Honey economy: how it is born and how it is done

Anonim

Open the jar, sink the spoon and close your eyes: the sugary and golden delicacy that the bees have created for you is now available to the palate.

That with honey is one of the most authentic taste experiences that can happen to you: nature gives it to us as it is, we just have to pick it up and distribute it.
If then the honey in question is Italian, it is also a flagship of our campaigns, the result of the patient work of the beekeepers in a territory that boasts unique varieties and riches in the world . A fragmented but vital sector of our economy.

Too hot, and the flowers change pace. In addition on Focus.it :
# Hives in the city
# Honey and bees in history
# What happened to the bees?

Too hot, and the flowers change pace. Even for honey, however, these are hard times: the economic crisis and the agricultural crisis; competition with new species arrived following the roads of immigration; pollution … And climate change, which many people seem to be a topic of discussion far away and which instead already today have a visible impact on the calendar of plant blooms that bees have to pollinate and that in exchange for this vital work for the Earth give insects what is needed to support the hive: honey.

Image Vespa velutina, sworn enemy of bees and beehives. |

Because a flower that once blossomed, punctually, always at the same time of the year, today can bloom in advance on the spring season or late on the summer, or not bloom at all.

Or change the dimensions at which plants grow : a flower that 10 years ago grew to 500 meters above sea level, is already farther away today. Higher or lower, but however the bees will have to chase it.

There is therefore a complex history within a jar of honey bought at the supermarket or directly from a beekeeper, linked also to the health of our planet.

The questions under the cover. How is it produced? What characteristics must a good quality honey have? Why do some honeys cost more and others less? Follow us to discover one of the oldest and most appreciated foods in the world and which boasts, only in Italy, an annual consumption of 20 thousand tons .

In the hive, where it all begins. The raw materials for making honey are "sourced" directly from the bees: the nectar of flowers or honeydew (a sugary substance produced by the metabolism of aphids and other small insects that feed on the sap of plants) are collected by bees foraging, workers specialists who, returning to the beehive, pass the "booty" (hence the name) to the workers' companions.

The latter lay it in hexagonal cells that serve as a pantry (the combs ); by shaking the wings, other specialized bees, the ventilators, create drafts that have the purpose of evaporating the water from the honey and regulating the humidity of the hive. This natural conditioning system lowers the room temperature and keeps it constant. The following video shows the fans at work [the article continues after the video].

Once the "yield" of bees is 100, honey is worth 10: all the rest is the essential pollination activity that these extraordinary insects do for the benefit of nature and ours

All this work will guarantee food stocks for the winter season. Honey is, for the bees, a long-term source of carbohydrates : if in the summer these insects are fed with fresh food - nectar - they do not forget to turn the sugary substance of the plants into a long-life product that can provide them with the sustenance necessary for the winter months, when there is no shade of flowers.
What the man does with bees could be considered, at first glance, a food theft … But it must also be said that only a part of the honey produced by the workers is actually taken: «The beekeeper does not touch the stocks that are found under the "honeycomb" explains Giuseppe Fontanabona, former President of the APAP, the Provincial Apicoltori Piacentini Association, "and if a beehive finds itself in a situation of nutritional suffering, it reintroduces honey or pollen syrup into it, as an additional food if the remaining honey is not enough ».

Go ahead! It usually takes just over a month for the honey to dehydrate and mature to the right point. When it is ready, the workers pick it up into other cells that seal with a wax capsule ( operculum ), and at this point the honey is ready to harvest.

The hand of man: from the supers to the jar. The human processing of honey therefore begins after the flowering period, when the work of the bees is finished. To extract honey from the honeycomb, the section inside the hive that contains the honeycombs must first remove the bees. Generally it is done by using the apiscampo, a plastic disk that forces the bees to get out of the top without the possibility of going back (and which does not harm their health in any way), or with a blower of compressed air which it moves away more energetically, but without damaging them. In a clear field, you can gently remove the tops with their precious contents.
Below, the honey and the bees in history : the article continues after the photogallery.

Honey and bees in History GO TO GALLERY (N photos)

We are now ready to bring the supers to the work surface, where the honey is controlled with a special instrument - the refractometer - to control the humidity of the honey. The bees normally operculum when it has reached a humidity lower than 18% : if, for reasons of seasonality, or for the type of honey, it is found in conditions of greater humidity, it can be dehumidified with special machines that use rotating disks hot to evaporate excess water.

Image The clean and decanted honey is then poured into the jars starting from the bottom of the container (photo © Fernando Bengoechea / Beateworks / Corbis). |

Extraction and invaded. At this point, with a simple knife or a special machine, we proceed to uncapping : that is, we remove the wax lids that close the combs. It is then the time of the honey extraction : the combs, contained in the frames, the frames in which the bees have built the honeycomb, are inserted inside a rotating cylinder, the honey extractor .
Here, thanks to the centrifugal force, the combs are emptied of their contents which is diverted to large steel containers called decanters or ripeners (but even a simple bucket is enough) taking care, first of all, to filter it with meshes of different sizes, to remove the residues of wax, bees or any other foreign substance.
The clean honey is then left to decant, to let the air bubbles emerge during the honey extraction. After removing the foam of superficial bubbles, it is potted "vertically": that is, the first jars are filled with the honey that is at the bottom of the bucket because any impurities are found instead on the surface.

Distorting mixes. If we talk about industrial production rather than craftsmanship, sometimes honey is used before the storage: honey which, by nature, crystallizes in a coarse way (that is, they are more lumpy and dense on the palate due to the aggregation of the crystals of sugar) are mixed with honeys that crystallize more finely. It is a typically commercial operation, to meet the taste of the average consumer, who prefers more liquid or creamy honeys. In doing so, however, the natural characteristics of a honey are altered and, due to the mix, its link with the territory: we will have a more fluid product, still of quality but without a specific "DNA".

Varieties available and lucky vintages. The honey originated from the nectar of different species of flowers is called millefiori . Theoretically all the honeys are: it is impossible to "hijack" the bees towards a single type of flower. The categories of millefiori are endless, as are the possible combinations of plants.
One speaks instead of unifloral honey to refer to a product coming mainly from a single botanical origin (and containing, even at a microscopic level, granules of a single plant species, or almost). These honeys are obtained in the areas characterized by the presence or cultivation of prevailing plant species and are named after the flower from which they were obtained (for example linden honey, orange blossom honey and so on).

Resource to defend

Honey bees are not all the same. The main ecotype of our regions is the ligustic bee (Apis mellifera ligustica), a very productive variety, "gentle" and adaptable to different types of climate.
Among his natural enemies, in addition to the infamous Varroa destructor, the vampire mite of bees, there is the Vespa velutina, an insect killer of Asian origin that arrived in Italy from France, which attacks and destroys hives.

The only country in the world … «Italy, for the different environmental vocations of its territory, is the only country in the world where the production of honey is characterized by 30/40 different typical blooms, which make our territory exclusive for the assortment and quality of the produced honey ", explains Raffaele Cirone, President of FAI, the Italian Beekeepers Federation.
«This does not happen in other countries, where a honey, even if of excellent quality, remains however equal to itself from north to south in very large territories. We can talk about thyme, rhododendron, linden, rosemary, dandelion, ailanthus, thistle, asphodel, on, medlar, lemon … and the list can go on for each flower typical of a particular area, to then trespass on the millefiori, which are the sum of what a place offers during the entire flowering season. A sensorial adventure for those who want to discover what Italian bees are capable of ».

Fortune-kissed years. Even honey, like wine and all agricultural products, is subject to the weather (climate and microclimate) and the vagaries of the seasons: these variables affect the quantity and taste of the final product.

«The good year, in the case of honey, is one in which the meteorological and climatic trends ensure that the typical blooms of an area are abundantly visited by bees during the season that goes, depending on the geographical area, from February in October-November, "explains Cirone. «In rare, fortunate conditions, when the weather is mild, blooms of such a high quality survive for a long time that honey becomes a real identity card for the places where bees have done their capillary work. For example, if between December and January the medlar blooms in Sicily, or arbutus in Sardinia, are not ruined by rain or temperature changes, we will obtain a rare honey of extraordinary quality, which will have a price three, four times higher than that of any other flowering and that can be "optioned" by some traders even 5 years in advance . "

How to recognize quality honey? «Honey, like wine and like oil, is a living product, closely linked to the territory», Fontanabona says, «brings with it the properties of the flower from which it derives. If you are lucky enough to meet a beekeeper in your area, to visit the activity and taste the various types of honey, you can buy a safe, zero-kilometer product that keeps the area of ​​origin alive. And we must not feel guilty, because once the "yield" of bees is reached, honey is only 10: all the rest is the essential pollination activity that these extraordinary insects do for the benefit of nature and the community. "

A natural cure-all

Raw honey can be recognized as having antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties, closely related to the plant from which it derives: fir honey, for example, is an antiseptic of the respiratory tract; that of acacia, a mild laxative; that of thyme has calming qualities … It provides vitamins of groups B and C and being made up of simple sugars, such as fructose and glucose, predigested by bees, is energetic and easy to metabolize.

The label. Goodness is also closely linked to compliance with the rules : "A good honey must meet internationally established parameters", adds Cirone, "and guarantee precise physical and chemical characteristics such as, for example, humidity, enzymes, sugars, electrical conductivity. Do not have food ingredients added or other substances (organic and inorganic) that are foreign to its natural composition. It cannot be deprived of pollens and other natural components, it must not have begun fermentation processes, nor have it undergone thermal preservation or acidity correction treatments ».
The heat treatments, for example, consist of subjecting the honey to high temperatures (about 75 ° C) for a few seconds, for example, to keep it liquid for as long as possible and more suitable for a long time on supermarket shelves. But they are treatments that profoundly alter the content of vitamins, enzymes and mineral salts of the original product.
All these qualities must be correctly described in the labeling, together with the geographical origin (national, Community, non-EU) of the honey placed on the market.
The difference … it tastes! «Industrial honey, on the other hand», continues Cirone, « is not a by-product, but responds to different commercial rules, often based not so much on the importance of taste or unique characteristics of a territorial production, but on a known brand and advertised, on mixtures from different countries, on particular price policies. We, however, as the Italian Beekeepers Federation, are for the honey of our house, marked with a guarantee seal with the Italian tricolor, numbered and referable to each of our associates. Go to the home of a beekeeper, see how and where he works, enjoy his product during processing in the laboratory … You will understand what we are talking about! "

Image Loaded honeycombs and a jar of raw honey (photo © Kate Kunz / Corbis). |

The intrinsic and certified organic. Along with the rules established for almost all foods, organic certification for honey arrived in 2007. To be called "bio" a honey must be produced in a beehive that is no less than 3 kilometers from high-traffic roads, industrial plants, extensive specialized crops (where chemical fertilizers could be used); the hives must be made of natural materials and antibiotics, pesticides and other products that can leave harmful residues in honey cannot be used for the treatment of materials; bees cannot be killed when extracting honeycombs; GMOs must not be used and the final product cannot be mixed, micro-filtered or pasteurized.
Characteristics, in hindsight, that should be respected in all beekeeping and that have always been observed by small local beekeepers, whose "organic" guarantee is the territory itself on which we work : "All honey, by its nature, should belong to the "bio" category ", Cirone points out, " as long as it comes from beekeeping conducted with traditional methods and respectful of the biological processes of bees. Since this is a European regulation, or equivalent international standards, in order to be able to boast of a trademark it is however necessary that the production process is certified by an authorized body ».

Price differences: what do they depend on? In Italy, about 100-150, 000 quintals of honey are produced each year and as many are imported to satisfy market demand. The main countries from which we import are (in order) Hungary, Argentina and China. Chinese honey, particularly cheap (1.40 euros per kilo), is used mostly to dilute other honeys in industrial processing.

Image A couple of Chinese beekeepers dressed by over 10, 000 bees: for the unusual cover they used the queen as bait, to demonstrate their confidence with bees and beekeeping (photo © Zhang Chunxiang / Xinhua Press / Corbis). |

Honeys from Eastern European countries are cheaper than Italian ones. While our honeys are in a range of 8 to 20 euros per kilo, Hungarian honey costs 3.35 euros per kilo, Romanian 3.08 euros and Ukrainian 1.91 euros per kilo.
«On the price», Cirone explains, « the value of the local labor force, the productive capacity - that is the number of beekeepers and hives - and the quantity of honey theoretically obtainable from the particular habitats influence. For example, in Ukraine, where the World Beekeeping Congress was held recently, an average monthly salary is around 150 euros : it is clear that it is not possible to compare these figures with the production costs of an Italian beekeeper. "
"On the other hand, the high cost of some honeys - such as the bitter strawberry tree, typical of Sardinia and the Tyrrhenian coasts with Mediterranean scrub - is justified by the scarce availability of the product compared to the high demand on the domestic and international market. Or with the particular virtues of a product: a high rate of antioxidants, a particular consistency (honey of locust is preferred by consumers for its permanent liquid state), or a beneficial action, such as eucalyptus honey for its action expectorant and emollient ».

Something extra. So why, with prices at hand, should a consumer prefer Italian honey? In addition to the high variety of blooms that make Italian honeys unique, also due to the special care given to bees breeding given the average Italian company size.
«Even if we are the fourth honey producing country in Europe (the first is Spain), in Italy we are also considered professionals with a hundred hives; elsewhere, in order to be recognized as such, thousands are also needed », continues Cirone. It is easy to understand how the time and the attention given by our beekeepers to the individual bees' houses are greater and how - also due to the pressure of the control bodies (Nas, Asl, Ministry of Agricultural Policies) - attention to detail and quality are maximum. The larger a plant is, the more it is necessary to delegate or simplify breeding procedures ".
Moreover, with our consumption choices we can help those who have chosen beekeeping as an income integration activity . «Due to the crisis, many young people or middle-aged people are approaching beekeeping, perhaps recovering an activity that used to be grandparents. We start from family self-consumption to understand, within a year or two, if we are cut to run a small business. We support these people and place hope in the opportunity that bees represent. "
Below, the Alveari in città photogallery highlights initiatives that are beginning to assert themselves in many cities around the world, sometimes in defense of bees, sometimes to face the hardships of the economic crisis (the article continues after the gallery).

Hives in the city GO TO THE GALLERY (N photos)

Did you feel like throwing yourself into do-it-yourself beekeeping? Here are some tips on how to try. «The first necessary step», Cirone advises, «is to contact a beekeeper or associations that periodically organize introductory courses in this particular sector. We will be guided to the purchase of a few beehives in the spring: that is enough to experience the effect of the first bites and the comparison with a living being that lives and expresses itself in community ».

A bee hive in hand, ready to go into production, can hold up to 60, 000 worker bees and costs around 250.00 euros . It can also produce 25-30 kg of honey from spring to late autumn. «After the first season you will understand for yourself if you really want to be serious, and then multiplying 3 hives for 10 will be the simplest thing in this world. There are also European and national funds that encourage the establishment of new beekeepers on our territory ». The possession of even one beehive must in any case be reported to the competent authorities, generally the veterinary services of the belonging ASL.

Image Vespa velutina, sworn enemy of bees and beehives. | In addition on Focus.it :
# Hives in the city
# Honey and bees in history
# What happened to the bees?

Too hot, and the flowers change pace. Even for honey, however, these are hard times: the economic crisis and the agricultural crisis; competition with new species arrived following the roads of immigration; pollution … And climate change, which many people seem to be a topic of discussion far away and which instead already today have a visible impact on the calendar of plant blooms that bees have to pollinate and that in exchange for this vital work for the Earth give insects what is needed to support the hive: honey.

Image Vespa velutina, sworn enemy of bees and beehives. |

Because a flower that once blossomed, punctually, always at the same time of the year, today can bloom in advance on the spring season or late on the summer, or not bloom at all.

Or change the dimensions at which plants grow : a flower that 10 years ago grew to 500 meters above sea level, is already farther away today. Higher or lower, but however the bees will have to chase it.

There is therefore a complex history within a jar of honey bought at the supermarket or directly from a beekeeper, linked also to the health of our planet.

The questions under the cover. How is it produced? What characteristics must a good quality honey have? Why do some honeys cost more and others less? Follow us to discover one of the oldest and most appreciated foods in the world and which boasts, only in Italy, an annual consumption of 20 thousand tons .

In the hive, where it all begins. The raw materials for making honey are "sourced" directly from the bees: the nectar of flowers or honeydew (a sugary substance produced by the metabolism of aphids and other small insects that feed on the sap of plants) are collected by bees foraging, workers specialists who, returning to the beehive, pass the "booty" (hence the name) to the workers' companions.

The latter lay it in hexagonal cells that serve as a pantry (the combs ); by shaking the wings, other specialized bees, the ventilators, create drafts that have the purpose of evaporating the water from the honey and regulating the humidity of the hive. This natural conditioning system lowers the room temperature and keeps it constant. The following video shows the fans at work [the article continues after the video].

Once the "yield" of bees is 100, honey is worth 10: all the rest is the essential pollination activity that these extraordinary insects do for the benefit of nature and ours

All this work will guarantee food stocks for the winter season. Honey is, for the bees, a long-term source of carbohydrates : if in the summer these insects are fed with fresh food - nectar - they do not forget to turn the sugary substance of the plants into a long-life product that can provide them with the sustenance necessary for the winter months, when there is no shade of flowers.
What the man does with bees could be considered, at first glance, a food theft … But it must also be said that only a part of the honey produced by the workers is actually taken: «The beekeeper does not touch the stocks that are found under the "honeycomb" explains Giuseppe Fontanabona, former President of the APAP, the Provincial Apicoltori Piacentini Association, "and if a beehive finds itself in a situation of nutritional suffering, it reintroduces honey or pollen syrup into it, as an additional food if the remaining honey is not enough ».

Go ahead! It usually takes just over a month for the honey to dehydrate and mature to the right point. When it is ready, the workers pick it up into other cells that seal with a wax capsule ( operculum ), and at this point the honey is ready to harvest.

The hand of man: from the supers to the jar. The human processing of honey therefore begins after the flowering period, when the work of the bees is finished. To extract honey from the honeycomb, the section inside the hive that contains the honeycombs must first remove the bees. Generally it is done by using the apiscampo, a plastic disk that forces the bees to get out of the top without the possibility of going back (and which does not harm their health in any way), or with a blower of compressed air which it moves away more energetically, but without damaging them. In a clear field, you can gently remove the tops with their precious contents.
Below, the honey and the bees in history : the article continues after the photogallery.

Honey and bees in History GO TO GALLERY (N photos)

We are now ready to bring the supers to the work surface, where the honey is controlled with a special instrument - the refractometer - to control the humidity of the honey. The bees normally operculum when it has reached a humidity lower than 18% : if, for reasons of seasonality, or for the type of honey, it is found in conditions of greater humidity, it can be dehumidified with special machines that use rotating disks hot to evaporate excess water.

Image The clean and decanted honey is then poured into the jars starting from the bottom of the container (photo © Fernando Bengoechea / Beateworks / Corbis). |

Extraction and invaded. At this point, with a simple knife or a special machine, we proceed to uncapping : that is, we remove the wax lids that close the combs. It is then the time of the honey extraction : the combs, contained in the frames, the frames in which the bees have built the honeycomb, are inserted inside a rotating cylinder, the honey extractor .
Here, thanks to the centrifugal force, the combs are emptied of their contents which is diverted to large steel containers called decanters or ripeners (but even a simple bucket is enough) taking care, first of all, to filter it with meshes of different sizes, to remove the residues of wax, bees or any other foreign substance.
The clean honey is then left to decant, to let the air bubbles emerge during the honey extraction. After removing the foam of superficial bubbles, it is potted "vertically": that is, the first jars are filled with the honey that is at the bottom of the bucket because any impurities are found instead on the surface.

Distorting mixes. If we talk about industrial production rather than craftsmanship, sometimes honey is used before the storage: honey which, by nature, crystallizes in a coarse way (that is, they are more lumpy and dense on the palate due to the aggregation of the crystals of sugar) are mixed with honeys that crystallize more finely. It is a typically commercial operation, to meet the taste of the average consumer, who prefers more liquid or creamy honeys. In doing so, however, the natural characteristics of a honey are altered and, due to the mix, its link with the territory: we will have a more fluid product, still of quality but without a specific "DNA".

Varieties available and lucky vintages. The honey originated from the nectar of different species of flowers is called millefiori . Theoretically all the honeys are: it is impossible to "hijack" the bees towards a single type of flower. The categories of millefiori are endless, as are the possible combinations of plants.
One speaks instead of unifloral honey to refer to a product coming mainly from a single botanical origin (and containing, even at a microscopic level, granules of a single plant species, or almost). These honeys are obtained in the areas characterized by the presence or cultivation of prevailing plant species and are named after the flower from which they were obtained (for example linden honey, orange blossom honey and so on).

Resource to defend

Honey bees are not all the same. The main ecotype of our regions is the ligustic bee (Apis mellifera ligustica), a very productive variety, "gentle" and adaptable to different types of climate.
Among his natural enemies, in addition to the infamous Varroa destructor, the vampire mite of bees, there is the Vespa velutina, an insect killer of Asian origin that arrived in Italy from France, which attacks and destroys hives.

The only country in the world … «Italy, for the different environmental vocations of its territory, is the only country in the world where the production of honey is characterized by 30/40 different typical blooms, which make our territory exclusive for the assortment and quality of the produced honey ", explains Raffaele Cirone, President of FAI, the Italian Beekeepers Federation.
«This does not happen in other countries, where a honey, even if of excellent quality, remains however equal to itself from north to south in very large territories. We can talk about thyme, rhododendron, linden, rosemary, dandelion, ailanthus, thistle, asphodel, on, medlar, lemon … and the list can go on for each flower typical of a particular area, to then trespass on the millefiori, which are the sum of what a place offers during the entire flowering season. A sensorial adventure for those who want to discover what Italian bees are capable of ».

Fortune-kissed years. Even honey, like wine and all agricultural products, is subject to the weather (climate and microclimate) and the vagaries of the seasons: these variables affect the quantity and taste of the final product.

«The good year, in the case of honey, is one in which the meteorological and climatic trends ensure that the typical blooms of an area are abundantly visited by bees during the season that goes, depending on the geographical area, from February in October-November, "explains Cirone. «In rare, fortunate conditions, when the weather is mild, blooms of such a high quality survive for a long time that honey becomes a real identity card for the places where bees have done their capillary work. For example, if between December and January the medlar blooms in Sicily, or arbutus in Sardinia, are not ruined by rain or temperature changes, we will obtain a rare honey of extraordinary quality, which will have a price three, four times higher than that of any other flowering and that can be "optioned" by some traders even 5 years in advance . "

How to recognize quality honey? «Honey, like wine and like oil, is a living product, closely linked to the territory», Fontanabona says, «brings with it the properties of the flower from which it derives. If you are lucky enough to meet a beekeeper in your area, to visit the activity and taste the various types of honey, you can buy a safe, zero-kilometer product that keeps the area of ​​origin alive. And we must not feel guilty, because once the "yield" of bees is reached, honey is only 10: all the rest is the essential pollination activity that these extraordinary insects do for the benefit of nature and the community. "

A natural cure-all

Raw honey can be recognized as having antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties, closely related to the plant from which it derives: fir honey, for example, is an antiseptic of the respiratory tract; that of acacia, a mild laxative; that of thyme has calming qualities … It provides vitamins of groups B and C and being made up of simple sugars, such as fructose and glucose, predigested by bees, is energetic and easy to metabolize.

The label. Goodness is also closely linked to compliance with the rules : "A good honey must meet internationally established parameters", adds Cirone, "and guarantee precise physical and chemical characteristics such as, for example, humidity, enzymes, sugars, electrical conductivity. Do not have food ingredients added or other substances (organic and inorganic) that are foreign to its natural composition. It cannot be deprived of pollens and other natural components, it must not have begun fermentation processes, nor have it undergone thermal preservation or acidity correction treatments ».
The heat treatments, for example, consist of subjecting the honey to high temperatures (about 75 ° C) for a few seconds, for example, to keep it liquid for as long as possible and more suitable for a long time on supermarket shelves. But they are treatments that profoundly alter the content of vitamins, enzymes and mineral salts of the original product.
All these qualities must be correctly described in the labeling, together with the geographical origin (national, Community, non-EU) of the honey placed on the market.
The difference … it tastes! «Industrial honey, on the other hand», continues Cirone, « is not a by-product, but responds to different commercial rules, often based not so much on the importance of taste or unique characteristics of a territorial production, but on a known brand and advertised, on mixtures from different countries, on particular price policies. We, however, as the Italian Beekeepers Federation, are for the honey of our house, marked with a guarantee seal with the Italian tricolor, numbered and referable to each of our associates. Go to the home of a beekeeper, see how and where he works, enjoy his product during processing in the laboratory … You will understand what we are talking about! "

Image Loaded honeycombs and a jar of raw honey (photo © Kate Kunz / Corbis). |

The intrinsic and certified organic. Along with the rules established for almost all foods, organic certification for honey arrived in 2007. To be called "bio" a honey must be produced in a beehive that is no less than 3 kilometers from high-traffic roads, industrial plants, extensive specialized crops (where chemical fertilizers could be used); the hives must be made of natural materials and antibiotics, pesticides and other products that can leave harmful residues in honey cannot be used for the treatment of materials; bees cannot be killed when extracting honeycombs; GMOs must not be used and the final product cannot be mixed, micro-filtered or pasteurized.
Characteristics, in hindsight, that should be respected in all beekeeping and that have always been observed by small local beekeepers, whose "organic" guarantee is the territory itself on which we work : "All honey, by its nature, should belong to the "bio" category ", Cirone points out, " as long as it comes from beekeeping conducted with traditional methods and respectful of the biological processes of bees. Since this is a European regulation, or equivalent international standards, in order to be able to boast of a trademark it is however necessary that the production process is certified by an authorized body ».

Price differences: what do they depend on? In Italy, about 100-150, 000 quintals of honey are produced each year and as many are imported to satisfy market demand. The main countries from which we import are (in order) Hungary, Argentina and China. Chinese honey, particularly cheap (1.40 euros per kilo), is used mostly to dilute other honeys in industrial processing.

Image A couple of Chinese beekeepers dressed by over 10, 000 bees: for the unusual cover they used the queen as bait, to demonstrate their confidence with bees and beekeeping (photo © Zhang Chunxiang / Xinhua Press / Corbis). |

Honeys from Eastern European countries are cheaper than Italian ones. While our honeys are in a range of 8 to 20 euros per kilo, Hungarian honey costs 3.35 euros per kilo, Romanian 3.08 euros and Ukrainian 1.91 euros per kilo.
«On the price», Cirone explains, « the value of the local labor force, the productive capacity - that is the number of beekeepers and hives - and the quantity of honey theoretically obtainable from the particular habitats influence. For example, in Ukraine, where the World Beekeeping Congress was held recently, an average monthly salary is around 150 euros : it is clear that it is not possible to compare these figures with the production costs of an Italian beekeeper. "
"On the other hand, the high cost of some honeys - such as the bitter strawberry tree, typical of Sardinia and the Tyrrhenian coasts with Mediterranean scrub - is justified by the scarce availability of the product compared to the high demand on the domestic and international market. Or with the particular virtues of a product: a high rate of antioxidants, a particular consistency (honey of locust is preferred by consumers for its permanent liquid state), or a beneficial action, such as eucalyptus honey for its action expectorant and emollient ».

Something extra. So why, with prices at hand, should a consumer prefer Italian honey? In addition to the high variety of blooms that make Italian honeys unique, also due to the special care given to bees breeding given the average Italian company size.
«Even if we are the fourth honey producing country in Europe (the first is Spain), in Italy we are also considered professionals with a hundred hives; elsewhere, in order to be recognized as such, thousands are also needed », continues Cirone. It is easy to understand how the time and the attention given by our beekeepers to the individual bees' houses are greater and how - also due to the pressure of the control bodies (Nas, Asl, Ministry of Agricultural Policies) - attention to detail and quality are maximum. The larger a plant is, the more it is necessary to delegate or simplify breeding procedures ".
Moreover, with our consumption choices we can help those who have chosen beekeeping as an income integration activity . «Due to the crisis, many young people or middle-aged people are approaching beekeeping, perhaps recovering an activity that used to be grandparents. We start from family self-consumption to understand, within a year or two, if we are cut to run a small business. We support these people and place hope in the opportunity that bees represent. "
Below, the Alveari in città photogallery highlights initiatives that are beginning to assert themselves in many cities around the world, sometimes in defense of bees, sometimes to face the hardships of the economic crisis (the article continues after the gallery).

Hives in the city GO TO THE GALLERY (N photos)

Did you feel like throwing yourself into do-it-yourself beekeeping? Here are some tips on how to try. «The first necessary step», Cirone advises, «is to contact a beekeeper or associations that periodically organize introductory courses in this particular sector. We will be guided to the purchase of a few beehives in the spring: that is enough to experience the effect of the first bites and the comparison with a living being that lives and expresses itself in community ».

A bee hive in hand, ready to go into production, can hold up to 60, 000 worker bees and costs around 250.00 euros . It can also produce 25-30 kg of honey from spring to late autumn. «After the first season you will understand for yourself if you really want to be serious, and then multiplying 3 hives for 10 will be the simplest thing in this world. There are also European and national funds that encourage the establishment of new beekeepers on our territory ». The possession of even one beehive must in any case be reported to the competent authorities, generally the veterinary services of the belonging ASL.