Saturday, May 22, 2010

Honey Laundering

“Bee folk, settle here,
Do not go from this place,
I give thee house and place,
Thou must bring me honey and wax”
~Bessler, Geschichte der Bienenzucht

I have been a honey lover long before I started keeping bees. It’s hard to see but the open cells on this frame of bees are full of nectar that is being ripened into honey, soon to be capped with fresh wax for storage.

Honey is my number one, go to choice when I want to sweeten my tea, or drizzle a tad on my oatmeal and toast. I even use a dab of honey to get my yeast started when I make a loaf of bread or pizza crust. I have also had great success with honey’s healing properties on cuts or sores that won’t seem to heal…just a dab of honey under the bandage does the trick. Honey’s antibacterial qualities treat burns and scrapes and some cultures still use honey medicinally. Reportedly the US military is reinvestigating honey for healing wounds our troops sustain while in combat.

Honey is composed of carbohydrates and water and includes small amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

In the USA we consume more than 400 million pounds of honey annually! That’s 1.29 pounds per person each year. Many of us buy liquid honey in jars, but an even larger portion of the population enjoy honey in manufactured cereals, breads, cookies, sauces, desserts, salad dressings, meats…the list goes on and on. That is a lot of honey, more than can be supplied by US beekeepers alone, so much of our honey is imported from around the world. US and Canadian laws keep US and Canadian beekeepers to a high standard of honey purity. But what about that honey that is coming into our ports from other countries where standards may not be as high?

A few years ago The Seattle Post-Intelligencer did a series of articles exposing the ugly reality of honey laundering, researching in depth the fact that our current laws are not adequate to protect the US honey supply.

Chinese Honey Laundered in U.S., Seattle Paper Exposes the continued fraud.
By Alan Harman

Big shipments of contaminated honey from China are being laundered in other countries to avoid U.S. import fees, protective tariffs or taxes imposed on foreign products that intentionally undercut domestic prices.
A five-month investigation by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer found that in a series of shipments in the past year, tons of honey produced in China passed through the ports of Tacoma, Wa. and Long Beach, Calif., after being fraudulently marked as a tariff-free product from Russia.
It found other shipments routed through India, Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, and Thailand.
The report, which mirrors a story in Bee Culture back in 2002, says tens of thousands of pounds of honey entering the U.S. each year come from countries that raise few bees and have no record of producing honey for export.
"In the U.S., where bee colonies are dying off and demand for imported honey is soaring, traders of the thick amber liquid are resorting to elaborate schemes to dodge tariffs and health safeguards in order to dump cheap honey on the market," the newspaper reports.
"The business is plagued by foreign hucksters and shady importers who rip off conscientious U.S. packers with honey diluted with sugar water or corn syrup - or worse, tainted with pesticides or antibiotics."
Changing the county of origin from China is designed to avoid tariffs of up to 500%. Vaughn Bryant, a palynologist and an anthropology professor, spends hours at a time peering at slides of pollen samples, comparing them to track down the origins of honey with questionable heritage. For the last five years, he has analyzed the pollen in honey samples from all over the world to determine the nectar sources and origin of the honey.
He examines imported samples purported to come from Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Laos, and usually discovers the samples are blends, with a little honey from those countries and a majority of the blend coming from Chinese sources.
"And the U.S. needs to make it illegal to import honey that has been filtered to remove the pollen, which makes it almost impossible to detect where it came from."

(The italics above are quoted excerpts of the research of Alan Harman. The complete articles can be found in the ‘Catch the Buzz’ reference links below.)

Illegally imported honey is illegal because it has been adulterated in some way or contains contaminants banned by the US. But still this honey is finding its way into our ports and markets and food supply.

I am not engaging in more China bashing…I’d write no matter which country was doing this, and as you can see several are getting away with it. However based on numerous investigations, China is the originating source of unsafe honey at the time of this writing. is a newly launched website providing more information on this problem and giving consumers, honey companies, food manufactures and retailers a way to fight back and stop the pollution of the US honey supply.

This is why knowing a local beekeeper and honey source is great, but not everyone has a beekeeper next door. Be aware too, that even small time beekeepers with a few hives, but who have a continual supply of honey at your local farmers market…well those few hives cannot produce enough for a year round supply…where is that vendor getting all that honey? They can buy it by the barrel too. It is the law for US retail honey labels to specify ‘country of origin’ but the FDA does not enforce it, so many do not include it. I only buy honey whose label specifies the country of origin to be Canada and/or USA or a blend of both. It's not a guarantee but it's about as close as I can get to assurance when I buy bottled honey.

This is a case where quality really does need to take precedence over price.

I write about the problems within the USA honey supply. No doubt there are problems abroad. If you live outside of the USA, are you aware of any illegal/tainted imported honey supply issues your country is dealing with?



Catch The Buzz e-newsletter (

Honey Fact Sheet

Seattle P-I links

In bloom in my garden today: Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’, Armeria latifolia ‘Joystick’, Star of Bethlehem, Bellis perennis (English Daisy), Dicentra spectabilis (common bleeding heart), Vancouveria hexandra, Dianthus, Day Lily, Aquilegia (Columbine), Rose, Peony, Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’, Syringa ‘Adelaide Dunbar’, Blueberry ‘Sunshine Blue’, Iris, Huckleberry, Geum ‘Lady Stratheden’, Saxifrage, Bergenia ‘Winter Glow’, old fashioned Coral Bells (Heuchera), Tellima (Fringe Cups), Ajuga (Bugleweed), Solomon’s Seal, Dodecatheon (Shooting Star), Alpine strawberry, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’

Author’s photo

Monday, May 10, 2010

Cutting Corners

I have a rock garden. Last week three of them died.
~Richard Diran

After my post on Guerilla Gardening  reader Shari’s comment included the fact that her home is on a corner and that many a discourteous driver has left their imprint on her lawn. Much the bane of many corner property owners, what was once a nicely cared for FLAT piece of ground, now has deep ruts, mud and ruined lawn that must be repaired and re-grow, over and over again. All of which takes time, money, and work to get it looking as it was before.

Shari this post is for you as your dilemma is the inspiration for this post. As I drive around my city I see this problem is shared by many residents, so I thought perhaps many of my readers too. Mostly around here people who do anything about it at all, just put big rocks out as a deterrent. But as you’ll see in the photos below, there are various ways to just put big rocks out. Some are creative arrangements, some have gardens planted amongst the rocks and some simply reflect a minor, but apparently effective effort.

The first two are my favorite solutions…

This next one is…well, an interesting effort that appears to be somewhat effective, but it does look rather lonely doesn’t it?

And lastly, your neighbors who place some importance on their property values will thank you for not resorting to this…

Do you live on a corner that is constantly being carved up for you? What creative solutions have you implemented to stop those who want to cut your corner?

In bloom in my garden today: Raspberry, Chives, Azalea 'Exbury', Syringa ‘Adelaide Dunbar’, Blueberry ‘Sunshine Blue’, Iris, Huckleberry, Geum ‘Lady Stratheden’, Viburnum davidii, Saxifrage, Bergenia ‘Winter Glow’, old fashioned Coral Bells (Heuchera), Tellima (Fringe Cups), Ajuga (Bugleweed), Solomon’s Seal, Wisteria, creeping phlox, Oxalis oregana ‘Wintergreen’, Dodecatheon (Shooting Star), Alpine strawberry, Heather, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’, Wood Hyacinth (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

Author’s photos

Saturday, May 1, 2010

It's Lilac Season

"To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat.
~Beverley Nichols (1898-1983)

I’ve not met anyone who doesn’t appreciate the fragrance of lilacs. Usually it brings a smile to one’s face and memories of Grandma’s garden. Lilacs have been in gardens forever, it seems.

Lilacs (Syringa) reportedly prefer alkaline soil but here in the Pacific Northwest we are known for our acidic soil, and my lilacs don’t give the impression they mind. Their zonal preferences seem to be all over the northern hemisphere, found in Middle Eastern, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, North American and European locals. In the hottest areas they apparently prefer some shade from the hottest sun and reportedly bloom best after a pronounced winter chill, with some blooming just fine with only a light chilling.

Lilacs bloom on old wood, meaning this year’s flowers were formed last year, and next years flowers will form in the months following current bloom. So if you cut off the spent flower clusters, as I do, you want to do it right away after blooming so as not to damage flower production for next year.

My garden was already charmed by an ordinary lilac tree (Syringa vulgaris no doubt) when I became caretaker 24 years ago and the house is over 100 years old now. I have no idea when this lilac was planted but whoever did so, kept the suckers controlled which allowed it to become a graceful tree. The same light purple variety is in many gardens in my neighborhood, and they are all huge sprawling shrubs with new suckers adding to their girth annually. I much preferred the tree shape, which means originally only one stem was allowed to thicken into a real trunk, so I too kept any extra suckers trimmed out, an annual task. One local gardening expert once said lilacs kept in this way usually only live 50 years or so. About 5 years ago mine began to get large fungi growing horizontally on the lower trunk portion, a good indication it was dying. So I allowed 2 new suckers to grow, and it took the tree about 2 or 3 years to finally die and the trunk to rot out but the 2 new suckers soldiered on to give me my tree back. Today it looks like this. I’m thrilled to have saved the original root, and in a few years it should be as full as before. It is already nearly as tall.

I was looking to add height and structure to my sunny, side garden and decided more fragrant lilacs would be wonderful. As I looked into it, no one could promise a variety that doesn’t sucker. Having a small garden and not wanting to give up any space to suckering plants, only a tree shape would allow more garden space for planting underneath. Then I found out about the Hulda Klager lilac farm in Woodland Washington. What a gem! If you love lilacs, and find yourself anywhere in western Washington (or Oregon for that matter) you must treat yourself to an April/May visit of Hulda’s treasure trove. Do plan on the whole day if you live more than an hour away and do bring a picnic lunch to enjoy under the lilacs or wisteria on the grounds of this historic farm.

The Hulda Klager Lilac Garden is a national landmark and was saved from destruction by local resident gardeners who didn’t want to see her work of hybridizing lilacs vanish. She had an interesting life and a passion for lilacs which you can read about on the website link…just click on her name to learn more. Better yet…go visit. Her 1880’s homestead has been restored and some of her personal belongings remain on display. The Hulda Klager Lilac Society has been set up to maintain the grounds and farmhouse, has garden meetings, lilac sales and a gift shop. All proceeds fund the operation, maintenance and continuance of her homestead and her legacy.

I planned my trip to coincide with their annual lilac festival. After enjoying the entire garden, I asked one of the volunteers if there was a non-suckering variety. She thought a minute and said yes, named 2 or 3 possible choices but said for sure Adelaide Dunbar (top picture) does not sucker. We walked over to where several Adelaides stood proudly in their pots and let me tell you, she’s gorgeous! Her new spring leaves are medium green with a tint of deep burgundy that turns all green with age. If that’s not enough, her flower buds are a rich, deep magenta/violet that lighten as they open and more so as they age, so the whole cluster has at least 3 differing tones within. That coupled with the two-tone leaves…well, I just had to make two of them mine right there and then, no dithering about it.

They are currently planted on both sides of the sidewalk near the front porch steps. My idea was that they would arch across toward each other…time will tell if that indeed happens. Even if not, my twin Adelaides are a beauty to behold every spring, both to the eye and nose.

In bloom in my garden today: Syringa ‘Adelaide Dunbar’,Blueberry 'Sunshine Blue, Mtn Ash, Lily of the Valley, Chives, Iris, Huckleberry, Geum ‘Lady Stratheden’, Viburnum davidii, Saxifrage, Bergenia ‘Winter Glow’, old fashioned Coral Bells (Heuchera), Tellima (Fringe Cups), Ajuga (Bugleweed), Solomon’s Seal, Wisteria, creeping phlox, Oxalis oregana ‘Wintergreen’, Dodecatheon (Shooting Star), Alpine strawberry, Heather, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’, Wood Hyacinth (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

Authors Photos