Sacred Honey Bee Evening video clip, CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO VIEW

Sacred Honey Bee Evening video clip, CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO VIEW
Click on this photo for a video of "Evening in Honor of the Sacred Honey Bee". Photo by Daniel Bahmani

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Osaka company employees breed bees to help environment

OSAKA -- A group here has created a buzz with its latest "green" project -- breeding bees on the roofs of company buildings.

The project, called "The Umeda Bee Project," launched in March this year by several employees at the engine-manufacturing Yanmar Co, is an initiative to promote a greener environment in Japan's large cities. Inspired by a similar project in Tokyo's Ginza, a 39-year-old Yanmar employee brought up the idea to the company and after receiving permission, set up bee hives on the roof of his seven-story company building. If the project is successful, the organizers -- whose number has now increased to 18 -- will establish an Osaka-original honey brand, including a rich collection of various honey products.

The building -- and now home to nearly 100,000 apis mellifera bees -- is located in Kita Ward, near Umeda Station in central Osaka.

"At first we had our doubts," a representative of the group says, "There is little green in Osaka in comparison to Tokyo, so we were not sure whether the project would be successful."

However, since the project was launched half a year ago, the organizers were able to collect nearly 240 kilograms of honey. The bees' habitat of three kilometers around the building allows them to fly to various places with plenty of greenery and flowers, such as Osaka Castle Park and the Japan Mint, from where they regularly carry nectar.

The organizers are currently discussing ideas for future honey products, and often carry samples to nearby restaurants and bars. By having many people taste their honey, they are hoping to promote their project and create a city where people and bees can cohabit naturally, they say.

(Mainichi Japan) September 12, 2011

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bees: The Threatened Link in Food Security Sept. 20, 2011 National Radio Project

Listen to it here:
Honey bees help pollinate 1 in every 3 bites that we eat… They are vital in our agricultural industry and essential for the survival of the almost 7 billion people who inhabit this planet. And, as the world’s population continues to grow, so does our reliance on honey bees. Unfortunately, most pollinating insects throughout the world are endangered today, including the honey bee. On this edition, we’ll discuss the honey bee’s fight to survive amidst a rapidly changing landscape filled with pesticides and parasites. We will also learn the latest about colony collapse disorder and hear from beekeepers, researchers, and gardeners who are trying to protect them.

Hannah Nordhaus, author of the Beekeepers Lament- How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed the World; Gretchen Lebuhn, San Francisco State University professor & founder of The Great Sunflower Project; John Miller, migratory beekeeper; Brian Johnson, University of California, Davis’s entomology professor; Bill Rhodes, David Hackenberg, beekeepers; Dee Lusby, Organic Beekeeping discussion group founder; Dennis Van Engelsdorp, Penn State University entomology scientist; Vince Rosato, Great Sunflower project participant; Khaled Almaghafi, beekeeper & Bee Healthy Honey Shop owner.

Special thanks to the producers of Vanishing of The Bees and Claire Schoen.

Bee-keeping in Yemen


These are just some observations by an amateur bee-keeper travelling with the Society’s three week tour of Yemen in October 2000; they are by no means a comprehensive account of what is becoming an important industry and source of wealth in the rural economy.

One thing manifest over the whole route was the burgeoning of bee-keeping in Yemen. Stacks of bee-hives appear by the roadside all over the country, from small banks of half a dozen or so to large arrays of dozens — veritable apiaries. Clearly the profitable niche market traditionally held by the Wadi Du’an and Tihama honey producers is being tapped by a great many others; why not, when the bees, who do the essential work, are free to all? We saw hives on the road to Manakha, in the plains east of Sana’a and in Marib, in Wadis Beihan, Yashbum, Hadhramaut and Du’an, and in the Hujjariyah and Tihama; and they are doubtless to be seen elsewhere.

Log and box hives in Wadi Surdud.
Photograph: Julian Lush

Bees have been social insects for 10-20 million years and have had time to develop varieties adapted to many localities. The variety of honey-bee endemic toYemen is the apis yemenitica - a small, dark bee which thrives in the hot, dry conditions. Traditional bee-keeping methods using a long, thin hive-box hollowed from a log, can still be seen. Modern hive-boxes, based on the same principle, are wooden, 80-100 cm long and 12 x 12 cm in cross-sectionThe front has a hinged door with a V-shaped bee entrance, and the rear closure is plugged and sealed with mud. Alternatively, as we observed in the suq at Seiyun, hives can be of pottery pipe, made in three sections and supported on a metal frame, enabling the hive to be opened at two points in its length.

Box hives in Wadi Yashbum.
Photograph: Julian Lush

In all these long hives, the queen and brood generally inhabit the front of the hive, while the honeycombs, naturally built by the bees in parabolic shape, are suspended longitudinally for maximum ventilation and cooling. The honeycomb is extracted through the rear of the hive which is sealed with mud and thus easily opened, causing minimum disturbance to the brood (larvae and developing bees) inside.

Apiaries are in banks of 10-100 hives, stacked 3—4 rows high on a metal stand, covered by grass or similar cooling material, which in turn is covered over with a blue plastic sheet. One is struck by the extreme proximity of the hives to one another, and by the amazing ability of bees to know which is home.

The favourite forage of the yemenitica bee is from the flowering al-sidr tree or ziziphus spina-christi, the kasas, a Euphorbia, and from acacia trees, all of which are found throughout the country. But the bees are not particularly choosy and will glean pollen and nectar from a surprising range of plants even in arid regions. However, their forage may not be plentiful at all seasons, andYemeni bee-keepers supplement their diet with sugar. Water also has to be available at all times, for this is essential for the bees’ health and the honey-making process.

To gauge the pace of bee-keeping development, I asked a hive maker in Bait al-Faqih what his production and sales rates were. He said that he was selling 700-800 box-hives per month at a price of YR 600 (£3) each; by contrast, log hives cost YR 2000 each. His market covered just one part of the Tihama. If the rates which he quoted are extrapolated over the rest of the country, one can see the likely scale of the growing industry.

A timely local press article provided some statistics on Yemeni honey production, stating that Hadhrami honey led the field (as expected) with 35 tons per year, a large proportion of which is exported to other Arab countries (where it commands huge prices). Next comes Shabwa Governorate with 29 tons annually, followed by Mahwit with 15 tons, Tihama with 13 tons, Hajjah with 8 tons, Osaimat, Ibb and Taiz with 4-5 tons each, and around 35 tons from other areas, making a total production of some 150 tons a year. The article adds that a kilogram of good honey sells for $150 - hence the real attraction of bee-keeping inYemen: no amateurs there!
July 2001

The Beekeepers of Wadi Du'an (article published in 1999)

Written and photographed by Eric Hansen

Standing in the midday sun, surrounded by towering sandstone cliffs, I gazed into a trough made from half of a battered oil drum. It was partly filled with sugar syrup, and on the syrup floated chunks of rubber-sandal soles and a few dead bees. Looking around for the beekeepers' camp, I wondered where they had moved now.

It was mid-November, and at this same spot 12 months earlier, I had eaten lunch with the beekeepers in their tent. But this year, the ilb , or buckthorn, trees had flowered earlier than I had expected, and the men had moved on with their tents and-hives. My driver, Mohammed al-Osabi, smoked a cigarette and chuckled to himself at my bewilderment. He had just spent two days driving me across 500 kilometers (300 miles) of desert to meet again with the beekeepers of Wadi Du'an.

Wadi Du'an is a remote, little-known valley in Yemen, just south of the Rub' al-Khali, the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia. Here, generations of beekeepers have been perfecting their craft for at least a millennium. They work hard, using labor-intensive techniques of managing bees. Combined with the dry climate and short flowering season of local plants, their efforts have helped to produce the most expensive and sought-after honey in the world. The most frequent customers come from Saudi Arabia, and in Wadi Du'an, a two-pound tin of the very best honey in the comb can command a price of $100 or more.

Wadi Du'an produces what specialists call a dry-land, monofloral, wildflower honey, renowned for its unique buttery flavor, rich aroma and high viscosity—and for its medicinal qualities. The honey is thought to be the perfect medicine to help women regain their strength after childbirth. Elderly men maintain that a daily spoonful keeps them young, while young men believe that regular doses will help produce a male heir.

During this morning's drive, I had had plenty of time to mull all this over. A gravel track had taken us past storefronts selling the local honey, and farther out, in the villages, we met turbaned men sitting behind kick-wheels, fashioning mounds of slick clay into cylindrical beehives more than a meter tall.

One of the shopkeepers, Islam Ahmed Ba Dhib, had opened tins of honey to let us sample the three different types he had on hand that day. "There are many tests for purity," he said, "but none of them are certain, and, as with friendship, the honey business is based on trust."

The first type he showed us is known to merchants as bariyah , "the cream," a winter honey made from buckthorn (Ziziphus spina-christi) blossoms. The honey tin—25 centimeters (9") across, the same diameter as the terra-cotta hives—was filled with a double layer of round comb. The heady floral fragrance was unlike any honey I had ever smelled, and the taste was a complex mixture of butter, wildflowers and mysterious, aromatic herbs. Bariyah is eaten mostly by wealthy men.

Next, he opened a tin of marbahey , a summer honey also called sa'if ("of the summer"), after the trees' flowering season. This, I was told, is a "hot" honey, thus good for such things as getting rid of intestinal worms, but to be avoided by pregnant woman, because it can cause miscarriage. Marbahey is usually eaten by dipping warm bread into a mixture of the honey and clarified butter, and sprinkling the mouthful with nigella seeds.

The third type of honey Ahmed Ba Dhib brought out is called mardjah , and it, he explained, is collected between the winter and summer seasons. It is produced when fewer flowers are in bloom and is thus one of the most expensive varieties. He confirmed the stories I had heard of merchants from Gulf countries flying into nearby Wadi Hadhramaut to buy honey from the wholesalers.

Before we left, Ahmed Ba Dhib had told me of a traditional Yemeni way to preserve meat in honey. "Cut up either sheep or goat meet and submerge it in honey for six months. You must be careful to use a ceramic or glass container," he cautioned. "It is a dish that rich people eat for breakfast or at weddings." He had also mentioned that tins of honey are sometimes given to a bride's family as a special wedding gift.

Standing by the oil drum in Wadi Du'an that hot afternoon, I wondered who had taught the beekeepers the cheap trick of using sugar syrup to increase the yield—and lower the quality—of the honey. Mohammed al-Osabi, who had kept bees in his father's village, told me that the cut-up rubber thongs floating in the syrup served as platforms from which the bees could drink the syrup without falling in. He assured me that reputable buyers would avoid honey from beekeepers who ran such an operation.

Not far from where we stood, a band of wild baboons emerged from a nearby date grove. Gliding across the stony ground, they paused to glare at us and then, without hesitation, swarmed up the 90-meter (300-foot) cliff and disappeared from sight. Watching them, al-Osabi noticed a single abandoned beekeeper's at the foot of the cliff. Walking closer, we came upon rows of several dozen terracotta hives, set on metal frames and wrapped in. burlap and cardboard to protect them from the sun.

No one else was in sight, so we approached the hives on hands and knees to take a closer look. Unperturbed, small docile-looking bees with black and gray stripes flew in and out of the hives. I wondered about honey thieves, but then al-Osabi cleared his throat and nudged me. The shimmering profile of a man materialized in the heat waves. His body gradually transformed itself into a recognizable shape, and then I heard the sound of his footsteps on the hot gravel. We stood up to greet him.

"You have some interest in bees?" he asked. He introduced himself as Omar Sa'eed Abdullah, honey producer and owner of the hives. He lit a scrap of burlap sacking and waved the smoke toward the entrance of a rectangular wooden hive before opening the back of the hive to reveal a section of golden comb. The metal legs of the hives were set in tins of motor oil to keep out ants. Hornets are another enemy of the bees, and Abdullah showed us a cleverly constructed screen trap, baited with poisoned fish and swarming with confused hornets. Gesturing to the overhead sun, he invited us to his home so that we could discuss beekeeping in comfort.

We sat on the carpeted living-room floor, kept cool by the thick walls of the four-story, mud-brick building. Shuttered windows with decorative lattice screens overlooked an expanse of date groves and, farther off, small dusty plots of farmland awaiting the seasonal rains. On a flat roof a satellite dish was perched. "CNN," my host announced proudly.

I asked him how long his family had been keeping bees.

"For generations," he said as he poured out cups of ginger coffee and offered a plate of fresh dates. "We used to keep the jabali [mountain] bee," he said. "I can still remember it from my childhood 30 years ago. It was reddish in color, but now it's gone. The new bee we use is from Ethiopia, from people who grow crops, but the problem is that this new bee [Apis yemenitica] is not as drought- and hunger-resistant as the wild mountain bee was."

When I asked him about bariyah , he told me that it was named after a particular star that appeared above the horizon at the time of year when this honey was produced. Honey seasons are calculated in accordance with the sidereal year, he explained, rather than the Muslim lunar calendar, because the latter doesn't keep step with the flowering cycle of melliferous plants.

Behind a heavy wooden door that opened onto the sitting room, tins of honey were stacked waist deep. From this storeroom, Abdullah brought out a tin of buttery kharfi ("of the autumn"), a 100-percent-pure ilb honey selected from his private supply. This quality of honey is reserved for family, friends, and—as in my case—the arrival of an unexpected guest. Connoisseurs of Yemeni honey recognize a wide range of varietals within each growing region, and this tin contained a kilo of the finest honey from a special area of Wadi Du'an known as Jardan. We cut off small portions of the comb, and sat back to enjoy the sensation of thick honey melting in our mouths, revealing layer upon layer of delicate and unexpected flavors. I realized again that eating wildflower honey from Wadi Du'an is an entirely different experience from eating commercial honey—just as the finest Belgian chocolate is different from supermarket brands.

According to Abdullah, the nomadic beekeepers had recently moved their camps to the south coast in order to set their hives near the late-flowering ilb trees in that region. Honey profits had motorized their migrations in recent years, and they transported the hives in four-wheel-drive vehicles today; years ago they would have used camels, moving only at night in order to allow the bees to work during the day. But now as then, the mostly landless beekeepers follow their established semi-nomadic migratory pattern, and their families stay behind in often remote villages, tending the fields. Abdullah too stays put: He inherited beekeeping rights to sufficient nearby land to make it unnecessary to shift his hives with the seasons, and prefers to produce a limited amount of high-quality honey from a specific region, hoping to command a premium price that way. This strategy, he said, has brought him individual buyers from as far away as Kuwait and Bahrain.

In addition to honey, the Du'an area is also famous for its bee sellers. In March, there is a market out on the main road, known as suq al-mib, the bee market. There, swarms of bees are sold just prior to the spring season, along with hives, the only significant piece of equipment used by the beekeepers. A plastic-grid hair curler, with foam-rubber stoppers at either end, may be used as a miniature cage to transport the queen bee, and few people use protective clothing or honey extractors. Indeed, traditional beekeepers prefer to sell honey in the comb to attest to its purity, or simply squeeze the honey from broken combs into plastic water bottles. Bits of wax and the odd dead bee float into the neck of the bottle, offering another indication the honey was locally produced,

That night, Mohammed al-Osabi and I camped on the edge of a volcanic plateau overlooking Wadi Du'an. A full moon illuminated the villages far below. Donkeys brayed, camels roared, and the headlights of lone vehicles lurched along distant tracks until well after midnight.

The following morning we drove north to the city of Shibam, where I met Said al-Sakoti, a dealer specializing in honey from Wadi Du'an. He explained that modern beekeeping techniques were being introduced in the area, and,looking at his shelves, it seemed that the Walter T. Kelley Company of Clarkson, Kentucky, had virtually cornered the market on beekeeping devices, ranging from wooden hives to sheet wax to bee drinking stations. Al-Sakoti admitted that the new methods of mass-producing honey, with modern, large-capacity hives set at the edge of cultivated fields, were rapidly changing traditional practices. Quantity was becoming more important than quality, he said. The bees were being fed sugar syrups and cheap imported honey to increase yields. New customers from outside the area were less discriminating than the locals, he explained, and consequently more gullible. With their time more valuable, many beekeepers now preferred to drive their hives from place to place in order to produce honey year-round, rather than just during the short seasons, as before. "But, there will always be a market for the very best honey," al-Sakoti assured us.

I asked how the old-fashioned kind of honey could possibly maintain its high price in the face of inexpensive imported brands and now mass-produced local honey as well.

"Demand and limited supply is what drives up the price," he replied. "For the people who can afford it, there is no substitute for the flavor and taste of great honey, which is the result of the gathering skills of certain beekeepers. There are many ways to adulterate honey, but an expert judges it mainly from the aroma. The taste merely confirms what the nose tells you."

"And what is the best way to eat high-quality honey?" I asked.

"Sometimes with a spoon, but among friends I like to cut the comb like cake and eat it with my fingers. That is the very best way. And now," he said, "shall we see what the bees have brought us this year?" He smiled and reached for a nearby tin.

Eric Hansen is the author ofMotoring With Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea. He lives in California.