bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Friday, October 22, 2004

Mongolian honey — a ripening market

Oliver Field gave a talk on Mongolian beekeeping to the Central Association of Bee-Keepers last night at the Wax Chandlers' Hall (see here for a little bit of Wax Chandlers' history).

Oliver spent some time in Mongolia where he watched its short six-week honey season exploited in a rather unusual way. Some 20,000 hives arrive from China to a semi-desert area of Mongolia and the bees set about foraging mainly one plant. What the plant was, Oliver didn't say, but he did reveal that experts at Kew described it as pretty toxic! It did, however, yield huge amounts of nectar.

Beekeeping families arrive in the area in their worn-out trucks and pitch camp with their regulation one child and a dog (no family is allowed more than one child unless they live in particular agricultural areas, we were told). Each family has about 200 hives (Langstroth) filled with their very docile bees (Apis mellifera -- maybe an Italian strain). Every morning the bees are watered -- quite for what purpose, Oliver wasn't sure -- and every few days the nectar is extracted (unripened) into barrels for collection by a local honey-packing company. Lots of queens are raised -- not for breeding, but for royal jelly.

The honey -- an amazing 5,000 tonnes from this area alone -- is taken off to the local honey processing factory where it is heated to drive off the moisture and packed into plastic bottles for dispatch to (mainly) Beijing.

Then, when the short season is finished, the beekeepers disappear down south to warmer climes, and the honey factory is mothballed for the ensuing freezing winter.

Oliver cast some light on the apparently common Chinese habit of extracting honey before it is sealed or even ripe. The Mongolian beekeepers say their approach is traditional and appear to know no other way. Perhaps it is a huge cost-savings exercise: it obviates the need for more than one super per hive, the honey never gets a chance to crystallize in the comb, and it avoids the necessity of removing the wax cappings. And it provides a way of keeping beekeepers busy on a near-daily basis.


Blogger Cat said...

Wonderful posts!!!

1:12 am  
Blogger Cat said...

Wonderful posts!!!

1:13 am  

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