The trouble with manuka

A manuka flower


Manuka honey is unique. It is the only honey I’ve seen with a security tag attached. It’s expensive stuff. Last week in my local supermarket there was a jar for £35, I’ve seen it double that in other places. A hefty price tag for honey that doesn’t even taste that nice. Manuka honey is lucrative and devious people have been flooding the market with fake manuka honey;

This week I was listening to the recent episode of the Kiwi Mana Buzz, if you don’t listen to them you really should. Margret & Gary covered a dispute between a manuka trade association in New Zealand and the Cornwall based Tregothnan estate who sell manuka produced by the bees on their estates from manuka trees planted over one hundred years ago.

However; compared to the problems of fake manuka the debate if Tregothnan should label its honey manuka is a minor dispute.

In 2013 Food Standards Agency reported that shops in the UK sold over 1800 tons of manuka honey. Surprising given that only 1700 tons of it was exported from New Zealand and Australia. The FSA estimated over 10,000 tons were sold Worldwide.

Manuka honey, what?

Manuka honey is produced from the the manuka tree, a native of New Zealand and parts of Australia. Before the 1980s it wasn’t as popular as more delicately flavored honeys. In 1982 Dr. Paul Molan identified the antibacterial properties of manuka honey. Science confirmed the long traditional of honey being used to treat wounds and infections was based on fact.

Science behind them, manuka honey producers successfully marketed their product to the health food industry; attracting a high premium. Manuka isn’t unique in having these properties. Honey from ScotlandWales and other parts of the World all have research replicating the manuka effect. Good honey is simply good for you.

Yes, people even fake honey.

Manuka isn’t the only type of honey to fall victim to honey fraudsters. Honey is one of the World’s most counterfeited food products. In 2011 the Food Safety News published a study showing that three quarters of honey sold in the USA had all it’s pollen filtered out. This is done so the pollen cannot be used to identify where the honey comes from. You could well be eating honey from countries treating their hives with antibiotics or toxic chemicals banned in Europe and the USA. Honey fraudsters also routinely mix honey with corn syrup to increase its volume.

Buy local.

So how do you avoid buying fake honey? Buying from established specialist retailers is a great way reduce the risk. But, I would strongly suggest buying local honey from your local beekeepers. Local honey is surprisingly easy to find. You often find beekeepers selling their honey at food fairs and markets. It is slightly more expensive than the honey you see on supermarket shelves but still a lot cheaper than manuka  – why not buy 100% local honey?

Episode 001 – Do bees forage on strawberries?

Welcome to our very first podcast, We’re two beekeepers based in South London, we don’t claim to be experts so this isn’t the place for you if you’re looking for beekeeping gurus. However; if you enjoy hearing people chatting about bees this is the podcast for you.

Show notes

00:00 – 02:00 – Introduction
02:00 – 04:00 – Paul’s 2016 season in review
04:00 – 14:00 – Experience with foundationless frames
14:00 – 19:00 – First try at Queen raising
19:00 – 22:00 – Tracy’s 2016 season in review
22:00 – 27:00 – Trouble with buying in Nucs
27:00 – 34:00 – Robbing & making robbing screens
36:00 – 38:00 – Adventures with entrance blocks
38:00 – 45:00 – Polynuc the beekeeping Swiss Army Knife
45:00 –56:00 – Feeding hives during the winter
56:00 -60:00 – Plans for next year

Links to things we talked about
Tiger Hall Bees –
National Bee Unit -
Queen right method of rearing –
Lyson mating nucs –

Paul’s beekeeping year 2016

Winter hives

My bees are tucked up in their sad looked winter hives so it is a good time to ponder how my season has gone. Without a doubt 2016 has been my best year bee wrangling.

It has been a year of noes:

  • no swarms
  • no stings in the face
  • almost no varroa
  • erm ….. no honey

This year I set myself a few goals: to raise my own queens, build a new apiary and start using foundationless frames.

Queen raising has always the area of beekeeping I’ve been most confused by. I’ve attended many courses on but left few with any real sense of a method I could use. Often these courses try to cover as many different methods of making queens as possible, leaving me with a great sense of how other people cloud do it, but not with the skills to actually try it myself.

However; this year I did some research and found a wonderful weekend course run by Tiger Hall Beekeeping which taught the National Bee Unit method of Queen rearing. Over the weekend of the course I gained the skills to: graft, set up a hive for cell building and use mating nucs.

I learned two things raising bees in my apiary once I got home. I probably used way too many bees from my production hives; hence the lack of honey. And, to my shame, mating nucs can starve very quickly. Taking these lessons into next season I’m looking forward to developing my technique – Queen rearing is jolly good fun.

I also moved my apiary this year and finally started using foundationless frames. I’d been keen on going foundationless since I attended a talk given by Liz Knee who keeps all her bees in supers using the ROSE hive method. Apart from one or two messy frames I found running foundationless great fun. A good guide to the technique can be found here.

My goals for next year are rather modest:

  • Raise more queens and over-winter six to eight nucs with them.
  • Make some honey

I hope you have a good year and all your schemes and planning for the following season are successful.