Honey Bee Healthy

Georgia Pellegrini is author of the books Food Heroes and the soon-to-be-released Girl Hunter. She writes the blog GeorgiaPellegrini.com and spends the rest of her time gallivanting around the world, hunting and gathering, tasting good food, and meeting the good people who make it.

You can catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook, and her family’s honey is available from Tulipwood Farm.

My father has been a bee keeper for quite a few years now so I suppose you could say that I’ve learned through osmosis and by being his assistant from time to time.

He dotes on his bees like they are his children, and I have to say there’s nothing else like the honey that they produce. I grew up on the same land that my great-grandfather lived on. He named his place Tulipwood, which is fitting because the Tulip Tree blossom is the only place that a honeybee can go and completely fill up on nectar without having to go to another source before returning to the hive.

One of the things my dad does to help his hives along is to make them H-B-H, which stands for “Honey Bee Healthy.” He makes his own, but you can buy it too. It includes sugar, water, lecithin granules, spearmint water, and lemongrass oil. He feeds this to them once the honey flow has stopped.

The honey flow stops when the flowers stop blooming, sometime in the middle of the summer. In the fall you start to get more blooms and that’s called the “second flow.”

Last year he lost two hives to starvation, so this year he wanted to get a jump-start and make sure they have plenty of store for the winter so they don’t starve.

He takes a quart bag and adds the liquid after he squeezes most of the air out.

Then he dons his bee suit.

He has Russian bees that come from Don “the Fat Beeman” Kuchenmeister, in Lula, Georgia.

They appear to be more gentle than the Italian bees he used to have. And they’re small cell bees. The small cell bee theory is totally and utterly fascinating, and something I spent a lot of time researching for Food Heroes. I went to Norway and followed a bee keeper around who believes he knows how to “save the bees.”

You see, the bees have been disappearing in recent years in an epidemic called “Colony Collapse Disorder,” and there are many theories as to why. My Norwegian bee friend has the answer, which has made him unpopular among the scientists. (It is a very complicated subject — I wrote a whole chapter on this in the book).

This is the top of the baby hive, called a “nuc.” A small hive helps the new bees get started when you take frames from another hive and let some of them start over.

It’s called a “walkaway split.” You put a frame or two of capped brood, a frame of honey and a frame of pollen, and they make their own queen, and in six weeks they’re back up to speed. To start their own queen, they make royal jelly, and feed it to a regular bee to turn her into a queen.

He lays the plastic bag over the top, lays it over the frames, cuts four small slits in it, and they come up, gather it and take it down to store it.

The smoke makes them drowsy so that you can mess with their hives for a few minutes. When they smell smoke they cluster together down below to protect the queen.

These boxes are made out of cypress wood because, my dad says, “I’m a nut.”

He sands them and oils them and they last forever. “I have happy boxes,” he says.

This year he also produced “comb honey,” where you put boxes in called “shallows.” They are special frames where you can cut a square chunk of honey comb out dripping with honey. So people can “harvest” their own at home, so to speak. I for one love a square of honey comb sitting on a cheese plate. There’s something fun about chewing the wax.

Here he’s pulling out some of the frames to check on them, since two of these hives are brand new.

One isn’t doing as well as the other. The queen isn’t as strong. If she doesn’t lay eggs in a dense pattern, or if she lays eggs more haphazardly, then you don’t get as many bees. And the more bees, the more honey.

Some of the frames have capped brood, which means they have new bees in there percolating. You put a separator in the hive so the queen, who is bigger, can’t fit through to go up high. That way you know you’ll harvest your honey from the top frames, and leave the bottom frames for her to lay eggs in.

Both of these new hives get “HBH.”

But these guys are doing awfully well. They don’t get any extra help. If they do too well, there will be so much honey that they will swarm and start a new hive on a tree somewhere, away from this hive. And that isn’t good. So you have to keep an eye on them and keep adding layers for them to grow into.

Here is the recipe for Honey Bee Healthy that my dad uses. You can make gallons for the price of a store-bought bottle of HBH!

“Honey Bee Healthy”

5 cups Water
2 1/2 pounds Sugar
1/8 tsp. Lecithin Granules (used as an emulsifier)
15 drops Spearmint Oil
15 drops Lemongrass Oil

1. Bring the water to a boil and integrate the sugar until dissolved.
2. Once the sugar is dissolved remove the mixture from the heat and quickly add the lecithin and the essential oils.
3. Stir until everything is evenly distributed. This solution should have a strong scent and not be left open around bees. Cool before using.

Makes 2 quarts.

[A note from Andrew:  Lecithin doesn’t pass the kitchen test, but since this is for the bees to eat and not us, I figure it’s okay to include this recipe. If you keep bees, or are thinking about keeping bees, I hope the HBH recipe is helpful for you — and your bees!]

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17 Responses to Honey Bee Healthy

  1. Kirsten January 31, 2016 at 10:47 am #

    Thanks for sharing this. It is January 30th and there are honey bees all over my compost pile. Nothing is in bloom and I imagine they are hungry. I am not a bee keeper but I would love too be… I guess you can say I am Bee aware.
    I am off to make Bee Healthy….

  2. Vicki June 24, 2015 at 8:43 am #

    About HRH, I go by the instructions on the bottled commercial product and add this to the sugar water in the top feeder at the rate of 1 teaspoon per quart of sugar water, which can be increased to 2 teaspoons per quart for “maximum efficacy.” The label says you can use it as a drench to calm the bees or to entice them to work plastic foundation. Instructions for using as a drench are on the bottle.

  3. Vicki June 24, 2015 at 8:36 am #

    I made this recipe for homemade Honey Bee Healthy using sunflower lecithin granules rather than soy lecithin. The lecithin granules did not want to dissolve so I poured the mixture into my VitaMix blender at a high speed and let it go for about a minute. This dissolved the lecithin almost entirely. For the next batch I will use more lecithin as what I got going by the recipe is a rather thin mixture.

    Also, I poured the boiled water over the sugar rather than adding the sugar to the boiling water and cooking it till the sugar dissolved. The latter can cause crystals to form and I understand that crystallized sugar is harmful to the bees.

    Thanks for the recipe. It smells very much like the commercial product and I’m sure the bees will love it. NOTE: the recipe makes 4 pints of HBH.

  4. David L July 9, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

    When using a bag of HBH is it ok to eat the honey, if feed two months before or should you not use the honey that may have lecithin that was feed to the bees thanks.

    • Karen P July 13, 2014 at 11:02 am #

      I have the same questions about being able to eat the honey that is obtained from a hive which has been fed HBH.

      • Brian February 21, 2015 at 6:53 am #

        David and Karen, you should not use HBH once you put the honey supers on the hive. The supers are the shallow boxes above the queen excluder that hold the frames from which you extract the honey. HBH can be used to feed the bees at other times, when there is not a heavy nectar flow. HBH does not have a negative impact on bee health, and I have never heard that it causes a buildup of undesirable compounds in the comb.

  5. Chris June 26, 2014 at 10:11 pm #

    Thanks so much for sharing the recipe, great fit for what I am looking for. I also thoroughly enjoyed your ‘write up’. Although I have been a beekeeper for some time and familiar with your dad’s process, I did find it very interesting that he has obtained some bees from Don. Such a small world.

    hailing from NC

  6. Reg Morgan April 14, 2014 at 1:17 am #

    Great article. However, a split will not work with two frames of capped brood. Workers need a frame of eggs and newly hatched eggs to make a new queen. So one of each ( capped and open) will work well with a good number of workers shaken in from the original hive.
    Here in the Eastern cape of South Africa some feeding for a long dry winter is highly recommended.

  7. Randy March 1, 2013 at 3:52 am #

    You mention “oil” is that essential oils or tinctures of spearmint and lemongrass? I guess what I am asking is Are they infused or essential oils?

  8. Susan M. January 14, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    A great article! I would love to spend a few days learning from your dad :) For the HBH, are the spearmint and lemongrass oils “essential” oils or infused oils?

  9. meg July 8, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    I’ve been using this recipe for my bees. I’ve found that the lecithin can be very difficult dissolve. Both times I’ve made it I’ve ending up fishing out a few undissolved granules. Maybe using liquid lecithin, or powdering the granules first would make this easier? I’m going to experiment a bit.
    My bees thank you for sharing this recipe!

  10. jennifer y May 1, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

    Hi, I was wondering, how much of this do you use? Do you use it straight?

    • Andrew May 2, 2012 at 11:38 am #

      “He lays the plastic bag over the top, lays it over the frames, cuts four small slits in it, and they come up, gather it and take it down to store it.”

      So you use it at “full strength.”

  11. Rebecca Haughn October 23, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

    Thanks for this, I for one when I get bees again will be planting plenty of mint and lemon balm all around the hives. Those also will be helpful again those mites that bother the bees.

  12. Julia @ juliecache October 21, 2011 at 8:39 pm #

    Hello from a backyard beekeeper in Iowa. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DMBackyardBeekeepers/
    I started following your blog this month. Thank you for including honeybees.

  13. J. Parris October 20, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    Good choice on the cedar! I don’t think he’s a nut for wanting to do things as natural as possible. I was always concerned about using painted boxes for my bees, and how the paint and chemicals may affect them.
    FYI, the smoke doesn’t make them drowsy, it makes them afraid that there is a fire so they all huddle around their honey, sucking it up for fear that their home is going to burn down. They see smoke and they gorge themselves on the honey. If you smoke your bees too much and too often, you run the risk of losing a lot of honey that would keep them through winter.
    Can’t wait to read what this Norwegian fellow has to say!

    All the best,
    -J Parris

  14. Jen Z October 20, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    Great post, thanks!

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