Thursday, August 30, 2012

Bee Pollen - the Intricacies and Health Benefits of this Superfood

-posted by Jayne

So you want to know more about bee pollen?   We received some questions from one of our faithful blog followers (thanks Marfa!) and also get many questions from our farm market customers about bee pollen.  What is it?  What do you do with it?  How do you harvest it?  How does it get in that little granule form?  

All great questions.  I will attempt to answer them here.

Pollen can be eaten fresh, put in smoothies, on cereal, in yogurt, mixed with honey,  and more.
First of all, bee pollen could really be called plant pollen... because that is what it really is.  The bees just do the hard work of collecting it.  As they are wandering from flower to flower to gather nectar (which they turn into honey) they also gather the plant pollen on their hind legs.  The bees create a "bee bread" which is pollen mixed with honey and enzymes, which they feed to their babies.  The pollen provides a great source of protein and carbohydrates, as well as other nutrients important for the bees' growth.   The bees gather this pollen in their little pollen sacs on their legs, and take it back to the hive.
See the bee in the middle with the bright yellow pollen sac? 

 We have a device called a "pollen trap" which sits on the bottom of their hive.  As the bees enter the pollen trap, the sac of pollen is brushed from their legs and falls through a screen below the hive.  But don't worry.... we never take all the pollen from a hive.  The trap can be turned on and off so the bees have plenty of pollen for their own health and vitality.  
Here you see another bee with a small amount of pollen on her leg.
This is what the pollen trap looks like when it is not attached to the hive.  It is basically a series of screens that the bees much walk through to get up into the hive.  As they pass through the screens, the pollen is knocked from their legs and falls to a tray below.  
This next picture shows the pollen trap on the bottom of the hive.  The very bottom wooden part is called the "screened bottom board."  The white part on top of that is the pollen trap.  You can see the little pull out compartment on the hive in the background.  
And here you see the compartment being pulled out... full of fresh pollen!   We simply pull out the screen, and drop the pollen in a bucket.  It is ready to be cleaned and bottled.  

Sometimes ants and other little insects find their way in to the pollen, so we have to sift through it and pick it out with tweezers.  It is tedious and time consuming, which is why pollen is worth at least $8 for 7 ounces.  But don't let the price scare you, because if you only take a teaspoon or two a day, it will last a long time.  It's less expensive than most multi-vitamins.

Why do people eat pollen?   Most of our customers eat pollen as a nutritional supplement.  Although all pollens will differ in nutritional components based on the kind of pollen, this gives you a good idea:

Protein 21.2%
Carbohydrates 48.5%
Fiber 14.2%
Fatty Acids 9.9%
Ash 3.5%
Bee pollen is abundant with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and more.  It is the only food that contains all 22 essential known nutritional elements.  I have read that it is possible to survive on bee pollen alone, as long as you have enough "roughage" to aid digestion.

Another reason people eat bee pollen is to help prevent local pollen related allergies.  By eating just a teaspoon a day, the body gets used to the local pollens.  The pollen we have been harvesting over the past week is full of bright yellow ragweed.  If you have severe ragweed allergies, you will want to take it slow... don't sit down and eat a large spoonful right away, because you may have a severe allergic reaction.  Take just a little bit every day until your body is used to it.

If you are curious about the other benefits of bee pollen, do a simple google search and you will find more information.  Many people believe that pollen can cure almost any ailment.  We aren't going to claim that here... but we have plenty of happy customers that report feeling more energetic, healthier, appetite suppression, and more.  If you'd like to give it a try, here is the listing where you can purchase it in our Etsy shop online.

Please let us know if there are other questions that remain unanswered!  We love your comments!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Pollen Chasing

-Posted by Isaac

I put the pollen traps back on a few days ago, and took M and M out for the first "pollen run."
The goldenrod is yet to bloom (orange), so I was curious as to what the pollen would look like. As you can see, it's mostly a bright yellow.

Someone in the bee club said this is coming from rag weed.

Pretty stuff. It doesn't taste bad either, although I can't detect the faint sweetness that the goldenrod pollen has.

As part of this pollen run we made a detour to check out a hive. A renegade hive. A friend of a friend had called me about getting some old hives out of his horse pasture.  It turned out there was only one hive and some old hive-body boxes. He said it had been there for years and didn't know or care who's it was. I guess it's mine now.
You can see the previous beekeeper did a tar paper wrap for winter protection. I don't do this. Don't think it helps... but maybe it's just laziness.

As so often happens chasing bees on unknown properties, you find some misadventure. This day, it involved big birds.

I think these things are ostriches. Or maybe some cousin of the ostrich. Either way, pretty scary up close and personal. They showed no fear of the skinny guy and two small kids on their turf.

My conversation with Maizy went like this:
"Daddy, can we pet them!"
"I don't want to go to the hospital today, Maizy."
"No... I said, can we pet them?"

Mason, thankfully, was a little more tentative.

The summer is winding down, the kids are back in school. (Well, most kids anyway.) Come out and get your honey fix (and honey stix!) at a farmers market before it's too late. Or better yet, come enjoy the Lithopolis Honeyfest on September 8th. It's a great educational and tasty experience.

My sister Molly who lives in Iowa and reads this blog said she thought it sounded like we had a bad honey season. Not true! Sorry I haven't posted about this incredible summer honey that just keeps coming in. I've got two more bee yards to hit this week, and we'll finally have a tally on the summer crop. It's big!
The bees are doing great and it's time to think about getting them ready for winter. We'll keep our fingers crossed for a good goldenrod flow.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Summer Lovin'...

...happened so fast....

Over the past few weeks I haven't been able to get that song out of my head.  I can't believe Summer is closing in on us.  In previous years, the start of school didn't really affect me since my kids were too young, but this year our oldest son Mason is heading off to a half-day pre-school.  AND he gets to ride the school bus.  (which he is thrilled about).  So we have just a few more days of Summer and then I adjust to my baby leaving the nest every day.  Here are just a few snapshots that capture our last few weeks at Honeyrun Farm.

A visit to the Old Mill Velvet Ice Cream in Utica, OH.

Feeding corn husks to the horses and cows at Grandma and Grandpas.

Sweet corn!  Our favorite summer treat.

Bridger likes it fresh... no cooking required.

Isaac shows off his latest honey crop.

That's some heavy honey.

Isaac says the hives are "caked out" (full of honey).

"I want a peach!  Daddy, give me a peach!"

Isaac shows Mason and Maizy the wonder of a wax moth larvae.  "Can I put it in the fire, daddy?"  
Lucky for us, the bees know nothing about school starting, and they keep bringing in that sweet summer honey.

-posted by Jayne

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

It's a Sweet Job

-Posted by Isaac

Pun intended.
We've had some high profile people tour the bee farm over the last couple weeks. Two doctors, a lawyer and a medical chemist walked through the honey barn, looked over the hives in the yard, asked insightful questions and silly questions. Yesterday, Mike, the head grocer at Whole Foods Dublin was here to check us out. I put him to work extracting honey.
At my mother's Sunday dinner last week, I was thinking out loud about how such professional people seem impressed with our little mickey-mouse operation. My brother responded with, "I'll bet they're more envious of you than you of them."
True or not, that comment got me thinking. I really do love this job. Even the hot sweaty stinging parts of it. I was pulling honey in a yard last Friday, thinking, entertaining myself with the various reasons I've got a cool job. I jotted ten of them down on the drive home.
So here you go. The top ten reasons this beekeeping life is awesome:

#10 - Beekeepers are characters.
There's good, there's bad, and there's ugly (most, in fact), but everyone I come in contact with in the small world of beekeeping seems opinionated and interesting.

#9 - I don't have to answer to anyone.
Well, my wife, of course. And God sometimes. For the most part though, I'm free to make my own schedule and spend the day as I please. As long as the work gets done I can show up late, start early, take a nap, take a run, take a swim, have a snack, play with kids, etc...   Of course certain times of the year, July and August for example, everything gets crowded out and about all there is to do is work. But I enjoy it.

#8 - You can sample your work as you're doing it.

Honey or pollen, in beekeeping you can continually check the product, making sure it meets the most rigorous quality standards.

#7 - It's a useful job. 
Some jobs turn the wheels of the world and some jobs don't. We all know this. I have in the past, feeling high on myself, described beekeeping as "God's work"  I don't think this is much of a stretch.
Sure, Mr. preacher man, you save souls here and there, but I pollinate whole orchards... I think we all know which is more important in God's eyes.  

 #6 - You work in open spaces and you work alone.
That pretty much sums it up. Alas, I'm not always alone. Only on the good days.

#5 - There's something very cowboyish about beekeeping.
I'm not saying this is a good thing, but I think it fits my personality. It kind of goes with the open spaces and working alone thing. I first thought this when I was working with the big commercial migratory operation in Montana. I think maybe Wayne, my boss, even said this a time or two. "We're the last real cowboys..."
We drove the lil' doggies all night long.  We got to watch the sun rise and sun set.
The song is right: Mommas, make your babies be doctors and lawyers and such...

#4 - You don't have to be an ace mechanic
It helps, but unlike farming grain where you have to know how to fix every apparatus under the sun, bee farming deals with a lot of low-tech stuff and hands-on labor. This is good for a dummy like me.
You only need to know a little about pumps, sumps, heaters, spinners, tanks, engines, motors, trailers, saws, nail guns, valves, filters, refractometers, etc.
Which I don't.

#3 - No B.S. hoops to jump through.
When I taught school we had years of certification and recertification. Classes and tests to take. Fingerprinting. Licensing. Professional development days. Collaboration days. Staff meetings. Conferences. Continual improvement evaluations.
Just thinking about all that crap makes my blood run cold.

#2 - Beekeeping is a job where the kids can join in.

 Much like what we see in Amish country where Jayne grew up, the children can see and understand what the parents are doing. Up there, Daddy doesn't drive off in the morning, come back at night and the kids are clueless as to what he's doing all day.
As our kids grow up, I hope they're be able to take part and maybe even one day take over.
So Jayne and I can move to Montana.

#1 - Jayne can always go back to work.
She's the brains behind the operation, so if in the end it all falls apart and comes crashing down, I can simply blame it on her and send her to work. Myself, I'll keep cowboying around with bees.

It's not like she's doing a lot now anyway.