Bees Thrive With Diverse Probiotics

There is now evidence that honeybee colonies whose queen mated with many male bees show a more diverse beneficial microbial population. Mating with many males is what queens do in nature–it is only through human-controlled artificial insemination or other breeding programs that queens are not able to mate with many genetically diverse males.

Needless to say, none of The Chassidic Beekeeper queens were mated in controlled breeding programs. Rather, they were born and bred naturally and that is one of the many reasons these bees are more naturally robust and do not require human interference in the form of miticides, medicines, or artificial feeding.

Here is a summary of the article from Futurity.org summarizing the recent study published in PLoS ONE:

The research identified, for the first time, important food-processing genera in honey bee colonies: Succinivibrio and Oenococcus were the dominant genera found in the study and there was 40 percent greater activity of the probiotic genera Bifidobacterium and Paralactobacillus in colonies that were genetically diverse compared to those that were genetically uniform.

Genetic diversity is created in a colony when a queen mates with many male bees, an act that is known to improve colony health and productivity.
[…]
“What we observed in our work was that there was less likelihood of potentially pathogenic bacteria showing up in genetically diverse honey bee colonies compared to genetically uniform colonies.”
[…]
“What we found was that genetically diverse colonies have a more diverse, healthful, active bacterial community—a greater number and diversity of bacterial sequences affiliated with beneficial genera were found in genetically diverse colonies,” Newton says.

“Conversely, genetically uniform colonies had a higher activity of potential plant and animal pathogens in their digestive tract—127 percent higher than workers from genetically diverse colonies.”

Honey Makes List of Healthiest Foods in the World

The Mother Nature Network published an article yesterday titled “The 11 healthiest foods in the world” based on the thinking of J.I. Rodale, the father of organic gardening in the United States.

Honey makes it on their list, and with good reason. As the article reports, “Honey is rich in antioxidants and is often used as an antiseptic treatment on wounds. As Rodale said, it also contains phytoestrogens, and studies on Greek honey have found that those phytoestrogens can blunt the growth of breast, prostate and endometrial cancers. Honey also has a low glycemic index, so using it to sweeten tea or coffee won’t lead to energy-busting blood sugar drops later in the day.”

Yesterday was also Purim, a day on which much refined sugar, flour, and oils are shared and consumed (which all increase disease). Not sure what to think about that.

Honey-Bound

Tonight is Rosh Chodesh Adar! As Chazal say, “From when Adar arrives, we increase in joy” every day (“Mi’she’nichnas Adar marbin b’simcha“).

Today I inspected Hive Number One, which I have named Der Golem. I thought the name was fitting since, like the well-known Golem of Prague who was made of earth and had the breath of life mystically breathed into him, so too did Hive Number One seemingly spring to life on its own after I left an empty wood box outdoors for a couple weeks. I visited one day and it was magically filled with bees.

Of course, what really happened was that a swarm of bees sent out scouts to find a new home and they found my box and moved in. But the name is fitting.

What I discovered was a hive filled with a lot of honey. Too much honey, in fact. I got advice from Kirk Anderson of Backwards Beekeepers (one of my beekeeping mentors) that my hive is probably honey-bound, which means there’s too much honey and not enough room for the queen to lay eggs.

What that means is that the bees have done a great job collecting nectar and pollen and making honey, and now it is my job as a beekeeper to open up space for them in the hive so the queen can lay more eggs.

Which means it’s time to harvest some honey from Der Golem. “Marbin b’simcha” indeed!

Costa Mesa Bee Rescue

The entrance to the old hive.

Just got home from an exciting morning of rescuing bees. This particular colony had taken up residence under a Tuff Shed in Laura’s Costa Mesa backyard.

Laura’s yard was a wonderful place to work. She is a teacher at a Waldorf school and the yard reflected that. There was an array of wonderful fruit trees, an organic garden, and a tree house. Also, she makes hand-crafted beeswax candles and she gave me one in appreciation for rescuing her bees! Thank you Laura :)

The bees had to be removed because one of Laura’s sons got stung and found out he was very allergic. I was very happy that she decided to have her bees rescued instead of destroyed.

The cavity where the old hive was.

The bees had dug an entrance through the dirt under the metal base of the shed. The only way to relocate the bees was to cut out part of the floor inside the shed and remove the bees from there.

I smoked the bees a bit while preparing my equipment. I then sawed a rectangle through the 1-inch wood flooring and removed that panel which had much comb (and bees!) hanging from it. They were quite a friendly colony and didn’t give any problems whatsoever.

The cut-out comb.

I tied much of the brood comb and a bit of honey comb into the frames and inserted them into the nuc box.

Eventually the bees realized that the nuc box was their new home and started migrating there en masse. That is a good sign and hopefully the queen made it in there.

I cleaned out all the old comb and sprayed vinegar water to deter bees from moving back. I picked up the nuc at night which is the time that bees “roost” and are very calm, sticking together to keep warm. I dropped them off at my bee yard and they seem to be doing very well so far b”H.

Well, it was an exhausting day but b”H a success. There is so much to learn from the bees.

The shulchan aruch :)

This is a cardboard nuc box, the bees' temporary home.

Laura, the bees, and me.

Chassidic Beekeepers!!!

I got my first bee rescue call last week from a Rabbi Sulami in Los Angeles. I went to his home erev shabbos to investigate the situation–and indeed there is a colony of honeybees living in his attic which we’re planning to trap out.

But the most interesting aspect of the interaction was that Rabbi Sulami mentioned that the Schneorson family of Kfar Chabad are also Chassidic beekeepers. This piqued my interest so I did some research and found this awesome article from Beis Moshiach magazine written by Yitzchok Wagshul (link here (opens as PDF, page 13)):

Rabbi Moshe Zalman Schneorson z”l

No one is better qualified to tell us [that honey symbolizes our wish for a good and sweet new
year] than the Schneorson family of Kfar Chabad. Because of its health benefits, the family used honey extensively in place of sugar, and, with 23 children (kein ayin hara)—the family is renowned for its size—this quickly became an expensive proposition. Around 28 years ago, Rabbi Moshe Zalman Schneorson z”l, a staunch Lubavitcher chassid and relative of the Rebbe, bought bees and began producing his own honey to save money. He gradually expanded the operation until today, the family business, Schneorson Honey, is Israel’s largest producer of organic, natural honey. The family runs a visitors’ center called Me’achorei Hadvash—“Behind the Honey”—with a fun program that attracts several busloads per day of schoolchildren and tour groups, who come from all over the country to visit the educational exhibits and learn how honey is produced. Along the way, the family has discovered many ways to teach about Yiddishkait and Moshiach.

Shoshi Rivkin, Reb Moshe Zalman z”l’s daughter, runs Me’achorei Hadvash. She feels the very fact that such an interesting and impressive operation—there is something inherently appealing and family-friendly about watching bees make honey—is located in a chareidi setting like Kfar Chabad and run by a chassidic family makes a positive impression on the exhibit’s many secular visitors. Beyond that, though, there is much about the lives and behavior of bees that suggests lessons for life in general, especially life as chassidim.

Here are some facts that help us to see these lessons, as well as to appreciate that, as the pasuk says (T’hillim 104:24), “How numerous are Your creations, O Hashem! You have made them all with wisdom”:
A typical beehive contains 30,000-50,000, sometimes up to 80,000, bees, all working together in perfect harmony. Every bee knows its function, and performs its task—cleaning honeycomb cells, feeding larvae, making wax, gathering food—on a fixed schedule. A single worker bee lives no more than around six weeks, producing only about a teaspoon of honey in its brief life; on any given food-gathering flight, a bee brings back to the hive less than 1/10 gram of nectar.

But because of the unity and industriousness of the whole hive, the colony as a group functions with great efficiency and produces much honey. This in itself is a lesson in life: bees have no ego, and do not allow personal agendas to interfere with their goal. Each of us, too, has his or her own mission in life and in avoda, as well as our collective goal of accomplishing Hashem’s will and bringing Moshiach. If we could only work together with the same singleminded devotion and unity as bees, how much better could we accomplish our purpose?

Another noteworthy fact: It takes over 12,000 foraging flights by bees to produce enough honey for a one-kilogram jar (about 2.2 lbs.). Since an individual bee lives only about six weeks in the summer, and the seasonal output for an entire hive can reach up to about 40 kilograms (about 88 lbs.), it turns out that most of a bee’s work is actually done for the benefit of the next generation.

All the bees in a hive are ruled by one “royal” bee: the queen. She is the most important bee in the hive, because her function is to lay eggs and perpetuate the life of the entire colony. In fact, every single one of the 80,000 other bees is her child; they are literally all siblings! Without a queen, the hive would die out, and the bees are all utterly devoted to her. Now, here is a fascinating fact about this royal bee: she is essentially no different from any other bee in the hive, and is selected by the ordinary bees to become their queen. Bees whose function it is to nurse the larvae feed one larva extra amounts of a special substance called “royal jelly,” and this causes the selected larva to develop into a queen. Thus, the queen is “anointed” by the colony, and the colony derives its very life from the queen. What a parallel to the concept of a Rebbe, to the concept of Melech HaMoshiach! In fact, perhaps this is another reason why we eat honey on Rosh HaShana, the holiday whose theme is the acceptance of Hashem’s malchus over us all.

Yedidia Flint, Reb Moshe Zalman z”l’s oldest daughter, lives in Crown Heights, where she is extremely active in mivtzaim and educating people about Moshiach. A true soldier, Mrs. Flint is one of those energetic people who always carries a supply of Moshiach and Sheva Mitzvos cards, never missing an opportunity to hand them out and discuss them. She distributes Schneorson honey, which comes in various varieties and in beautiful jars and gift packages, to local purchasers, and, since they are on hand, gives out small containers in her pre-Rosh HaShana mivtzaim. “It’s amazing how a tiny bit of honey—I usually give out the smallest size, which only contains about 1/3 oz.—nevertheless opens people up so much,” she says. “Everybody takes it with a broad smile, and they are then willing to talk and accept other items as well.”

Mrs. Flint says she has met many people over the years who have related interesting stories after she gave them honey and wished them a sweet new year. Recently, for example, she was doing mivtzaim on the boardwalk near Coney Island. A Russian gentleman shared his story. He himself did not appear particularly frum, but he told Mrs. Flint that, before the Soviets tried to wipe out Judaism (r”l), his grandparents and other relatives had had a connection with Lubavitch. Some thirty years ago, he recalled, when Rabbi Berel Lazar—the Rebbe’s shliach and chief rabbi of Russia and the C.I.S.—first came to Russia from Italy, the latter did not speak Russian. The man befriended him and helped him learn the language; he remained close with the rabbi and gave him a good deal of assistance for some time thereafter. Eventually, this individual left Russia and came to New York. Before his departure, Rabbi Lazar gave him a letter—it seemed to Mrs. Flint that it was in the nature of a letter of introduction, written in Yiddish— to show to the Rebbe. The man valued that letter (and, no doubt, his meeting with the Rebbe) so much that he carried it with him ever since, and actually showed it to Mrs. Flint on the boardwalk. When the Rebbe read the letter, he was so pleased that he told the man, “Ask me whatever you want and I’ll do it for you.” May we all receive that bracha, especially for that which we all want more than anything else— Moshiach now!—and may we all be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year.

Bee Honey in Tanach

It is generally agreed upon by Chazal that “the land of milk and honey” and other references to honey throughout the Torah refer to date honey. In particular this is because if the Torah is praising the land, then it should praise that which comes from the land after all. Dates grow from the land (that is, from the soil), while bee honey is fermented from the nectar of flowers. (Similarly regarding the “milk,” there are opinions that it was either almond milk or white wine, both agricultural products from the soil.)

However, there are numerous explicit references to bee honey throughout Tanach. The following are some of them (and some that may refer to date honey), and they are quite beautiful pasukim at that:

Tehillim 19:11 “[The judgments of Hashem] are more desirable than gold, than even much fine gold; and sweeter than honey, and drippings from the combs.”

Ibid. 119:103 “How sweet to my palate is Your word, more than honey to my mouth.”

Mishlei 16:24 “Words of pleasantness are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bone.”

Ibid. 25:16 “When you find honey, eat what is sufficient for you, lest you be satiated and vomit it up.”

Ibid. 27:7 “The sated soul will trample a honeycomb; but to the hungry soul, all bitter is sweet.”

Shir Hashirim 4:11 “The sweetness of Torah drips from your lips. Like honey and milk it lies under your tongue; your very garments are scented with precepts like the scent of Lebanon.”