Posted by: Pam B. Newberry | December 1, 2010

You are What You Eat…And so is the Honey Bee

How many times have you heard the saying, “You are what you eat”? Did you know it is an actual quote made by Franklin P. Jones, which in its complete form is the following:

You are what you eat.  For example, if you eat garlic you’re apt to be a hermit.

You know exactly what Jones meant if you’ve ever eaten too much of an Italian dish laden with garlic. No one, not even your significant other will get close to you.

Now, imagine a honey bee. It loves all kinds of flowers that are full of nectar and when a flower is also full of pollen, it is a win-win situation for the honey bee. It, too, takes on the character of its food. (For a timely news story that demonstrates this, click on the Link to the NY Times Article: Bees in Brooklyn Hives Mysteriously Turn Red)

Have you ever had sourwood honey? It comes from the honey bee that gathered over 50% of its pollen from the sourwood tree at the right time of season. The resulting honey is light and sweet and oh so good. Yum!

How about dark honey? It is typically a result of honey bees foraging in fields of buckwheat or even from other plants, such as tulip poplar trees or kudzu vines. The resulting taste is strong and abrupt, almost like molasses. It is excellent honey to cook with and provides lots of good stuff, such as antioxidants.

Just as there are different types of honey based on what a honey bee eats, there are different types of honey bees. Yes, there is diversity in a honey bee world, too. Who would have figured that one? I mean, I really thought a honey bee was a honey bee. But not so.

During our second honey bee class, we learned that there are as many different varieties of honey bees as there are different environments. Like all other living things, and in my opinion, especially humans, honey bees vary in traits. Like humans, their temperament swings wildly apart.

You have gentle honey bees, and then you have very aggressive honey bees, the most notorious of which we call “Africanized” bees. There are bee colonies that are more disease resistant than others. A new type of bee is being popularized that was bred in Minnesota to be resistant to most of the common bee maladies. Tests are underway now for those bees to be reared in Florida. There are honey bees that are more productive than other bees.

All of these different traits are dependent upon the environment in which a honey bee colony resides. Different plants (as noted before) result in different tasting honey. All of these traits are also passed on to the next generation. Different genetic stocks have distinctive characteristics. Over the years, beekeepers have learned how to best use these distinctions to the benefit of the farmer. Whether it be to improve the pollination use of the bee, provide a better honey crop, or improve honey bee production (i.e., the case of breeding the honey bee to be resistant to a disease).

As we sat in class listening, I began to make comparisons to my own life. As a child, I grew up in a children’s home. In the old days they called it an orphanage though most of us at the time weren’t what you’d call “real” orphans.

Most of us had at least one parent. There were a few “real” orphans among us and we all thought they were the lucky ones, as they weren’t wearing a title that was given to them by bad luck. Yeah, I know seems strange, but that was how we kids thought about things. There were about 350 of us living together in different groups. There were young ones, those under eight years-old and tweens, as well as teenagers. We had different traits, we came from different parts of the state, we had different beliefs or religions, and we had backgrounds that covered everything from severe child abuse to abandonment to being given up by a loving parent who had nowhere else to turn. As a result, we tended to group ourselves accordingly.

Honey bees are identified as “stock,” a label like orphan. The word is used to define a loose combination of traits that characterize a particular group of bees.  A colony of bees can be very diverse within as well as between colonies of a region. Just as in human life, there are always exceptions, so it is best not to generalize the one trait you see today automatically as something you will see again in a nearby hive or even its splinter group or swarm. The following is a brief overview of the com­mon commercially available honey bee stocks as shared during our class:

The Italian bee

  • Italian honey bees, of the subspecies Apis mellifera ligustica, were brought to the U.S. in 1859. They quickly became the favored bee stock in this country and remain so to this day.

The German bee

  • Honey bees are not native to the New World, although North America has about 4,000 native species of bees. Honey bees were brought to America in the 17th century by the early European settlers. These bees were most likely of the subspecies A. m. mellifera, otherwise known as the German or “black” bee.

The Carniolan bee

  • The subspecies A. m. carnica, from middle Europe, also has been a fa­vored bee stock in the U.S. for several reasons. (Not sure when it arrived).

The Caucasian bee

  • A. m. caucasica is a race of honey bees native to the foothills of the Ural Mountains near the Caspian Sea in Eastern Europe. This stock was once popular in the U.S., but it has declined in regard over the last few decades.

The Buckfast bee

  • In the 1920s, honey bee colonies in the British Isles were devastated by aca­rine disease, which now is suspected to have been the endoparasitic tracheal mite Acarapis woodi. Brother Adams, a monk at Buckfast Abby in Devon, England, was charged with creating a bee stock that could withstand this deadly disease. He created a stock of bees, largely from the Italian race, that could thrive.

The Russian bee

  • One of the newer bee stocks in the U.S. was imported from far-eastern Russia by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics, and Physiology Labora­tory in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The researchers’ logic was that these bees from the Primorski region on the Sea of Japan have coexisted for the last 150 years with the devastating ecto­parasite Varroa destructor, a mite that is responsible for severe colony losses around the globe, and they might thrive in the U.S. The USDA tested whether this stock had evolved resis­tance to varroa and found that it had. Numerous studies have shown that bees of this strain have fewer than half the number of mites that are found in standard commercial stocks. The quar­antine phase of this project has been complete since 2000, and bees of this strain are available commercially.


Aren’t bees just absolutely fascinating? Can you see the parallels with our existence? Amazing!

It’s hard to believe that December 2010 is already here. The month of December is one of the only months during the year that bees are left totally alone. Next blog I plan to provide you with a listing of the duties of a beekeeper in raising honey bees each month durng a year. I also hope to prepare for you another quiz. So, study up on honey bees, Visit the links to other honey bee sites, and come back for a visit with me. I hope to add some awesome recipes for you real soon that you may try during the holiday season.

Don’t forget to sign up for an e-mail notification of when I update my blog. And, by all means, leave a comment; share a thought; provide a good link; or may “bee” share a picture. Til next time…

Honey Hugs with Cheers,

Hobbit Queen

P.S. If you missed my Thanksgiving post, go back and check it out, as I placed the answers to the last quiz in that post! 🙂


  1. Pam, aka Hobbit Queen,
    Your blog is AWESOME — can you come to Oregon and help me get mine started!?
    I like the interactive quizz, the snow falling (nice, but not distracting, touch). I have a bee-keeping pal here and I can’t wait to tell her about your blog. I intend to spend more time with it, too, after our class is done. Thanks for a really SWEET read!


    • Hi Janet!

      Thank you so much! I’d love to come to Oregon. I have a couple of close friends who’ve been asking me to come for several years now. We’ll have to keep in touch cause you never know when it may work out I’ll be knocking on your door. 🙂 Seriously, so glad you like my blog. I look forward to seeing yours posted on the web after class. It’s hard to believe we are almost done! Take care and keep in touch!

      Honey Cheers,
      Hobbit Queen


  2. Thank you, Hobbit Queen, for this interesting article. I especially like how you compare the life of bees with your personal history. It’s a great reminder that we are all related in this beautiful, fragile planet earth. I look forward to your nest entry.


    • Hi Mary A!

      Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Hope you are enjoying the notes I sent you, too. I have more for you!

      Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts as I continue this journey.
      Always with Cheers,
      Hobbit Queen


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