Monday, December 28, 2009

New Laws Regarding Honey and Labels for 2010

With the influx of impure/diluted honey imported into the US, primarily from China,(although it can come by way of Mexico, to disguise its origin), the state of California has reacted with some new legislation which is good news for local honey producers.

All of HomeGrown Bees honey is processed by hand, filtered only once to screen out wax and other comb debris. No heat filtration, no flavor additives, no colors, no heat processing--- just raw, pure honey right out of the hive.

Mass-produced and adulterated honey can be made more cheaply, potentially ending up as the honey you buy at some of the "big box" stores where bargain pricing is the primary draw. With this new law, that honey will not be able to carry a "honey" label, but will instead be "honeydew honey" (see below) or something else. Here's a summary of the rule:

Food and Agricultural Code Section 29413(1) was amended to establish a new definition of honey and set new labeling standards for honey products. In the process, a new crime was created for violating the standards.

According to an article by atty James Spenser in "Central Coast Farm and Ranch" magazine, "honey" is now limited to substances produced by honeybees, and excludes products containing food additives or coloring. A precise chemical composition of honey is described, procedures to influence crystallization are prohibited, and distinctions are made between blossom honey, nectar honey and honeydew honey. The latter term now refers to substances generated by plant-sucking insects other than honeybees. As of Jan 1, all forms of honey products and labels must meet the new standards.

Now it will be easy for people (in California, at least) to tell if they're getting real, honest-to-goodness honey.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pre-Winter Check: Everything Looking Good

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in SoCal, as today's temps hit the low 70's or so... just as I'm reading that New York is getting 15 inches of snow.

Anyway, I took advantage of the beautiful day to open up a few of the hives I haven't seen in awhile. Specifically, I was looking for food stores--- have they socked enough in to survive a prolonged El Nino (predicted, which usually means tons of rain in Jan/Feb)?

I particularly wanted to check the two feral hives I got this year--- the one from the garage cut-out, and the swarm pictured behind the title of this blog. I'm glad to say both are doing great; lots of bees and lots of food stores. The garage hive was typically docile and cooperative. the swarm hive was just the opposite; they were not appreciative at all of my intrusion. Nonetheless I gave both hives a pretty good inspection, and they've got small amounts of brood (to be expected at this time of year) and lots of capped honey.

I meant to get pix of the natural comb the garage hive has appended to the bottom of the frames in their hive. When I hived them, I did it on "medium" frames, and they're in a large hive body. So, they feel compelled to fill the space with comb, and they have. I'll get some photos next time.

I also checked out the hive of Carniolans that were mite-infested, to see how their population was holding up. Again, it looks good. The only caveat to that is there's very little brood that I could see, although it was impossible to get a good look through the carpet of bees on the frames. Just the fact that the population is strong has me hopeful that we'll get through the winter, and in the spring I'll probably split the hive to break the brood cycle and mitigate mite impact.

one additional note: All the hives I looked at had some beautiful, capped, dark honey--- no doubt from the local eucalyptus blooms. I've noticed a few more of the local eucs are getting ready to bloom, so I'm hoping that in early Feb I can pull some frames from all the hives and harvest some dark, delicious eucalyptus honey, just before the March/April sage bloom hits.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cold and Rain... at Last!

Winter finally came to Southern Cal in the form of a week of below-freezing temps at night and then a week of good, soaking rains. Naturally, most of the time the bees all stayed home in their cluster (they need to keep the core of the cluster, where the brood is, at 95 degrees at all times, so they "shiver" in a big mound of 60,000 bees or so to make that happen). I was anxious to see how they'd fared.

Today the sun came out and the temps got into the mid-60's, and the good news is that all hives were active. Aside from foraging flights they also take "cleansing flights"--- they don't poop in their hive, so they have to hold it 'til they get a chance to fly. So even the non-foragers take a loop or two around the outside of the hive, just to relieve themselves.

I took the opportunity to retrieve the second packet of Apiguard I'd put in the one Varroa-infested hive. They didn't do a very good job of emptying the this packet, so I have no idea how effective the treatment actually was. I replaced the frames I'd removed to make space for the packet; next week I'll slip a sticky board under them and get a mite count.

This is the exact time of year I lost a hive to mites in 2008, so I'm being extra careful. I want to keep all the hives strong, because with these rains we should have a good eucalyptus bloom this winter (great honey!) and a very robust sage bloom in the spring, along with other chaparral bee-favorites like holly-leaf cherry. Last year the holly-leaf cherry never bloomed; it was just too damn dry.

Within the next month or so I'm going to try to find a neighboring ranch that will allow me to place 4 hives or so on their property. With eight hives on my ranch I think I'm overwhelming the area; I need to spread out a bit. My goal for 2010 is to get 12 hives producing 20-30 lbs of honey each, which would give me 40-60 8oz jars per hive; a reasonable number to sell at the local small farmer's market.