Sunday, September 5, 2021

Harvest of the Month: Honey

bees on honeycombSeptember is National Honey Month

Since the 1980’s September has been “National Honey Month”, in honor of the end of the season for most areas, when beekeepers collect honey from their hives. It’s a time to raise awareness of beekeeping and the benefits of honey. 

This National Honey Month, learn more about how honey is made by bees, collected by humans, and how you can support beekeepers in your community. 

History and Facts

cave art with beesHumans have been collecting honey for as long as written history. Cave paintings dating over 8,000 years old have been found in Spain depicting humans harvesting honey from wild bees. There have been remains of honey found buried in an ancient tomb over 5,000 years old in the country of Georgia. 

Honey was used in ancient Egypt as well, it was used as a sweetener in food, and bees were kept near temples to use the honey as offerings in ceremonies. We know that beekeeping and honey collection were also important parts of daily life throughout history in Greece, India, China, South America, and Israel. 

Honey is held as a symbol in many religions across the globe. In Hinduism, honey is one of the “five elixirs of life”. In Judaism, honey is a symbol of the New Year, and on Roshhashanna apple slices dipped in honey are eaten to bring in a sweet new year. In Buddhism, honey plays an important role in  Madhu Purnima, or the  “Honey Full Moon Festival”.  In Christian and Islamic texts, honey is referred to as a healing, nourishing, and healthy food. 

How Honey is Made and Harvested

Honey is made from nectar in flowers. Bees collect the nectar from flowers, digest it into simple sugars, then store it inside a honeycomb to save for later. Honeybees produce more honey than their “colony”, or community of bees, needs. Beekeepers extract honey from hives, and sometimes other bee-created materials, such as beeswax. Beeswax is made in the abdomens of worker bees, meant to be used to build honeycombs and to protect honey and eggs. 

A single honeybee will visit millions of flowers in their lifetime, inadvertently pollinating the flowers in the process. Honeybees alone pollinate over 80 percent of plant life on Earth. Honeybees can fly up to six miles, and at almost 15 miles per hour. 

honey hive frameWhy Local Honey?

Consumed in moderation, honey is a more beneficial sweetener than granulated sugar. Honey contains many beneficial antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Honey has been used medicinally for thousands of years, from suppressing common cold symptoms, to topical skin healing, as honey has anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties

Honey is one of the most counterfeit food products on the market. The USDA and other agencies like the National Honey Board test products marketed as honey and have found that many sellers have found ways to dilute what they are marketing as “honey” with other sweetened syrups that bypass purity tests. It’s estimated that up to 70% of products sold as “honey” are not 100% honey. 

The best way to make sure what you’re buying is 100% honey? Buy it from a local producer. You can talk to them about their practices and learn more about how they are stewarding healthy honeybee populations as part of Adirondack ecosystems.

Tim and Sue McGarry of Boquet Valley Farm and Apiary in Wadhams, NY talk about how they work with honeybees to make beautiful Adirondack honey: 

Honey is one of the only raw products that never spoils. It does not need to be refrigerated, and it never “goes bad”. So it doesn’t hurt to stock up from the beekeepers at your local farmers’ market before the summer market season is over. 

Try Something New!  A Few Ways to Use Honey 

Use it in dressings and sauces

Using honey in a  homemade salad dressing is one way to really step up your local food game. Or stir up a batch of honey-sweetened peanut sauce to top stir-fry, noodles, and grilled meat.

Infuse honey with herbs and spices

Hot honey infused with chili pepper offers a sweet and spicy drizzle to almost everything. It is especially amazing on pizza. But also is great on baked brie, meat, seafood, and stirred into cocktails. 

Add a drizzle to baked goods

A sweet staple for toast and sandwiches, homemade honey oatmeal bread is much more simple than you would think. 

Where to Buy Local Honey

Wherever local food and products are sold near you! Find farmers’ markets, local food retail locations, and farmstands selling locally harvested honey at AdirondackHarvest.com

How do you like to enjoy honey? Comment below and let us know.

Photos: First known cave drawings of humans gathering honey found in Spain, estimated to be 8,000 years old

Hive frame by Sam Cecil at Boquet Valley Farm & Apiary in Wadhams NY
Photo at top from the Almanack archive

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Mary Godnick is the Digital Editor for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Essex County. She lives in the Champlain Valley where she grows vegetables on a cooperative farm plot with her partner and two rescue dogs. You can read more of her work on AdirondackHarvest.com and follow her on Twitter at @MaryGodnick.




5 Responses

  1. Richard Monroe Richard Monroe says:

    I had a colony of honey bees take over one of my wood duck boxes a couple of years ago. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them so I called a local bee keeper for advice. He was very nice. He advised me that my wood duck box was likely too small to allow the colony to survive the winter. He agreed to come and harvest the colony, free of charge. He came over & I helped him take down the duck box after he smoked it and we covered the opening with duct tape. He brought me back the empty duck box several weeks later, which I remounted. He told me he successfully integrated the colony, queen & all, into his own hives. The whole thing was a very interesting &rewarding experience. I thought I had hung wood duck boxes, but apparently, I concurrently made bee boxes.

  2. Michael Sinclair says:

    Your article “Harvest of the Month: Honey” was a great interest to me as an amateur bee-keeper in the North Country. However, your choice of Tim McGarry to educate the general public was unfortunate. Undoubtedly he has much more experience than I but he is a bit of a showboat dealing with hives in a T-shirt and shorts without any protective equipment and not using his smoker. More importantly, though, his aversion to mite treatment is far from mainstream and many would suggest this practice endangers the rest of the bee colonies in the region. It is akin to not getting vaccinated for covid to “let nature take it’s course”. The public would have been better served by having one of the senior members of the local bee-keeping organization (Champlain Valley Bee-Keepers Association) as a teacher.

  3. Ada Avery says:

    I enjoy local honey in my tea every day.

  4. Michael Sinclair says:

    you’re welcome, Mary. nice article

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