"You're my honey," "I love you honey," and just the word "honey" have always been used to express sweet endearment for someone held in affection. Few other words are used to replace it because its source comes from a highly-esteemed food and medicine used since ancient times. Centuries ago it was called the "Nectar of the Gods" for its pleasing taste, rich color, and miraculous health and beauty benefits. Many ancient and holy books speak of it. In Exodus, Moses will deliver the Israelites out of bondage to a land flowing with milk and honey, as well as the house of Israel called the name of Manna and the taste of it like wafers made with honey. Isaiah, when prophesizing about the coming of Christ, says butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. Is it any wonder then that honey, as ever, is a highly sought after prize for which we can thank the industrious honey bee.
We may be more aware of the honey bee in the summer months when we see her peacefully moving from flower to flower, or more obviously if we are fortunate to see a cluster of swarming bees as noted last week in, "The buzz on bees" as part of a colony that has split from the original hive and is on the move to a new location. This natural act is nature's way of reproducing honey bees which pollinate up to one third of our food supply. They pollinate numerous crops that we depend on in our diets and without them we would face a critical food shortage, which is not totally out of the question with the declining bee populations. We may also think about the honey bee when we partake of the sweet, thick liquid alone or as an added ingredient to so many foods and beauty treatments used since the days of Cleopatra.
Now is the time that local beekeepers may have harvested their first honey for the season. And a rich honey it is. As far back as 1870, the American Bee Journal noted that a beekeeper's association was organized at Delanti in Chautauqua County. J.M. Beebe (no pun intended) was the chairman and P. Perrin the secretary. The journal, accessible online through the Beekeeping Collection at Cornell Albert R. Mann Library stated that, "This county is one of the best in the State of New York for beekeeping. No better honey is carried to the New York or Chicago markets than the honey from Chautauqua County." Another journal from 1872 noted which plants most bees derived their honey from in the county, which then begs the question of just like a connoisseur of wine can discriminate; what types and flavors of honey are prevalent and distinct?
Local beekeepers tend to recognize their own honey bees, as photographed here while visiting a purple coneflower.
Our honey depends in part on something called the "honey flow." This is any time the bees are carrying in a lot of nectar to make honey from various plants and flowers and is dependent on the weather as to how soon that may begin. Some typical to our area are maple, apple, and locust trees, dandelions, clover, birds-foot trefoil, yellow rocket, multiflora rose, buckwheat, and goldenrod. The 1872 journal also noted basswood, white clover, red raspberry blows and yellow rod or yellow weed. Color and flavor of the honey produced is determined on the plant source. Usually the lighter colored honey is milder than darker colored honey. A "news release" from "Gleanings in Bee Culture" from several years ago noted some differences, just like fine wines. For example, basswood has a distinctive biting, strong flavor, but is water white in color. Clover honey has a mild taste and is generally a light amber color. Buckwheat is a dark, full-bodied honey. Goldenrod is very similar. Of course, many are a mix, such as wild flower honey. Additional flavors can be obtained from other areas if something like orange blossom honey is preferred. Note however that it is not a good practice to purchase honey from most stores, especially from other countries where plant sources and use of pesticides is unknown and what may have been used to treat the hive for diseases. Most store honey has also been heated and pasteurized to give its clear appearance, thus losing nearly all its nutrients and health benefits in the process. All good honey may be used for cooking, depending on if a strong or mild flavor is desired.
Honey, revered in ancient times and even found in rock art. Honey, a miraculous food and healer used around the world and in many cultures. Yet to come in the next couple of weeks some of its health and beauty secrets, recipes, disease and bear defenses, environmental concerns, and a bit about this incredible and cooperative female-dominated society. For now, although Psalms teaches that the heavens and the high law and glory of God are more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey and the honeycomb, we can also look to the wise words of Winnie the Pooh. He said, "The only reason for making a buzzing-noise that I know of is because you're a bee ... The only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey ... and the only reason for making honey is so I can eat it."
Make it a good week and appreciate the honey bee when she visits your garden. For more information about the county association, you may contact the secretary, Laura LaMonica, at 782-4579. The annual Chautauqua County Beekeepers Association Family Picnic is Thursday, June 28 at 6 p.m. at Lakeside Park, Mayville. This is where you will find new friends who will "take you under their wing" as you learn about the fascinating art of maintaining hives.