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Posted 03 March 04

The Danish Tradition of changing all beeswax brood combs every year

by David Ashton ©

This is a comment on the Danish Tradition of changing all beeswax brood combs in the hive every year. I have been prompted to write this after the article about the problem of remains of antibiotics, chemicals and medicines being found in honey imported into Denmark, but which are not found at all in Danish Honey. I intend pasting this article that I translated, at the bottom of this piece ( Danish Honey Retains its Quality ) you may already have read it. But I think you will understand the logic, scientific reasoning and practise, once you read both articles.

But I am also using and translating from Danish to English,a paragraph from an article in the Danish beekeeping magazine ‘ Tidskrift for Biavl ‘ ( Journal of Beekeeping ) for February 2004, page 41 an article by Danish Beekeeper, Ejner Olsen.

Many of you who know some thing about Danish beekeeping, have expressed wonderment, as to why the Danish beekeepers as part of the legal requirement to prevent disease in the bees, and to preserve the hygiene and cleanliness of the honey as a pure food change their brood combs yearly. However in his article Ejner Olsen explains to reasoning and scientific logic of why Danes change every beeswax brood comb, each and every year.

The Brown Bees Inherited Characteristics

The German monk Brother Adam, who lived most of his life at Buckfast Abbey in England, worked most of his life with the genetic properties of bees. He travelled widely in Europe and Africa, and took bee brood back home with him. With this brood he tested the various races of bees for inherited bee diseases. Brother Adam made a chart of the inherited characteristics which actually did not cover very much space about 6 cm x 9 cm ( 2 ¼ “ x 3 ½ “ inches ) he carried this chart every were with him, and despite the fact it did not cover very much space it was in fact his life’s work which was written down here.

One of the conclusions that Brother Adam came to from this life’s work was that the brown bee ‘ Apis Mellifera Mellifera ‘ had extremely poor resistance against bee and brood diseases, and also had a propensity to swarm very often. Against which it had a top characteristic of + 6 for its long life, ability to fly in all conditions, resistance to weather, a good sense for orientating its self, and a very good sense of collecting together, and building new honey comb.

It is in fact very impressive that Brother Adam gave the Brown Bee a top character of ( + 6 ) on his own scale for eight characteristics. One of the explanations he gave for this was the wide spread of this race of honey bee.

One you consider that the brown bee has some extremely poor characteristics, and others which are at the very top of his range it is interesting to speculate as to why this is:

1)Why does the Brown bee swarm so much ?

2)Perhaps the answer to this question is that because most of Europe was once covered in forest, where bees made their homes in rotten trees, and later skep, and log beekeeping. These type of homes for the bees most probable stimulated the swarming nature, which in beekeeping skep, and log beekeeping period was thought to be an advantage that bees swarmed often !

3) Why then the very poor resistance to bee and brood disease’s ?

4) Perhaps the answer to this question is that in the thousands of years the brown bee Apis Mellifera Mellifera did not have the need to develop genes resistant against bee and brood disease. Because they had a great capacity to swarm, and build new comb, which in its self is a valuable protection against these diseases. By all the time building new clean combs in either hollow clean from bee disease trees, skeps or wooden logs they the brown bee were in a situation were they could “ Build them selves a new clean home “. A factor which underlies the fact that in all those hundreds of thousands of years of bees living in the forest in trees, later in log bee hives and a skep. They were never troubled by bee diseases, and even the skep beekeeping literature mentions very little. It was first with the introduction by L.L. Langstroth in the U.S.A. in 1851 of the movable framed hive, that mention starts to be regularly made of foul brood diseases . and other bee diseases in literature.

A Relaxed attitude to Foul Brood disease .

Foul brood spores are often found in honey, and are often encapsulated in beeswax combs which bees build themselves, indeed bees have a certain resistance to these disease spores it is only when they build up too intolerant levels that disease moves in and takes over. As is well know with Danish beekeeping that by melting down the frames every year we find large concentration of foul brood spores, and other diseases which are destroyed in the beeswax melting refining and filtration process.

So taking the logic and scientific evidence of the above coupled with Brother Adams evidence it seems as if the Danish beekeeping policy of changing all combs on a yearly basis is not only a good strategy to overcome disease but is also very rational. So despite wide spread criticism of this method by beekeepers outside of Denmark. This policy of yearly comb changes since 1945, and renewal with clean foundation is now proving its worth, in an age when consumers, public health authorities, and trading standards are becoming more and more aware of the dangers that the wide spread use of antibiotics and chemicals used by food producers, and food processors, posses for the publics health. Coupled with the danger of bugs resistant to antibiotics , the problems with acid indigestion, and stomach upset, and asthma on the increase. It seems as if the quality and purity of Danish honey due to Danish beekeepers husbandry methods is some thing that beekeepers around the world could learn a lot from.

By David Ashton © using as source material ‘ Tidskrift for Biavl ‘ ( Journal of Beekeeping ) for February 2004, page 41 an article by Danish Beekeeper, Ejner Olsen

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Danish Honey Retains its Quality

Translated by David Ashton from an Article by Benny Gade Journalist and Beekeeper

From www.honningbien.dk 24th February 2004

It is becoming more and more difficult to import honey into Denmark because of the sharpened demands by the Danish Trading Standards and Food Authority. Due to the demand that honey must not contain any remains of antibiotics. On the other hand it is not an problem for Danish honey to meet these demands, but it is beginning to become very difficult for foreign beekeepers to understand these demands of the Scandinavian market for honey.

This statement was made today by Knud Hvam of Jakobsen Hvam, from Aulumgaard, Honey Farm, Denmark, who is Denmark’s largest buyer of honey. Besides buying Danish honey Jakobsen and Hvam import 3000 tons of honey for use in the Danish and Scandinavian market every year.

But the demands of the Scandinavian consumers and health authorities, has now become so sharp that it is almost impossible to import any foreign honey says Knud Hvam.

A couple of years ago we our selves enforced a ban on Chinese honey, followed by others around the world, due to the large concentration of remains of various medicines including antibiotics. We there for we started to import our honey from Argentina . Now however the problem of Argentina honey has become just as great as the problem we had with Chinese honey. The Argentina authorities have now stepped into the market realising that there is a problem, and have purchase large quantities of their own honey which they have destroyed due to the remains of medicine mostly antibiotics in their Argentina honey. The result of which is that Jakobsen Hvam have not bought any Argentina honey this last year.

We are surviving on “ old honey “ which we have in our own store or buying in on the spot world market parcels of good quality honey says Knud Hvam.

The problem with remains of medicines, chemicals, and antibiotics in honey is first and foremost due to the foreign beekeepers methods they use to fight varroa mites, and both types of foul brood American and European, It has become not unusual for beekeepers to use a cocktail of antibiotics in countries outside of Denmark, to prevent diseases of various types in bees. These chemical, antibiotic or other medicines so called then remain in the honey. If these parcels of honey from outside of Denmark slip through the various countries veterinary food control system, then I can promise you the Danish food control authorities do not miss it They pick it up off the super market, and shop, shelves, trace it back to its source and forbid its future sale in Scandinavia.

On the other hand there is no problem with Danish Honey. Which shows that Danish Beekeeping functions very effectively, due to Danish beekeepers not using antibiotics as preventative medicine, and also due to better hygiene in Danish beehives were all honey combs are changed and replaced every year by all Danish beekeepers.

There for it will become in future more and more attractive to produce Danish honey believes Knud Hvam. But he does not expect a price increase because of that. Danish honey needs to compete on the supermarket and shops shelves with marmalade, jam and other breakfast products, an increase in price will result in a reduction of sales of honey believes Knud Hvam.

©Translation David Ashton from article by Benny Gade.

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