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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Gesundheit! in the Valley…

Pollen fog

If you have allergy problems, you might want to skip this post. A few weekends ago I visited my youngest brother Keith in Eastern Washington. Keith is a staunch believer in health food drinks. His morning fare is a vegetable smoothie, a mash of kale, spinach, chard (dandelion greens?)—and, Brother told me, a heaping spoonful of bee pollen. Now between you and me, I’d much rather down a tall glass of orange juice with my Fred Meyer bran flakes than salad greens and pollen pulverized in an Osterizer. There’s something about “green”for breakfast that is sooo not “green.” Green eggs and ham…? Ughhhh!

Healthy lifestyles folk maintain that just about everything associated with the honeybee is beneficial to humans: “Whatever’s good for the bee, is also good for me.” There’s the honey and honeycomb, for sure. Propolis, the sticky substance bees gather from tree and plant sap (cottonwoods in the Valley) to chink cracks, seal hive lids, and gorilla glue together the internal parts of their hive, purportedly has anti-bacterial properties. Russian folk medicine advises a propolis plaster to remove corns. One of my honey customers, an immigrant from Khazakhstan, told me that balls of propolis are readily available in street markets throughout the country.

Royal jelly is a high protein (nearly 50% protein) “sauce” fed to specially chosen worker bee larvae and is thus called because it is the essential diet they need to become queen bee adults. Young worker bees between the ages of five—to fifteen days old produce this milky substance with their hypopharyngeal glands by synthesizing pollen and honey. Researchers maintain that royal jelly contains all known amino acids, is high in vitamin and hormones. Studies of royal jelly have shown the pudding-like gel, like propolis, possesses bactericidal properties. Because of royal jelly’s high hormonal content and its ability to transform the lowly worker bee into a super bee, the queen of the hive, some believe this elixir can work miracles for them in their own personal arena of “the birds and the bees,” if you know what I mean.

And let’s not forget that potent venom sack each bee’s sting is primed with. Even this nasty juice reputedly has medicinal properties. I’ve heard it said there’s a very small incidence of arthritis among beekeepers but can cite no specific studies to validate this as fact (I’m sure such studies exist…). Bee sting therapy or “apitherapy” has been used on sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis and with some claims of success, too. I don’t know about that…seems to me bee stings might work as a distraction: the substitution of one species of pain for another. Some years back at my wife’s request I strategically applied a sting on the large knuckle of her  troublesome left thumb. The effect? Pain, swelling, and an itchy thumb for days after. But, she told me, she has OSTEO arthritis. So there went one wasted bee sting (and bee).

Now back to my brother and his pollen-laced smoothie. Keith spoons the pollen into his breakfast tonic because of its high nutritional value and protein content. Pollen, like royal jelly, is nearly fifty % protein. You might say it’s the bread of life for the honeybee colony. You can purchase containers of pollen at health food stores. Keith does. He told me he pays nearly seventeen dollars for a jar of the stuff. His pollen is not local pollen, which many folks seek because they maintain local pollens ameliorate their allergies. Most of the pollen sold in naturopathic stores is foreign; some is international; a goodly amount comes from our own southwest desert regions. Unprocessed honey such as my bees produce, honey extracted straight from the comb—unstrained and unheated—contains pollen grains, another reason why local honey is a sought after commodity. I always kept a few small jars of bee pollen in my inventory along with the honey I sold roadside here in the Valley because every season a handful of customers would ask for it. For those curious about the product, I would emphasize pollen’s nutritional value over its repute as an anti-allergen.

Field bees collect pollen on their large hind legs using their first and second pair of legs to work the sticky substance into the pollen baskets on the tibia portion of the hind legs until a plump pollen pellet is formed on each. Back to the hive they go, two pellets at a time. Both are removed and packed tightly into the comb cells for later use. The bees store the pollen in designated pollen combs, usually on the outer edges of the cluster of brood frames.pollen frame

I thought I’d throw some of the Valley pollen into my brother’s smoothie and installed a pollen trap on one of my hives.Pollen trap This form of entrapment actually is wire mesh thievery. The pollen-laden bee is forced to climb through layers of a certain gauge wire mesh one leg at a time. On the way to deliver her goods, she crawls through the layer of screen which deftly scrapes the pellet from each hind leg.Trap's wire maze The pollen then falls through a straining screen into a collection basket which is little more than a removable tray one slides out to retrieve the collected pollen.Pollen basket filterPollen pellets come in a variety of colors depending upon their floral source. Hazelnut pollen, collected in late January and February is a pale yellow color as is willow. Dandelion pollen is a lovely orange. Some pellets are nearly white.Collecting tray In the collection tray one is likely to see green pellets, purples, and some nearly black creating a veritable pallet of pollen pellets. 


Pollen is an essential ingredient in the nutritional health and development of colony strength; therefore, pollen traps should be reValley pollenmoved after a few days’ use to allow this vital substance to flow freely into the hive again.

So good health from the Valley to you, Brother Keith. Enjoy your breakfast smoothie on us. 

pollen tubes






What about bee poop, you ask? No claims of medicinal qualities I know of for that bee “by-product” yet. But certainly there are on-going studies  somewhere….

Regarding bee droppings: the litigious neighbor of a self-respecting, innocuous beekeeper, frustrated at the incessant speckling of his cars (his driveway was beneath the bees’ flight pattern) by his neighbor’s busy bees, sued for property damage. The case came to court, the claimant presented his argument, and a judgment was handed down in favor of the beekeeper and his employees. The court ruled, “You can’t diaper a bee.” Case closed.

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