Acacia honey, lavender honey, heather honey, borage honey, clover honey, chestnut honey, sunflower honey……..
The specification of a single plant from which the nectar for producing honey is supplied seems to suggest purity, lack of contamination and unique identity, therefore warranting an ‘expensive’ tag.
But there is something very odd about this marketing spin. I have kept bees for three years, have many bee friendly flowers in the garden, but yet, I can honestly say, that when our bees forage, I have no idea where they go, or where their pollen comes from. They mainly ignore the plants in our garden, with the exception of elderflowers. I’ve seen nothing like the image at my father’s home in Spain where an entire colony seemed to occupy a single carob tree as a foraging destination.
Bees travel an approximate radius of three miles from the hive. There is evidence to suggest this could increase to 7 miles depending on the circumstances and environment. They will gather pollen and nectar from any viable source within that range. As I live in a semi-urban environment, the variety of plants they could potentially visit is diverse. There would be no potential for us to label our honey as ‘elderflower organic honey’. However, if we placed our hives in the middle of the uninhabitable areas of the Yorkshire Moors, we might then be able to claim ‘heather honey’, but as one study showed, just as the alfalfa was closer to home, didn’t mean the bees wouldn’t fly even further to obtain safflower pollen instead. Additionally, I think the colony might object to its more exposed, unsheltered and very windy home.
I’m not trying to make the point that there is a labelling claim being made that is wrong (perhaps I’ll look into the EU regulations on this later), but I want to make the point that the concept of a single flowering plant being the source of the honey in your jar is seriously flawed from an ecological perspective.
Monoculture and ecology
At the heart of industrial food production is the practice of monoculture – the growing of a single crop on an extremely large scale. Growing a single plant in a given area will quickly deplete the soil of essential nutrients, therefore to sustain the practice chemical fertilisers are needed (which are heavily dependent on quickly depleting oil supplies). Pesticides and herbicides are also needed as single crop fields attract specific weed varieties and insect pests. Additionally, the earth is bare between the neat rows of ploughed soil, exposing it to damaging UV rays, literally burning what little organic matter is left and encouraging the release of carbon into the air, contributing to global warming. Finally, the process leads to desertification as the lack of organic matter means the soil can no longer hold water, leading to run off and leaching of the toxic chemicals into non-localised environments.
Before being lured by the label of ‘orange blossom’ honey or similar, consider how ‘pure’ this honey is likely to be. The beehives were likely to have been placed in a single crop environment which relies heavily on fertilisers and pesticides. Bees are as likely to be affected by pesticides as any other insect or pollinator that visits the site. The honey might taste good, but consider the environmental damage that was incurred to produce it. The label of ‘organic’ honey is only as good as the number of organically produced plants within the foraging range of the hive. There is nothing beekeepers can do to control the flight path of their bees. An organic farm which extends two miles either side of the hive may be promising, but remember that the bees might ignore the crop here in favour of one four miles away and that crop might not be so healthy.