“Is Your Honey Organic?”
The short answer is “yes & no”. We only use organic treatments on our bees with the goal of making sure our bees are healthy while keeping our honey free from chemical residues, but we are not certified organic.
“Why aren’t you certified?”
The Organic standard for honey in Canada is concerned with two main sources of chemical contamination: apicultural contaminants and environmental contaminants. (1)
1. Apicultural contaminants: Chemicals used by the beekeeper to control pests and diseases.
Honeybees are susceptible to a variety of pests and diseases which may require a beekeepers intervention to maintain colony health. There are a variety of synthetic acaricides (pesticides that target mites), organic acaricides, antibiotics, and chemical repellents that can be used for these purposes. Though all of these treatments are legal in Ontario, many countries do not allow beekeepers to use antibiotics or certain chemical repellents out of concern for their impact on human and honeybee health.
Meeting the Organic Requirement: For the organic beekeeper the first line of defense against honeybee pests and diseases is prevention through “cultural” controls: selectively breeding for resistant bees, sterilizing tools, avoiding swapping equipment between colonies or bee yards, regularly inspecting hives, and using specialized hive components that can discourage pests.
When treatments are necessary various naturally occurring compounds are available:
1. Formic Acid – Naturally occurs in honey. Responsible for the stinging sensation caused by ant bites and stinging nettle. Use of formic acid as a treatment leaves no residues in honey above naturally occurring levels.
2. Oxalic acid – Naturally occurs in honey. Also found in sorrel, rhubarb, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, and many other plants as a defense against herbivores. Use of oxalic acid as a treatment leaves no residues in honey above naturally occurring levels.
3. Botanical oils – Naturally occurring oils in aromatic plants such thyme, lemongrass, and wintergreen as a defense against herbivores and microbial infection. If not used properly these can leave residues in honey, which affect its flavour, but are not dangerous to consume.
2. Environmental Contaminants: Chemicals found in the wider environment that are brought back to the hive by foraging bees.
Honeybees regularly fly up to several kilometers from their hive to collect water, nectar, pollen, and plant resins. If the environment is contaminated by agricultural pesticides, heavy metals, or other pollutants, these compounds can be brought back to the hive by the bees and potentially end up in the honey (more on that later!).
Meeting the Organic Requirement: Organic apiaries must be surrounded by a 3km radius of organic land, i.e. land that is free from conventional agriculture, industrial sites, golf courses, residences that may use pesticides on their lawns or gardens, etc. This 3km radius amounts to 7000 acres of organic land, which is very difficult to find anywhere in southern Ontario.
Unfortunately, there is nowhere in the Ottawa area where we can keep our hives that would meet this requirement.