The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861

Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor – July 2021

- July 1, 2021 - (excerpt)

Making Lemonade out of Lemons

This letter was inspired by the great content in the May 2021 issue. While my brooding actually began with the article on the new EPA standards for oxalic acid, the actual motivation that solicited an initial (mental) response was aroused by Jamie Ellis’s suggestions in regards to fermented honey. This baby step was further stoked by Lloyd Ziegler’s article on beekeeping practices in Africa. Alison McAfee’s article on feral honey bees gave the final impetus which transformed mental thought into written words.

Seems to me that while fermented honey is not suitable for honey bees there is no reason to cut losses and toss it either. To the connoisseur, fermented honey is but one step in the production of a pleasant and mildly alcoholic beverage called mead, which in some cultures is reputed to have beneficial health properties not unlike wine does when taken in common sense amounts. Why cut losses with fermented honey, as Jamie suggested, when turned into mead it becomes a beverage that can be enjoyed not only among friends, neighbors, and family, but also be made available to “discerning” people who are willing to pay for the opportunity to avail themselves of such tonic?

In my creative mind, I can envision a future in which the artisan elaboration of mead by local beekeepers can coexist side by side with local wineries and in so doing attract a large and growing number of enthusiasts that would joyfully and eagerly tour the various “meaderies” not unlike wine connoisseurs do across state, country, and world.

In her article, Alison McAfee makes a reference to the ethical and economical obligation people have to keep bee colonies healthy through management. She also makes note of the immorality of withholding treatment to those suffering from disease. I would like to kindly point out however that the immorality is not in withholding treatment but rather in willfully creating the conditions that produce and foster disease and the bees’ inability to naturally cope with disease the way feral colonies do with great success, and to pretend it is ok to do so. I would also like to point out that the ethical and economical obligation beekeepers have to keep “their” colonies healthy should not depend on “proper management” but rather on implementing beekeeping practices that are of one accord with the natural needs of bees and that create healthy robust colonies in the first place.

This is why in this future I envision the highest accolades would go to the mead artisans who can not only boast of natural, low-tech brewing techniques but also of beekeeping practices that are in line with the natural behavior of bees.

Seems to me that perhaps it is not Africans who need to be “modernized” with western bee “exploiting” practices but rather westerners who need to re-learn from so called “primitive” societies how to give bees the conditions they really need to thrive with minimal human intervention/management other than the collection of honey.

Nature has given us bees that like to make “worthless” drones. Bees that like to swarm. Bees that like to have their brooding chambers as far away from the entrance as possible. Bees that have survived for eons (and still do) without human intervention and the nonsensical idea of spraying toxic chemicals on them to keep them healthy. While to many these are all lemons that need to be eradicated in the name of the almighty dollar, to me (as well as to countless people all over the world who retain their “primitive” beekeeping ways) these lemons are nothing more than a good reason to make lemonade and have some good healthy fun in the process. Lemonade anyone?

Martin Riedel
Dateland, Arizona


Medicinal honey: Where’s the Science?

About the article by M.E.A. McNeil in the May issue [“Medicinal Honey for Animals: What We Know and What More We Need to Know”]. Let me get this straight: An animal was presented at the prestigious Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital of the University of California, with severe burns on the feet. It was treated with a certain honey — from the other side of the world no less — and guess what? The wounds healed! Wow! And we are all to embrace this as a scientific report with clinical relevance. Not I. Show me some controls using 85% table sugar in tap water.

Allen Cosnow D.V.M.
Glencoe, Illinois

Mea responds:

Dear Dr. Cosnow,

Thank you for your response to my article on the use of honey in the treatment of animals. Yes, you are correct, and the article underlines, the science for such veterinary use lags well behind the long-researched use in humans. As Dr. Nadine Vogt was quoted: “We have very little research investigating this in animals.” The article is meant to be an account of experience and investigation from two veterinary scientists, a snapshot, and I regret any impression that it was meant to be more.

Dr. Vogt’s scoping review that summarizes the biomedical literature regarding burns in animals, cited in the article, is open access: She writes in response to Dr. Cosnow, “The total number of challenge studies in rats and mice was 60. These challenge trials all have control or placebo groups. The publications identified in the scoping review are listed, should you wish to read any of these articles in further detail.” She adds that there is not nearly enough veterinary research, which was her purpose for creating the review as an assessment to “advance the discussion of efficacy of products like honey to a place where we can assess the medicinal value using the highest quality of scientific evidence possible. Until this assessment is possible, the absence of evidence does not constitute evidence of absence; that is, until we can properly assess the efficacy of honey, we shouldn’t assume it doesn’t work.” She added in an email response, “I personally know many veterinarians that are very open to honey as a therapeutic, and I’m optimistic that they represent the majority.”

Best wishes,
Mea McNeil

More on Bees and Pools

Dear Joe Conti and Neranza Noel Blount [May Letters],

For many years I maintained a small decorative pool beside my house, made of a children’s hard plastic wading pool bedded in the ground in sand. To prevent mosquitoes I did two things:

A small bubbler set on its lowest bubble to keep the water just barely moving. Next to the house so I could plug it in. There are solar fountains now, much better.

Most important, “feeder” goldfish which at the time were five for a dollar at the pet store. The goldfish eagerly eat any mosquito larvae.

This was the watering hole for every walking or flying critter in the neighborhood. I placed as many old broken ceramic drain pipes (4-6” diameter) as would fit in the pool, for the goldfish to hide in from raccoonsand maybe birds. Several pieces of flat shale stone on top gave plentiful, gently-sloped … .