Having spent two weeks down in North Devon and then Cornwall and looking at the prices of local Exmoor honey and the honey from Quince’s Bee Farm at South Moulton I have been pondering what to charge for my own honey this year?
Obvioulsy I cannot incorporate my set-up costs of buying the hives and bees, the other apiary hardware needed during the beekeeping season, honey strainers, buckets and settling tanks or even the time and petrol costs of visiting the hives every 7 – 10 days between the beginning of April up until early August.
I did feel that it was fair, however, to cover the cost of the jars at 45p each (from Thornes), the sugar needed to make the syrup to feed back to the bees (approx 15k g per hive so £45 for three hives) and the Apilife Var treatment to help to remove the Varroa Destructor parasite from the hive before the bees settle down for the winter. There is also the possibility that the weather is not favourable next year and the bees do not collect enough honey to extract a crop (the last 5 years have been poor in the UK) but they will still require feeding sugar syrup, candy and treating for Varroa mite. Beekeeping is not for profiteering!
The price of imported honey has driven down the consumers expectations of cost but the reality is that the supermarkets are selling over processed, highly filtered honey (and sometimes modified with other additional ingredients) at rock bottom prices but this lacks the texture and flavour of real honey.
There is also much to be said for the use of local honey to help with hay fever with the honey containing nectar from the very plants that cause the allergies to start with as well as having many other beneficial health properties.
Bee populations are also in decline throughout much of the world, having had several bad years with fewer colonies surving the winter, and with additional environmental strains taking its toll the price of honey is invariably increasing. Additionally the poor sugar cane crops abroad have pushed up the price of sugar so another knock-on effect is the increased cost of feeding the bees gallons of sugar syrup once the honey has been removed.
So what is a fair price? You will never get paid for your labour as a beekeeper, or paid to be the one to brave thousands of angry bees or take the stings in order to extract a honey crop – these are done out of the simple enjoyment of looking into a super society and trying to understand what is going on inside the bees world, and attempting to interpret what you see in order to try and pre-empt their next move, or needs, and prevent them from just leaving town, after all they are not prisonors in the hive.
The real crime is that the bees just about survive each year, but they are not rewarded for all their effort – millions of flowers are visited and a riduculous number of miles flown to do it – thousands upon thousands of bees were born and died to bring in every jar and yet beekeepers slap each other on the back on the success of their honey crop and forget to mention the real workers!
I guess a jar of honey is worth exactly what someone is willing to pay for it – every jar has a unique taste – tied to one specific area (you can’t make Kent honey in China!!!!). There is a very limited supply and even this is not predictable as it is so weather dependant, as well as being affected by insect disease, insecticide and pesticide use and various other environmental influences.
My last thought of the day is that it would be very sad if one day I had to try and describe the taste of honey to my grandchildren as the bees were longer here, and honey was no longer a reality, so it is very important to keep supporting the few of us that want to help the bees survive – ultimately it is an investment in your own future!