French production of honey, organic and non-organic, does not cover national consumption: around 45 tonnes of honey are consumed in France each year. To compensate for this, France imports honey, mainly from Ukraine, Spain, China, Germany, Hungary and Argentina. But this market pressure does not prevent some producers from turning to less intensive, more respectful and qualitative production.
From flower to beehive
If bees have succeeded in colonizing the Earth for several million years, it is because of their great adaptability to environmental conditions, but they could well see their longevity compromised by human activity, including in particular the intensive use of pesticides, and make the activity of beekeepers even more difficult than it already is.
The domestication of bees for the production of honey dates back several thousand years BC in Mesopotamia (Iraq), Greece and ancient Rome. Breeding techniques have continued to evolve, ranging from plank models of Antiquity, to woven straw hives in the 8th century, until modern times.
An essential function for life
Bees have a pollinating role which is essential for the reproduction of 80% of flowering plants. Plants produce pollen, but this pollen stagnates on the plant if nothing can carry it from one plant to another. Nature having done things well, this pollination role falls to the wind and insects.
And pollination does not only concern wild plants, all our agriculture depends on it: market gardening (melons, watermelons, zucchini, etc.), seeds (onions, leeks, carrots, salads, etc.) and all fruit trees and crops like sunflower.
As bees feed on flowers, it is therefore essential to encourage the planting of these: in gardens, on roadsides and on fallow land, for example.
In addition to its role as a pollinator, the bee produces honey for its food and ours by storing it in the hive. One might think that honey being produced naturally, it is necessarily an “organic” product, yet different elements can alter its quality: the presence of pesticides on the flowers, chemical treatments in the hive, harvesting and harvesting methods. extraction, etc.
Also, beekeepers who favor the production of organic honey, must respect strict specifications, which constrain them, from the installation of the hive until the sale of the final products (honey, royal jelly, pollen, propolis). This is for the protection of the consumer but also of the bees themselves. This ranges from identifying and locating beehives by means of a map identifying foraging areas to keeping a breeding and honey house record for the purpose of honey traceability.
If we want to obtain “organic honey” approval, the location of the beehive must obey strict principles: ban in a certain perimeter around the hives urban centers, landfills, industrial activities at risk, highways. and of course chemically treated agricultural areas. The main structure of the hives should be made of natural non-contaminating materials.
For the well-being of the bee and a quality production, the ideal location would be a non overgrown land, protected from drafts and cold, near sources of nectar and a water point. While the hive is sleeping, enough pollen and honey should be left to ensure the survival of the bees.
Other measures concerning the care of sick bees or the hygiene of the apiary are prescribed as well as the packaging of honey or royal jelly.
The excess mortality of bees
A worrying excess mortality of bees has been observed for several years, especially in the spring when pesticides are sprayed in wheat and rapeseed fields. The bees most affected come from beehives located in the plains, due to their proximity to agricultural crops, mountain hives being less affected.
The organic beekeeping sector
Producer organizations are seeing a growing share of professional beekeepers converting their production to organic farming.
There were 867 certified organic or conversion beekeepers in France in 2018 or about 18% of the entire sector (source: Agence BIO / OC). Two large regions alone concentrate half of organic beekeepers: Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Occitania.
The only beekeeper certified Organic farming in the Sancy massif
At work behind La Ruche des Volcans since 1994, Élisabeth Taillandier, professional organic beekeeper from father to son / daughter for 4 generations, in Auvergne.
I harvest my honeys without changing the way my grandfather did, by hand, respecting nature and the work of bees.
The main activity of Elisabeth Taillandier is of course the production and sale of different types of organic honey from her own bees but also the transformation of bee products into multiple delicacies to eat (candies, gingerbread, nougats …) and to drink (mead) but also care products (based on royal jelly, propolis, etc.).
The related activities are the visit of the farm with the beekeeper with demonstrations of honey extraction as well as the discovery of the life of bees with the help of observations and fun activities to educate the youngest and the less young people to bees and beekeeping.
This year, Élisabeth should extend the sponsorship initiated in the fall of 2019 with the bee conservation association “Un Toit Pour Les Abeilles”, which offers individuals and companies the opportunity to sponsor a beehive.
Despite the covid situation that affects us, humans, my bees, are doing well! This is quite positive, as it bodes well for a very good year with the start of the spring honey harvest and dandelion honey in preparation. I’m also working on finalizing a new method of producing naturally creamy honey.
To follow La Ruche des Volcans news, visit their social networks: