Agriculture is our most effective usage of solar energy. Through photosynthesis, plants produce food from the sun’s energy, ultimately accounting for virtually all of our food. We eat fruit, seeds, and plant parts; or we eat animals that consume plants. Two important food products of the flowering plants can only be harvested by bees: nectar and pollen. We rely upon honey bees to exploit the carbohydrate of nectar and the protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals of pollen. Bees make honey from nectar. Valued since early man robbed bee trees, honey is considered the only food unchanged since cave men gathered it. Among the highly valued products of the bee hive are honey and beeswax, which are important sources of income in many countries. The value of bee hive products largely depends upon the skill and capabilities of the beekeeper and those processing, handling, transporting, and storing the goods. In most developing countries, honey is primarily used in the production of mead, or honey wine. Usually harvested by crushing honeycombs, the honey contains considerable amounts of beeswax, pollen, and some protein from bee brood. In this form, the honey is most suitable for fermentation into mead. More modern honey extraction and handling techniques produce pure honey sold at a premium on world markets.
Tod Underhill is currently in Ethiopia serving in Winrock International’s Farmer-to-Farmer program assisting beekeepers solve problems in honey handling, processing, and transportation. This is one of many USAID funded project seeking to improve agriculture in developing countries. Though Ethiopia’s semi-tropical climate and diversity of flowering plants make for large honey harvests, the quality of the honey is often low. Tod is teaching the Ethiopian beekeepers the importance of harvesting “ripened” honey that the bees have capped with beeswax. Uncapped honey tends to have a high moisture content, and the honey may ferment in storage. A friend, Phil Craft, the retired Kentucky State Apiarist, also took a Farmer-to-Farmer assignment in Bangladesh. You can follow Phil’s recent travels at http://philcrafthivecraft.com/?p=437.