Manuka honey funny business – are you buying the real thing?

Not Manuka honey, but very tasty and good for you.

Manuka honey is unique, it is the only honey I’ve seen with a security tag attached. It’s expensive stuff. Last week in my local supermarket there was a jar for £15, I’ve seen it double that in other places. A hefty price tag for honey that doesn’t even taste that nice. Manuka honey is expensive and devious people have been flooding the market with fake Manuka honey.

The Food Standards Agency recently reported that shops in the UK sold over 1800 tons of Manuka honey last year. Surprising given that only 1700 tons of it was exported from New Zealand and Australia. The FSA estimates over 10,000 tons were sold Worldwide. The majority of it fake.

Manuka honey what?

Manuka honey is produced from the the Manuka tree, a native of New Zealand and parts of Australia. Before the 1980s it wasn’t as popular as more delicately flavored honeys. In 1982 Dr. Paul Molan identified the antibacterial properties of Manuka honey. Science confirmed the long traditional of honey being used to treat wounds and infections was based on fact.

Science behind them, Manuka honey producers successfully marketed their product to the health food industry; attracting a high premium. Manuka isn’t unique in having these properties. Honey from ScotlandWales and other parts of the World all have research replicating the Manuka effect. Good honey is simply good for you.

Yes, people even fake honey.

Manuka isn’t the only type of honey to fall victim to honey fraudsters. Honey is one of the World’s most counterfeited food products. In 2011 the Food Safety News published a study showing that three quarters of honey sold in the USA had all it’s pollen filtered out. This is done so the pollen cannot be used to identify where the honey comes from. You could well be eating honey from countries treating their hives with antibiotics or toxic chemicals banned in Europe and the USA. Honey fraudsters also routinely mix honey with corn syrup to increase its volume.

Buy local.

So how do you avoid buying fake honey? Buying from established specialist retailers is a great way reduce the risk. But, I would strongly suggest buying local honey from your local beekeepers. Local honey is surprisingly easy to find. This time of the year most local associations are running honey shows. You often find beekeepers selling their honey at food fairs and markets. It is slightly more expensive than the honey you see on supermarket shelves but still a lot cheaper than Manuka  – why not buy 100% local honey?

My first honey harvest

First jar of honey.

When people discover you are a beekeeper they inevitably ask the question ‘do you have any honey?’ last year the answer was no. The expression on their faces was always one of disappointment and pity, a bit like telling someone you knew a Beatle and then later they find out it was Ringo

This year, however, I will look that person in the eye and proudly say “yes, yes I do” for this my friends is the year I harvest a crop of honey from my bees.

It’s all rather exciting.

My wife wasn’t so excited, she had visions of honey dripping from the walls and sticking to the carpets; so careful was the theme of the day. I’ve bought myself a four frame tangential extractor, filters, jars and a bucket to store my haul in.

An uncapping knife looked a messy business, which is why a heat gun seemed a good idea. It worked remarkable well. After switching the gun on you let it get hot enough then run it briskly over the frame. The cappings just dissolve away, it’s very clean and simple. A word of warning here; this method isn’t suitable for all frames. I kept a bread knife close by for the odd patches of wax that needed to be sliced off.

Extraction was a surprisingly magical experience. Spinning the frames in the opaque bucket which slowly becomes darker as the honey is thrown from the cells onto the wall of the extractor. If I had more than three or four hives I think a radial extractor would probably be more efficient as it doesn’t require you to turn the frames to extract from the other side; but this one was perfect for my 20 frames.

Pouring the honey into the settling tank was a beautiful sight as the amber honey flowed from the extractor through the filter that was catching the bee bits and wax – okay that wasn’t so beautiful. The following morning I filled up 30 jars which I’m sure won’t last long.

Gosh! I almost feel like a proper beekeeper.

Asian Hornet spotted in the UK?

The list of parasites, predators and diseases trying to kill my bees gets depressingly longer every year. So the following email I received from the National Bee Unit today wasn’t welcome:


Following a credible report of an Asian Hornet sighting in the South East area close to Maidstone, Kent; last week a local Bee Inspector was dispatched to carry out further field investigation.

Following this investigation, we have not been able to verify the report but we would encourage beekeepers particularly in this area to familiarise themselves with the Asian Hornet and remain vigilant when visiting their apiaries and inspecting their colonies.

The Asian Hornet sneaked into France in a shipment of Chinese pottery in 2004 and has been making its way towards our fair shores ever since. The Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris predicted that it would be in Britain by 2014 – it seems they may have been pretty close.

It isn’t all bad news, reports from France indicate that hornet traps are an excellent method of keeping the population under control and hopefully other methods will be developed as we learn to live with this pest in Europe.


The tale of two hives

This year I’ve grown my hive estate from one to two. Earlier in the season I completed a comb change, it went so well I was left with two 12×14 brood boxes bursting with bees. I keep my hives at my local association apiary and take advantage of the many experienced beekeepers that attend the regular apiary meetings by asking their advice on what options I should consider when managing my hives. Consensus between them is hardly ever reached but it’s always very encouraging to listen to various points of view over the lashings of tea and cake available as such meetings.

The conversation boiled down to two options. The first, to leave the hive alone and hope for a bumper crop of honey. The second was to use the artificial swarm technique to produce another hive. One of my goals this year has been to add more hives so it was a pretty simple decision. A few weeks later I had a new mated queen and a second hive. Unfortunately it seems to have picked up a minor chalk brood infection but I decided not to treat, mainly because I’ve read that good queens can deal with this problem and would rather treat less where possible.

Shortly after that the original hive superseded the queen so now I have two queens, one produced from an emergency cell and the other from a supersedure. The emergency queen is small and dark, it’s taken her a number of weeks to overcome chalk brood and the hive is still very small. The queen produced from the supersedure is large, honey coloured, laying like crazy and this week I’ve taken two full supers off that hive.

I was really very surprised to get such different queens from the same mother. I’m now concentrating on building them both up to overwinter. The weaker hive in particular I’m giving special love and attention by feeding it using the Hive Alive supplement – I’ll let you know how that works out.

First frames of the spring

P4200077I love the rituals of beekeeping; lighting a smoker, finding the queen and let’s not forget the limitless supplies of tea and cake at apiary meetings.

Like most sensible people I started beekeeping by signing up to a beginner’s course at my local association. The first ritual I was inducted into was making frames, for me they signal the start of the season.

Frame bashing is a rather relaxing way to spend an afternoon, I set up in my garden with a cup of coffee and got to work. Here is my first frame, I won’t provide a close up as it does look like I made it with my feet. Rest assured my subsequent efforts were a fair bit better.