differences in the organoleptic qualities of honey i.e. the qualities of taste and aroma.

The tastes may range from sweet to bitter honey. Certain flowers may also produce honey that is poisonous or honey with unexpected physiological effect e.g. the mad honey (Duzce region in Turkey).

Beekeepers should therefore be able to know the type of flowers in their locality and the type of honey they produce. This information should be fully disclosed to the buyer before purchase to avoid any unexpected outcome.

In Samburu County in Kenya at a location called for example Wamba for example, local beekeepers have identified a type of flower that produces a highly medicinal honey. The only negative effect is that this honey causes the consumer to pass out for about half an hour, but you wake up thoroughly revitalized.

The point here is to emphasize that different tree flowers produce different types of honey. Regardless of taste or effect, honey quality based on established parameters are not affected by the floral source.

Consumers are therefore advised to get as much information as possible about the honey they intend to buy in case it is some unique honey.

Crystallization – how does honey crystallize?

So your honey has crystallized, does this mean its bad?

Does this mean that its adulterated with sugar?

Is this a sign of expiry?

It is very normal and natural for honey to crystallize. Why? look at it very keenly, honey is the only solution in the world that contains extremely highly solute concentration yet remains in liquid state.

It is therefore a super saturated solution having an overload of invert sugars which would under natural circumstances tend to solidify.

Crystallization is therefore simply the formation of fine glucose crystals as glucose separates from water to form crystals.

 

What causes crystallization

The invert sugars in honey i.e. glucose and Fructose have different solubilities, fructose is more soluble than glucose therefore glucose has a higher tendency to solidify.

The equilibrium therefore between these two sugars play a big role in the process of crystallization and is the reason why honey from some plants crystallize faster than honey from other plants.

Where this equilibrium tilts in favor of glucose, the tendency to crystallize is higher than when the reverse is true.

There are however also some other factors that accelerate the rate of crystallization

  • Temperature – honey does not crystallize in temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius and above 25 degrees Celsius. It crystallizes in the range of temperatures in between but optimal temperatures for crystallization is 12.5 degrees Celsius.
  • Presence of pollen or dust particles in honey – these suspended particles in honey act nucleus to start the formation of crystals
  • Slow stirring accelerates the process of crystallization

 

How to slow honey crystallization

  • Storing honey at an appropriate temperature close to 2 degrees Celsius. Storing honey at temperature close to 25 degrees Celsius will cause high HMF content. This is why long term honey storage is done in cold rooms
  • Use appropriate processing procedure e.g. pressure filtering to avoid suspended particles in honey
  • Warm the honey to e temperature of 45 degrees Celsius, this affects the glucose fructose balance in honey

 

So is crystallization all bad?

On the contrary crystallization is good. The process of crystallization can be harnessed in the honey industry to produce creamed honey, a valued honey product of very high demand. Crystallized honey is also very stable in state and can be stored for a long period without losing its fragile qualities.

Conclusion

Honey quality is a very important consideration for honey marketing. I have endeavored to highlight briefly the main issues concerning this important topic. Consumer awareness in honey quality is more important now than never given the impact of our present choices on human and environmental health and their relation to future trends in sustainability.

I welcome your thoughts and comments on the subject covered in this post or on any related aspect of honey quality.

Should you have any further questions or any issue that may require clarification, don’t hesitate to contact me on dpalla@beesforhealthandwealth.com

Bee propolis

Hello everyone, this is a follow-up post on part one of this topic that I provided in an earlier post.

Today we are going to briefly look at Propolis and royal jelly as part of primary bee products. In an earlier post, we looked at Honey, pollen, and beeswax.

In laying the foundation for further discussion about the bees it is important that fundamental basics are addressed to provide a foundation for further engagement.

The purpose of this post is, therefore, to bring to you a brief introduction of the primary bee products as they will be focused on more deeply going forward

so without any further delay lets get on with the topic of the day

Bee propolis

Bee propolis is the resinous/gummy substance found in a beehive. This substance varies in color from dark to brown and sometimes even yellow.

The variation in color is based on the floral source and so this color variation should be expected across regions and seasons of the year owing to differences in floral resource bases.

Propolis has been shown to have many medicinal properties with some referring to the substance as natural wholesome medicine. Scientific studies have found that propolis is antibacterial, antiviral, antimicrobial, anti-fungal and even anti-parasitic (nematodicidal)

This has led to extensive use of propolis in alternative medicinal use throughout the centuries across many cultures. Various communities have found uses for propolis and have innovated many ways of its utilization

We will in this post give a brief overview of some of the sources of propolis, its components, and health properties.

Where do bees get propolis?

In their natural foraging, bees have been observed to scrap protective resins from the tender parts of flowers and buds of different plants.

They collect this resin and take it back to the hive to be used in various ways in the hive. Some uses to which bees put propolis in the hive are:

  • to line the nest cavities
  • to seal crack and loopholes in the hive
  • to reduce the hive entrances and keep away predators
  • to repair combs
  • to seal off in the hive any dead organism that is too heavy for them to carry out of the hive
  • they mix it with beeswax and use it to seal brood combs

These uses are of significant value to the bee colony as they leverage the antibacterial and anti fungal properties to protect the hive from infection.

During the collection of resins from plant parts, bees masticate the resins thus they get mixed with bee saliva. Propolis is thus partially digested which gives it some of its unique properties.

What is important to note here is that some bees have better propolis collection disposition than others. Generally, Apis mellifera is the only known honey bee species that collect propolis, Apis cerana and other Asian bees do not collect propolis.

Even among the Apis mellifera, some colonies are more ardent at propolis collection than others making propolising quality a clear observable trait that can be used in selection.

What is propolis made of?

There are several compounds in propolis, but these are variable depending on the type of tree bees source it from. It is therefore expected that the precise propolis chemistry will vary between different regions and across different seasons of the year.

However, as a general reference, scientific analysis of propolis reveal a number of compounds in various quantities in propolis:

  • Resins – flavonoids, phenolic acids, and esters
  • waxes and fatty acids
  • Pollen
  • Other organic materials – ketones, lactones, quinones, steroids, benzoic acid, Vitamin B3 and sugars

Health benefits of bee propolis

Bee propolis has bee use over the centuries to mitigate myriad health conditions. Some effects of propolis on human health as demonstrated in various pieces of literature include:

  • anti-diabetic activity
  • anti-rheumatic effects
  • anti-asthmatic effect
  • tissue regeneration
  • support of the pulmonary system
  • inhibition of melanoma and carcinoma cells

Propolis also has a range of anti-oxidants and is though to be irradiation protective.

I invite you post comments or question below, and don’t fail to contact me should you require any further help with the content of this post or any issue concerning beekeeping.

Thanks you

David Palla

dpalla@beesforhelthandwelth.com

 

 

What do bees give us? – Honey

Hey there, today I am going to introduce primary products you will obtain from your beekeeping venture. In this post I will be focusing on honey which is the main product of beekeeping in quantitative terms and in economic value.

Products obtained from a hive may fall into two broad categories; those products that bees collect, transform and deposit into the hive e.g. honey, propolis, and pollen, and products secreted by glands located in the body of the bee e.g. beeswax, royal jelly, and bee venom.

Also, considered under the primary products are the bees themselves in their different castes and stages of development e.g. queens, swarms and larvae.

In this post, I will briefly highlight a few aspects of honey: pollen beeswax, propolis, royal jelly and bee venom will be posted at a later date.

So without any further ado, lets jump right in.

Honey

Honey is among the most popular products of beekeeping. It is actually the most important bee product in terms of quantity and economic value. The current global market for honey runs into billions of dollars, an indication of its value to the global public

Bees on a comb
Worker bees feeding & capping ripe honey

The history of the use of honey is parallel to the history of man and in virtually every culture evidence can be found of its use as a food source and as a symbol employed in religious, magic and therapeutic ceremonies (Cartland, 1970; Crane, 1980; Zwaeneprel, 1984).

What is honey?

According to Codex Alimentarius (1989) “Honey is the natural sweet substance produced by honeybees from the nectar of blossoms or from the secretion of living parts of plants or excretions of plant-sucking insects on the living parts of plants, which honeybees collect, transform and combine with specific substances of their own, store and leave in the honeycomb to ripen and mature.

This definition clearly brings out two types of honey in terms of origin:

1. Blossom honey – this is honey from the nectar of blossoms (flowers) of different varieties of bee plants. Blossom honey can further be divided into two categories:

Monofloral honey – honey from a single dominant floral source e.g. Eucalyptus honey, Manuka honey etc. This type of honey can be realized in large monoculture establishments or in a situation where the flowering pattern of a given bee plant is out of sync with other major bee plants in the region. Note that even though different bee species and races have different foraging range according to their environment and ease of access to floral resources, the average foraging range for purposes of bee management is two to three kilometers.

Polyfloral honey – honey from different floral sources, this is obtained when bees forage on many different types of bee plants flowering at relatively the same period. Kindly note that bee colonies show a high level of fidelity to bee plants in their foraging behavior i.e. they will exhaust a given floral source before moving on to the next but they cannot forage on different bee plants at the same time.

2. Honeydew honey – this is honey that originates from secretions from plant parts other than flowers (e.g. the young tender buds) or excretions from plant-sucking insects on these plant parts. An example here may include pine honey, pine is a non-flowering plant but produces honey of superior organoleptic qualities.

 

How do the bees make honey?

Many love and use honey, but it is also important that they understand exactly how bees make honey from a layman perspective.

So how do bee make honey? It’s simple, worker bees under the category of field bees fly out to look for nectar from flowers. They suck in this nectar into their honey stomach (not the true stomach).

The honey stomach is a storage and transportation bodily compartment provided for the worker (field) bee for purposes of transporting nectar. A field bee can carry up to approximately 60% of her own weight of nectar from field back into the hive, and they do this from dawn to dusk and hence the proverb, “as busy as a bee”.

Once they are back to the hive, the nectar is transferred to several younger worker bees in the hive through a process referred to as “mutual communication” or “trophylaxis”.

These younger worker bees transport this nectar within the hive depositing it in an organized manner into comb cells within the honey storage area of the hive.

What is important to note here is that when this nectar is in the honey stomachs of the bees, several substances are added into it including enzymes (like invertase enzyme) which break down the sugars in nectar (mainly sucrose) into simple sugars (glucose and fructose), and other volatile substances, some of which have never been fully identified with the existing scientific knowledge. These give honey its unique characteristics and render it impossible to produce in the laboratory.

The nectar deposited in the cells has high moisture content (sometimes up to 90%). Bees, therefore, fan their wings in unison, creating an air current that blows away the excess moisture reducing it gradually while the enzymatic action continues.

When the moisture content reduces to about 17.8% (or thereabout) depending on the type of flower, the sucrose content will also have reduced to less than five percent, while the percentage of invert sugars will have increased to more than 65%. Bees then cap these cells and the honey is now ready for harvesting (extracting) and is referred to as ripe honey.

So basically this is how bees make honey as can be explained at the most basic level.

The rule of the thumb when harvesting honey: only harvest combs that are more than 75% capped. If this is not the case, then you are likely to end up with honey with high moisture content (prone to fermentation during storage).

Liquid honey
Honey extraction

 

Characteristics of honey

Honey has unique attributes that make it stand out as a natural product. These attributes may provide valuable insight into the quality and value of honey, and may also act to boost consumer awareness. Processing, value addition, utilization and quality assurance bear significance on the unique qualities of honey. Some of these characteristics are:

Viscosity

Honey is naturally a viscous liquid, especially honey that is freshly harvested and still in the liquid state. Viscosity is the property of a liquid to resist the flow. Viscosity is therefore important during honey processing as it reduces flow during extraction, pumping, filtration, mixing and bottling.

Honey viscosity tends to reduce with the rise in honey temperature. This has been widely used during honey processing. The honey is warmed indirectly in a water bath (using double jacketed stainless steel warmers) to a temperature of about 42 – 45 degrees Celcius. This reduces its viscosity significantly enabling easier filtration.

Some types of honey show properties in terms of viscosity e.g. Heather and Manuka honey are described as thixotrophic, i.e. they are so viscous that they appear gel-like. These honey, however, become more liquid when agitated.

Honey viscosity varies with its composition and water content

Density

Honey is generally denser than water, but density of particular honey depends on its moisture content. This is why it is possible to observe the distinct stratification of honey in large settling tanks. This is because the denser lower moisture content honey settles at the bottom while lighter honey with higher moisture content settles on top of it. This can be solved by thorough mixing (bending) of honey from different sources.

Hygroscopicity

Honey is a hygroscopic substance, this means that it has the ability to draw in moisture from the atmosphere at given levels of humidity. This property becomes important when it comes to honey processing and storage. Exposure to the atmosphere may result in increased moisture content which can reduce honey quality and cause fermentation. This quality is however desirable in end products containing honey e.g. bread and pastry.

Heat conductivity

Honey is a poor conductor of heat. It is therefore very susceptible to overheating form point source heat. This is important to consider when processing as direct heating can lead to rapid overheating at the bottom of the container or point of contact that is heated. This is why honey is warmed indirectly in a water bath. It is also important to consider heat properties of honey, like heat conductivity and heat absorption capacity when designing honey processing equipment.

Comb honey
Comb honey

What Honey is made of? – the composition of honey

Sugars

Sugars constitute the highest solute concentration of honey making up 95 – 99% dry matter content of honey. Predominant are the simple sugars of glucose and fructose that represent 85-95% of sugars. These sugars are therefore responsible for the nutritional and even physical attributes of honey.

Other sugars present in honey include disaccharides (such as sucrose, maltose, and isomaltose), trisaccharides and oligosaccharides. These sugars may not be very important quantitatively, but they are valuable in determining freshness, adulteration and floral origin of honey.

Water

Water is the second most abundant component in honey, it keeps liquid honey in a supersaturated solution. Limited amount of water, 20% or below can be contained in honey without the risk of fermentation. Honey moisture content may depend on a number of factors such as hive internal humidity, condition of harvested honey, exposure during harvesting and processing and even use of wet containers in honey handling.

Organic acids

These occur in minor quantities, gluconic acid which results from the enzymatic breakdown of glucose is the most abundant. Together with other organic acids, they give honey the acidic properties and are responsible for its taste.

Minerals

Different mineral elements exist in honey in trace quantities depending on the floral source and the region. Among these trace elements, potassium seems to be the most abundant.

Other trace elements include nitrogenous substances including enzymes originating from salivary secretions of the honey bee. The main enzymes in honey include the inertase, diastase, and glucose oxidase. The presence of these trace elements is an indicator of honey freshness. They are unique and fragile and can only be found in fresh honey

HMF – hydroxymethylfurfural

HMF is a product of fructose decomposition. It is virtually absent in freshly harvested honey but forms with time during honey storage at temperatures above 25 degrees Celcius. It also results from overheating honey during processing. Care should, therefore, be taken during honey processing to maintain appropriate temperatures.

Honey also contains aromatic substances, the majority of which have not been known, that are responsible for the color and flavor of honey (Organoleptic qualities) and are dependent on the botanical origin of honey.

Honey also contains pharmacologically active substances that vary according to the botanical origin. A few of them may have been identified such as those that cause toxicity in certain kinds of honey. Scientific investigation is however still required to identify the majority of them.

Benefits of honey

So what can honey be used for and why?

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of honey documented by different cultures over centuries.

Nutritional benefits

  • It is a source of instant energy
  • Relieves fatigue and promotes mental efficiency
  • Improves calcium fixation in bones and alleviates anemia and anorexia

    Bee natural honey
    Bee natural honey

Benefits to the digestive system

  • Improves assimilation of nutrients
  • Alleviates chronic and infective intestinal problems such as constipation, duodenal ulcers, and liver disturbances

Benefits to the skin and wound healing

  • Pure unprocessed honey prevents infection, promotes tissue regeneration and prevents scurring
  • Reduces blistering of burns when applied immediately

Benefits to the respiratory system

Honey is a remedy for respiratory tract irritation, it alleviates colds and coughs because of the antibacterial effect and the relaxing nature of honey on the mucosa.

Medicinal benefits of honey

Diabetes – The claim that honey is good for diabetics should be approached with a lot of caution and Doctor’s approval must be sought before the use of honey by a diabetic patient. This is primarily because of the high sugar content for honey.

It has however been proved that honey produces lower blood sugar levels than sucrose in normal healthy individuals

Honey is also believed to normalize kidney function, reduce fever and help with insomnia

It also helps recovery from alcohol intoxication and protects the liver

This provides a brief overview of honey

I welcome you to post comments on the article and contact me if there is anything I can explain further or if there is any way I can help you.

Thank You

David Palla

beesforhealthandwealth.com

Why is beekeeping important? – the sweet stinging facts

Hey everyone, today, I’m going to focus on the importance of beekeeping as an engagement worth venturing into. In the world over, the beekeeping sector is a multi million dollar industry with investment and development levels so advanced, it staggers one’s imagination.

It is very important for the continued growth of the sector that we examine facts explaining why beekeeping is important. By looking at these factors, we are setting up beekeeping beginners for success by providing them with the right drive and motive.

Without wasting any more time lets dive into it.

Beekeeping is a source of employment and income generation opportunity

The beekeeping value chain is rich in opportunities. The need for vast array of actors to make the value chain efficient is in itself proof of the opportunities available.

These opportunities are available to various categories of actors including:

Equipment manufacturers and dealers

The practice of beekeeping requires a range of specialized equipment which demand very specific skills for manufacture.

Once, manufactured, dealers in the same equipment utilize the principles of commerce to avail these equipments to beekeepers worldwide.

Bee equipment manufacture and trade in itself is a multi million dollar industry driven by all levels of players from small scale artisans to massive companies

Beekeepers

Beekeeping is a lucrative adventure with those involved producing high value products for the market. Honey is the major product targeted by most beekeepers and business operators.

Beehives
Keeping bees as a hobby

However other bee products like beeswax, bee pollen, propolis, royal jelly and bee venom have proven to be more lucrative because of their low supply and overwhelming demand. This presents massive opportunity for the discerning beekeeper.

Processors

These are large scale traders that buy raw or semi refined bee products directly from farmers and subject them to processing and refining to add value and enhance marketability.

Most of these are established businesses with solid economic, infrastructural, technological and human resource capacities to develop world-class products from basic bee products.

Most of these companies have wide brand presence e.g. in supermarket shelves and other mass market and even online market outlets

 

Demand for manpower in such businesses create employment opportunities for youths ad other vulnerable groups.

Service providers

This category of players provide essential services to the sector. They include transporters, financial services, insurance, extension and technical support services, training and consultancy.

Some service providers may operate within established government structures and others from private sector based institutions

Bee breeders

In developed economies like Australia, the USA, and Europe, bee breeding is well-established business model in their beekeeping practice.

This is because over the years a lot of scientific research has gone into selecting and improving bee colonies for enhanced productivity. It is for this reason that beekeepers in such jurisdictions get higher yields generally in their beekeeping ventures.

Beekeepers therefore have to buy bees (nuclear colonies) from these breeders to start and sustain their beekeeping

Pollination services

In areas where large scale mono culture is practiced, either for horticultural or leguminous crops, the massive scale of flowering creates an acute demand for pollination services.

For non-self pollinating, pollinator reliant crops, local pollinator populations may not be able to effectively pollinate the crops given the massive scale of floral availability. Framers are under such circumstances forced to source for hire pollination services

This has led to the practice of migratory beekeeping with beekeepers moving their hives from one farm to another and getting paid for the pollination services their bees are providing.

Researchers

These are scientists affiliated to universities and research institutions.

They test and refine the applications of scientific principles to the solution of challenges facing the beekeeping sector or to the improvement of the practice of beekeeping and bee health

Policy makers

Experts and activists from various institutions, both public and private that join to develop guidelines which regulate and enhance growth in the beekeeping sector.

Policy makers operate within well-defined jurisdictions which can be national, regional, continental or global.

We keep bees for food security and environmental sustainability

Pollination

Bee pollination
Bee pollination on sunflower

Pollination services enhance food security, when crops are efficiently pollinated, they have proper seed set; fruit size and shape, and yields are generally higher. Research also points out that efficiently pollinated crops are higher in nutrient content.

Bee pollination in the natural forest ecosystem leads to crossbreeding of plants and trees of the same species leading to hybrid vigor. This conserves floral biodiversity and saves disappearing genes which is a core component of environmental sustainability.

When trees thrive and species are conserved from extinction because of pollination services, they act as carbon sink that removes and excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere therefore contributing to reduction in global warming.

Propagation of bee plants (Api-forestry)

Bees require floral resources of nectar and pollen which they collect and stock in their hives as their food store. Beekeepers are thus mindful to intentionally and consistently propagate plants and trees that are of value to the bees in terms of nectar and pollen provision,

This practices aids and directly contributes to forest cover expansion on the planet.

Empowerment of rural communities

Beekeeping is ideally a rural based activity given the vast resources available for the practice. Vulnerable rural communities can thus leverage the practice and enhance their economic capacity.

This therefore provide economic empowerment which in turn boosts access to food and other livelihood requirements.

Beekeeping is also ideal in providing alternative livelihood to communities whose traditional livelihood has been diminished either by the impacts of climate change or land degradation.

We keep bees to utilize land that is not suitable for arable agriculture

Some land may be unsuitable for arable agriculture and possibly livestock farming. Beekeeping provides a sound alternative as an activity that will thrive in any environment provided water and flowers are available.

Honey
Natural honey

It provides opportunity for profiting off land that would otherwise be considered unprofitable.

Keeping bees in forests also offer means of utilizing forests and profiting from it without felling trees which a sustainable and very viable option in forest utilization.

We keep bees to provide raw materials for alternative healthcare

Bee products are valued for their therapeutic properties and hence medicinal value.

The branch of alternative medicine that deals with therapeutic application of bee products to alleviate health challenges is technically referred to as apitherapy.

This branch of alternative medicine is fairly well-developed in many countries. The apitherapy practice in China for example is highly developed and is valued even higher than the conventional medicine ranking only second to Chinese traditional medicine.

Research has shown that bee products are efficacious in alleviating symptoms of, and managing non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. Research in the US also found that bee venom is potent in destruction of HIV virus.

We keep bees to provide raw materials for beauty and cosmetic products

Bee products can be processed into high value beauty and cosmetic products. Creams, lotions, shampoos, lip balms and face masks made from bee products are extremely effective in skin and hair care.

Anti aging bee venom face mask is very effective at knocking off age from one’s facial appearance

We keep bees to boost pollinator population

There is a global decline in pollinator populations worsened by bee colony collapse disorder (CCD) in the US and Europe.

As strategy to mitigate this trend and arrest the situation before it precipitates into a global crisis, it is incumbent each of us as global citizens to make a positive contribution towards it.

Honey bees and sting-less bees form more than 60% of global pollinator populations. When we keep bee colonies in an area, crops in that particular area benefit from pollination.

The keeping of the honey bees, technically referred to as apiculture, and the keeping of sting sting-less referred to the same way as melliponiculture are key strategies in boosting pollinator populations.

Beekeeping thus gives us an open pathway to make positive contribution towards solving one of the possible impending hindrances to feeding the expanding global population.

As I conclude, these are just but some reasons why we need to keep bees. Th benefits are huge both to the economic welfare of those involved and to the environmental sustainability of our planet.

Avenues for involvement are numerous and the value chain has something for everyone.

Kindly feel free to comment on the post and to let me know if there is something I can help you with in particular.

Thank You

David Palla

beesforhealthandwealth.com

Introduction to the science and art of beekeeping

Hello everyone, welcome to this introductory post on the science and art of beekeeping. In order to keep and manage bees for profits, we need to have a salient understanding of the bee colony organization and behavioral aspects associated with them. Beekeeping beginners for some reason should fundamentally have this knowledge

This is basically because each step and practice applied in managing the bee colony will have a profound impact on the capacity of the colony to survive and thrive in its environment at any given time.

In the natural systems, bees live in nests, while in the man-made beekeeping environment; bees are kept in hives for production, pollination or procreation. It is important that we understand factors that affect bees and that we try as much as possible to mimic their natural environment if we are to optimize on their productivity

Honey bees on a comb
Worker bees on a comb

Before we delve into the behavioral aspects of bees and how we can align our management practices to these behavioral patterns, we may want first to understand the bee as an animal at the individual level, and bee colony as a super organism

Bees as eusocial organisms

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Eusocial species, are any colonial animal species that live in multi-generational family groups in which the vast majority of individuals cooperate to aid relatively few (or even a single) reproductive group members”.

Eusocial organisms like the bee, have highly specialized task differentiation, making them very efficient at resource gathering and colony defense and care of the brood. In bee colonies workers (though females) forgo the reproductive function due to developmental limitations and are thus focused on work that is beneficial to the colony

Workers may never reproduce during their entire lives; however, they gain adaptation benefits that strengthen the colony and aid the reproduction of a queen, who is typically their mother.

So, in a bee family, only one female (the queen) has the reproductive capacity and plays that role and is, therefore, the mother of all members of the colony.

The rest of the females are workers and play such roles as foraging for food, caring for the young, and maintaining and protecting the nest

A bee colony is thus made up of overlapping generations and strict division of labor leading to specialized behavioral groups referred to as castes

The coordination of tasks and the central organization of the entire colony to efficiently act on tasks according to their specializations gives rise to a collective behavior which may cause a bee colony to be seen as a single super organism

Bee castes

A bee colony is made up of three different castes:

  1. The queen – single fertile female that specializes in laying eggs that give rise to other bees and also coordinates and controls the hive activities through chemical substances and pheromones. The queen is equipped with a sting but her sting is only meant for fighting rival queens

    Queen Bee
    The Queen attended to by nurse bees

  2. Drones – male bees whose main function is to mate with virgin queens. In most cases, drones will mate with virgin queens from other hives out in the drone congregation areas. Drones can also play a part in hive temperature control by fanning their powerful wings. They are however not equipped with sting and are chased out of the hive at the first sign of food scarcity
  3. Workers – these are sterile females. At the genetic level, they are exactly the same as the queen, however inadequate diet leads to reproductive underdevelopment making them incapable of beneficent reproduction. They are however endowed with fitness for work to care for the colony and avail every provision

Roles played by different castes in the hive

The queen

Each colony or bee hive normally has only one queen

The main role of the queen is to lay eggs. She also controls the activities and behavior of the colony by giving specific instructions based on chemical substances and pheromones it produces for the purpose.

A queen bee lays between 1000 to 3000 eggs per day depending on the season to maintain the have population and colony size.

A sizable colony is desirable in accomplishing all the work in the hive associated with feeding and caring for the queen and the brood, collecting floral resources from the field and defending the colony from intruders and robber bee colonies

A queen can live for as long as five years, but the most productive phase of her life is between one and two years. After this, her egg-laying potential starts to deteriorate leading gradually to weaker colonies.

Beekeepers would, therefore, want to have queen replacement programs in place to replace the queens annually

Drones

A hive could have up to about 300 drones. This is dependent on the seasons, drones are raised in the hive mainly when there is an abundance of food (honey flow season)

Bee colonies raise a large number of drones when they are preparing to swarm, this is, therefore, an indication and sign of swarming

The main role of the drone is the biological function of fertilizing the queen. This should not be misunderstood to mean that they fertilize the mother queens in the hive, no. Why? Because a queen is only fertilized once in her lifetime

So the drones raised in many different colonies will fly out in the cool of the afternoon to designated areas known as the drone congregation areas

Virgin queens in the surrounding area will also fly to these areas half an hour later. The drones will then join into the frenzy of completion to fertilize the queens

Generally a queen will mate with eight to 10 drones, storing all the sperms in the spermatheca cells to be used during her entire lifetime. She uses them to fertilize every egg that is meant to produce a female bee (workers and queens). Eggs meant to produce drones are laid unfertilized (therefore drones are haploid while workers and queens are diploid)

In the process of the scramble to mate with queens and perpetuate their genetic materials, successful drones will die because part of their reproductive system pulls off in the process

Apart from the biological role of mating with the queen, drones are stout bodied, big and very strong. They, therefore, have very strong wings, they help in temperature control in the hive by rapidly flapping their wings creating an air current

They do not, however, do any other work. They are not equipped to forage, neither are they equipped to defend the hive. They are therefore the first ones to be sacrificed at the slightest sign of food shortage. The workers drive them out of the hive

Workers

Workers do all the work in the hive for the colony to survive and thrive. They however have a short lifespan of four to five weeks only

Some of the work performed by workers include

  • – Cleaning the hives
  • – Grooming the queen
  • – Collecting nectar and pollen
  • – Feeding the queen and the brood
  • – Building combs
  • – Defending the colony
  • – Keeping the brood warm

In order to accomplish all these duties effectively, worker bees have strict guidelines on the division of duty and task specialization according to their ages.

Tasks of worker bees by age

One to two olds – newly hatched neophytes, they clean comb cells and cluster in brood areas to keep the brood warm

Three to five-day olds – feed larvae that are more than three days old on a mixture of honey and water. Their royal jelly glands are not yet mature

Six to 11 day olds – they feed young larvae and the queen on royal jelly. Their hypopharyngial glands are fully developed and start secreting royal jelly

From day 12 to day 17 – the worker bees have a variety of activities:

The wax gland is fully developed and they build combs using wax secreted from the wax glands

They transport food in the hive

Their enzyme glands are fully developed so they receive and process nectar from field bees and stores in the cells of the comb

They receive and process pollen from the field and packs it into the cells

From day 18 to day 21 – the poison glands are fully developed, they guard the hive entrance from intruders and robber bees

From day 22 to the end of their lives – they become field bees going into the field to look for nectar and pollen

Honey bee life cycle

Bees undergo complete metamorphosis.

They go from egg – larvae – pupae – adults

About me

Hello everyone, welcome to my bees for health and wealth website. Bees have been my passion for the last 10 years having worked as a lecturer in a national beekeeping institute in Kenya and handling bee matters at the policy level at the ministry headquarters

My specialization is the African bee Apis mellifera which happens to be the bee species that inhabit Kenya where I work and in Africa generally. My passion for bee was kindled following deployment to the national beekeeping institute upon being employed by the government back in 2009.

Bee natural honey
Bee natural honey

As you all know, the African bee is extremely defensive; an attribute that has earned it the title “African killer bee”. It must, therefore, take great passion to persistently, consistently and successfully work with this otherwise dangerous insect in the hostile sub-saharan terrains

My short story with the bee

Upon my deployment to the institute when I was employed, I felt kind of disappointed, my excellent academic grades and ambition made me look down on such a tiny sector as the bee sector. I thought I had too big a brain and I would be greatly underutilized. I was wrong

Upon being introduced to the sector, I realized a great underlying potential whose surface is yet to be scratched. I surveyed the sector landscape in my country isolating challenges and noting down opportunities for future development.

The opportunities are immense and the potential is frighteningly massive. With this realization, I felt challenged, I felt engaged, I felt I had met my equal. This set alight in me the passion to pursue the realization of this mighty potential and I have since learned lessons and gained experiences which I must share

 

What I have to share

Courtesy of the government of Kenya which is my employer, I have had great opportunities for training and exposure within the sector.

I have benefited from top quality training both within the country and abroad. Because of the bee, I have been to China, Tanzania, and the Netherlands for training on highly specialized skills. I attended the 2017 Apimondia Congress (a global bee sector stakeholders workshop) in Istanbul Turkey. Currently, I am in Australia at the University of Melbourne pursuing a post-graduate qualification in “Bee Molecular Genetics”.

I am inspired to share this knowledge and experience and the passion with the world through this website

 

My reason for sharing

Many changes are happening all around us. Non-communicable diseases are on the rise, pollinator population is on a steady decline, deserts are expanding, agriculture is transitioning (culturally, geographically and technologically), and of course populations are growing

As we look at all other sectors to provide the needed solutions to these situations, it would be a mistake to ignore the beekeeping sector which is the back borne of sustainability

Through this website, I intend to inspire my readers to see the bee sector for its potential in the following areas:

  1. Pollination service provision – which is a basic requirement for quality crop production

    Honey bee pollination
    Bees and pollination

  2. Employment creation – the bee value chain is rich in opportunities for employment
  3. Environmental sustainability – api-forestry (intentional and well-focused propagation of bee plants)
  4. Alternative healthcare through apitherapy (the use of bee products to cure diseases)
  5. Industrialization – through industrial processing and value addition of bee products to manufacture high-quality, end user products such as cosmetics, honey wine, and many other products
  6. The potential of the sector as an ideal climate-smart agriculture strategy

If you ever need a hand or have any questions, feel free to leave them below and I will be more than happy to answer.

All the best,

David Palla

beesforhealthandwealth.com