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The Student News Site of Fresno Christian High School

The Feather

The Student News Site of Fresno Christian High School

The Feather

Letter to the Editor

Bees: Angels of agriculture Part III (VIDEO)

This article is the third in a three-part series devoted to bees and the effects they have on an agrarian community.

Throughout the summer months, honeybees are working hard to gather pollen, which will be turned into honey and harvested during the fall. Bees produce honey in two batches over two seasons — spring and fall –, which are critical periods for beekeepers to harvest their product in an efficient manor.

According to UC Davis, California is the national leader in the production of honey, collecting over 18 million pounds per year. Each barrel of honey can be sold for around $1000, which adds up, feeding a $25 million industry.

Long-time Madera beekeeper, Harvey Nickell, who retired after 50 years, shares his experience of the industry. Aside from Nickell, Hanford beekeeper Pat Lohse reveals his insight on harvesting honey.

Due to family expansion, Lohse said that him and his brother decided to expand their farm by also getting involved in the bee industry. According to Lohse, his apiaries — bee yards — have grown from 20 to 2800 hives, each one containing between 40,000-50,000 bees.

“Depending on how much honey we have, it will take us about two weeks to extract all of the honey,” Lohse said. “We can extract anywhere between 180-200 boxes a day at about 25-30 boxes an hour. Everyone is different in extracting, depending on equipment and how they are operating.”

According to Lohse, every year in beekeeping is different; some years are better while others are not so much.

“This year was an off-year,” Lohse said. “In the spring we only produced 36 barrels, but on average we make about 50-60 barrels. Last year, we made 160-180 barrels. So beekeeping is like a roller coaster.”

Due to the numerous plants that provide pollen to produce honey, there are various varieties on the market available for consumers. Depending on the use and type of pollen of the honey, the color can range from light gold to a dark amber.

“The honey we are doing now is a darker honey so it goes for things like bread, cooking and baking,” Lohse said. “Citrus Honey is a tabletop honey, and the darker is more for mixing. ”

According to Nickell, the honey found in stores is not a pure flavor of honey, but a mixture of various varieties.

“Orange Honey is not purely orange, but a mix of orange and alfalfa to get the consistent color and taste that consumers are use to,” Nickell said. “Also, the darker the honey the thicker it is.”

Even though there are various sources for pollen, bees typically become agitated when they encounter eucalyptus trees. According to Nickell, Eucalyptus Honey has a cough-drop-like aftertaste, which is unappealing to most and is typically not used for honey.

Some of the popular plants used for honey include orange, sage, alfalfa, buckwheat, clover and mountain, which is a combination of various plants found in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

“There are all different kinds of honey,” Lohse said. “People like all different flavors; most women like only a certain type so they are more inclined to buy the lighter honey.”

The most popular pollen used for honey is orange and alfalfa, but sometimes melon, corn and cotton will get mixed into the product, which can alter its taste. Unlike years past, beekeepers do not use cotton too often for honey because farmers are frequently spraying the crop, which poses a threat to the bees.

“BuckEye [vegetation] is really bad for the bees,” Nickel said. “It deforms the bees so we try to stay away from that stuff. BuckEye causes them to loose their wings or have two heads; it’s real bad stuff that we stay away from.”

Although there is a lot of honey produced in the U.S., it is more expensive than foreign honey, which leads to a lot of imports in the market. According to Nickell, America has the most restrictive guidelines for the honey industry, compared to other countries.

“Honey from Mexico is not inspected, so it’s not always safe to buy Mexican honey. They shouldn’t even let it in, but it’s free trade,” Nickell said. “Chinese honey was flooding the market with really cheap prices and their government was getting money, but we sued them and we won the case. So now there are fixed prices for honey.”

Aside from cheaper prices, according to Nickell, Chinese honey was diluted down with rice syrup, which was nearly undetectable.

“They used to do this with corn syrup until they were able to detect it, then they switched to rice syrup,” Nickell said. “They would do this because then they could charge the same prices, but for a lot less honey; this still happens with the crooked beekeepers.”

For more information about bees, read the Sept. 30 article,
Bees: Angels of agriculture Part II, or the Sept. 20 article, Bees: Angels of agriculture Part I (VIDEO).

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