A couple of weeks ago we received here at Bee Culture a press release telling us there was a new product on the market called Bee Free Honee. It was a sweetener made from apples to taste like honey and to be used in place of honey. This, said the inventors, would relieve honey bees of having to work so hard, and they could rest and return to their normal numbers. That honey bees are required to make those apples in the first place seemed to escape these two inventors, but the irony did not escape us. We chose to ignore this profoundly ignorant assumption and let it die a natural death. However, our friend Gary Shilling, a financial consultant and beekeeper from New Jersey couldn’t let it pass, and published the comments below in his newsletter INSIGHT. His response was more restrained, with far more insight than ours would have been, so we share it with you here. Enjoy.
The world is desperately short of true kooks, but a pair of Minnesota ladies not only reached the top of the nut tree, but used extension ladders to go over it. They’re pushing their product, “Bee Free Honee,” made from apples as a substitute for honey. It’s cheaper, and with reduced honey demand, beekeepers won’t work their bees to death, they argue. So the bee population will rise.
Well, when I learned this, I rushed right out to the 15 of my 100 bee hives that are located at our residence in Short Hills, N.J. to have a chat with my bees. On Sunday, Feb. 28, the temperature was about 60oF so the worker bees had broken their winter clusters inside the hives and great numbers were flying around vigorously, looking for nectar and pollen.
“Now girls,” I told them, and only females work, “please return to your hives. You’re laboring too hard, and besides, there won’t be any nectar to make honey for another month. By flying, you’re consuming energy and the honey in your hives needed to get through the winter. Sure, I left each hive with 60 pounds of honey when I took off the rest last August, but if you eat it up now, I’ll have to feed you to keep you from starving before nectar from spring flowers arrives. “And remember that without me caring for you, treating you for maladies and providing nice cozy bee hive homes, you wouldn’t exist. So go back in your hives and act like drones.
Yes, I know they don’t work, can’t sting to protect the hive, are only interested in sex and that you threw them all out of the hive last fall to die. But if you and your successors don’t change your ways, they’ll work themselves to death next spring after living only one month.
“I’m sure that if you and honey bees elsewhere throttle back, those lovely ladies from Minnesota will figure out another way to produce the apples for their honee, maybe with camel hair brushes to pollinate the blossoms, one by one.
“I know that you and your ancestors have been, well, busy as bees for three million years, but it’s never too late to change. I’m also aware that if you cut back, your historic reputation will be ruined and you’ll lose a lot of extant fans. Starting nearly 5,000 years ago, bees and honey were considered divine in Egypt and were part of the Pharoah’s symbols. Before mass produced beet and cane sugar, honey was a delicacy, reserved for the royalty.
In Hinduism, Vishnu incarnated as Krishna is often depicted with a blue bee over his head to represent the heavens.
“Aristotle, a beekeeper himself, saw the honey bee colony as a representation of the ideal community with perfect organization. Virgil, the master beekeeper of his era, praised the bee as a symbol of loyalty and perfect respect for the ruler, which the ancients believed to be a king bee since kings, not queens, ruled the world. Without the beeswax in their ears, Odysseus’ sailors in the Odyssey would have heard the Sirens song, which was as ‘sweet as the honeycomb,’ and crashed their boat on the rocks.
“Shakespeare in Henry V said, ‘Obedience: for so work the honey bees, creatures that by a rule in nature teach the act of order to a peopled kingdom.’ And you girls should know that the honey bee became an emblem for Napoleon’s sovereign empire in 1804. Long before him, the honey bee was the most frequently used insect in heraldry and considered a great virtue by providing mankind with honey to eat and wax for candles as well as symbols of industry. Three bees adorn the logo of the Episcopal Preaching Foundation, which I founded 29 years ago.
“In the U.S., 16 states have bees as part of their state emblems including Utah, ‘The Beehive State.’ And you girls should be aware that your ancestors were all from the Old World. They arrived here with European settlers, were important for pollination and honey production and were called ‘the White man’s fly’ by Indians.
“The Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth—the Congregational preacher from Philadelphia and father of modern beekeeping who in 1851 invented the bee hive that you girls inhabit— advised, ‘Place yourself before a hive, and see the indefatigable energy of these industrious veterans, toiling along with their heavy burdens…and then judge if, while qualified for useful labor, you ought ever to surrender yourself to slothful indulgence.’
“Girls,” I continued, “don’t forget that without the honey your ancestors made, the Anglo Saxons would have had no mead to drink. And if you slack off, the 30% of all U.S. food that requires insect pollination will be in jeopardy. That includes almonds in California, the state’s biggest agricultural export that uses 1.8 million of the 2.2 million commercial American bee hives each year for pollination. Without honey bees, almond orchards yield 30 lbs. per acre and up to 3,000 with bee pollination.”
After I concluded my monologue, my bees continued to fly energetically, still looking for nectar. Maybe the buzzing from beating their wings was so loud that they couldn’t hear me. If so, I’m glad they couldn’t.
Gary Shilling’s INSIGHT March 2016