The Pine Honey Congress: Turkish Beekeeping Takes the World Stage
I recently returned from the First International Muğla Beekeeping and Pine Honey Congress, which took place at the modern University of Muğla, republic of Turkey. This event was sponsored by a number of foundations and businesses in the country acting in concert to assist the beekeeping industry. Quickly it was revealed that a goal was to provide a world stage for Turkey to announce its bid to host the world apicultural congress (Apimondia) in the year 2013. The country has a lot going for it. A travelling companion who visited in the 1980s said it is totally unrecognizable from what it was twenty years earlier. The transformation into a lively emerging nation is visible everywhere. Clearly, there continue to be populations of haves and have nots, but a rising middle class is certainly present. Coincidentally, in the same year as it plans to bid for the Apimondia congress, it will also apply for entry into the European Union.
Events at the Congress reveal that Turkish beekeeping has also evolved from primitive, rural roots into a solid industry. A paper by Ahmet Yiğit reports the activity was recorded in the Muğla area as far back as 1844. Clearly, beekeeping predates the Ottoman Empire, however, and there seems little doubt that it was practiced all over The Levant during prehistoric times.
The Turkish Beekeepers Association (TAB) reported that at this time the country sports beekeeping associations in 76 cities (38,330 total members), managing 4.6 million colonies (second largest number in a single country). About 82,300 tons of honey is produced each year, averaging 17 Kilograms (36 lbs) per colony. Beekeeping contributes to about seven percent of the national GDP; there are about 15,000 families involved in the activity, managing an average of 129 hives.
A thriving commercial pollination enterprise also exists, including some 3 million colonies, collectively moving about 2000 kilometers to as many as three sites. Crops pollinated include sunflower, cotton, cherry, apple, and citrus. The map shown here provides an idea of the movement around the country. Green areas are traditional wintering grounds for beekeepers.
Seventy-five percent of Turkish bee hives are registered in a beekeeping registration system called AKS. Beekeepers are also registered by TAB and provided identity cards. Turkish beekeepers and scientists have been prominently represented in world congresses, seminars and conferences and hosted the First Balkan Federation Beekeeping Congress Istanbul in 2007.
Other elements of the Turkish beekeeping industry include efforts in developing apitherapy, beekeeping technology (labs concentrating on bee products and health), marketing research (compatible with European Union standards).
Turkey is a huge country, larger than the state of Texas, encompassing 302,000 square miles. It also is the gateway to Asia from Europe, and so has tremendous geographic and biodiversity, with more native plants and animals than other countries in the region. A paper at the Congress by A. Kence and colleagues reported an estimated twenty percent of all native honey bee ecotypes exist in Anatolia, including those residing in the Black Sea area, Thrace, and the Caucasus. Another study from Ankara University by Irfan Kandemir and associates, reported how diverse these populations are using a technique called geometric morphometrics (GM). The following were identified as subspecies: Armeniaca, Caucasica, Ardahan-Artvin-Kars, Carnica, Trakya, Anatoliaca, Karaman-Kayseri-Konya-Sivas, Adamii, Cyrria, Kibris, Syriaca, Hatay, Meda, Iran-Hakkari, and Muğla-Datca.
The latter is the native Muğla bee. Muğla is a province with a capitol city of the same name in Southwest Turkey, a famous area where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean. It is by far the most important beekeeping region in Turkey. Out of 398 villages, 294 employ beekeeping activities as their main source of income. About 5,800 beekeepers manage 600,000 hives. Most importantly, 75% of Turkey’s pine honey comes from the province. The reason the Congress was held in the province.
Pine honey is really honey dew, a product collected and modified by honey bees not from flowers (nectar), but from other insects. In the case of Muğla, it’s a one plant, Pinus brutia, one insect, Marchalina hellenica (M.h.), complex. M.h. is a scale insect, one of the true bugs in the order hemiptera, known as plant suckers. Scale insects and aphids are two groups in the order that imbibe so much liquid from the plant’s phloem that they are forced to excrete a good deal of sweet juice as waste. In many systems, the juice becomes a media for the growth of sooty mold, which may turn fruit black, although doesn’t often harm it. This is also taken advantage of by ants and honey bees that seek out the juice and convert it into honeydew. The honeydew from Muğla is highly sought after and commands a good price.
This particular honeydew is also produced in areas of Greece. Sofia Gounari reported on a six-year study of the scale (M.h.). Aspects studied included morphology, taxonomy, evolution, life cycle and population density in relation to life cycle in five regions: Crete, Attiki, Evia, Chalkidiki, and Thessaloniki. It is concluded that:
M.h. has one generation per year; the appearance of adults and egg-laying is from 25 March through 25 April. There are very few males, although on Crete some large populations have been found. Egg laying in both lab and field has been documented to average 30 days. The number of eggs by an individual can reach 400, with an average of 222. All first instar nymphs become attached to pine trees and begin secreting honeydew by 15 June. Further ecdyses (developmental changes) occur at the end of August and in October. The resulting third instar hibernates and continues to secrete honeydew, but the bees often cannot collect this material due to inclement weather.
The developmental times of the M.h. nymph are fairly constant over the five regions, but the honeydew secretion varies considerably. Thus, the weather conditions and the health of the trees determine to a great extent the amount of honeydew produced. This makes it difficult for beekeepers to figure out when to move colonies; they can be caught out if the flow does not occur as projected. Dr. Goundari suggests beekeepers in Greece and Turkey develop information network as found in Germany and other places to help with this decision making.
The advantages of pine honey for beekeepers include the fact that the harvest is relatively stable from year to year. Large numbers of colonies in holding yards do not appear to affect the flow, which also helps to winter honey bees, although honeydew is not considered optimal for bee nutrition. There is little danger of pesticide damage (the trees are not sprayed), and robbing is limited. The disadvantages include colonies not going into winter in the best possible shape (the queen can easily become honeydew bound and unable to lay eggs) and the spread of disease is enhanced since colonies are placed in very large congregations.
Dr. Gounari provided information on how to exploit the M.h. scale in terms of when and where to move colonies and how to manage them specifically for pine honey production. Before moving, colonies should be strong, treated for Varroa, well fed (syrup and pollen) and they should be “hungry,” not have too many empty frames. In order to determine the optimum time to move, “sentinel” colonies should be placed in areas and monitored for incipient flows.
After the colonies are moved into the honeydew, the management shifts to monitoring combs and pulling them as they fill up – only one brood chamber is used and combs are taken from it. Too much space (the reason supers are not uniformly used) can mean the bees will put the honeydew in small patches all around the frame instead of filling it up uniformly. This seems to parallel to some extent bees managed for section comb honey, where the insects are reluctant to enter the sections unless “force” to do so. Clearly the art of managing honey bees for pine honey is just as demanding, if not more so, than producing good section comb honey.
Pine honey is not easy to characterize for export purposes because it contains no pollen, and so it is a great candidate for economic adulteration. Even at the Congress, finding pure pine honey product was difficult. Most sold was a blend with some honey. Thus, there is no codex standard for pine honey. Stefan Bogdanov of Bee Product Science in Switzerland confirmed this in a review of the subject. Characterizing the material does encompass similar analyses, including organoleptic (taste, smell) and chemical analyses, as well as electro conductivity. However, because there is no internationally-valid criteria to distinguish pine honey as there is for unifloral honey in the E.U., the International Honey Commission is currently working on the issue. Another paper by Banu Yücel concluded that because 92 percent of Turkish pine honey was produced in the Muğla area and 15,000 tons were exported each year to the EU, a specific codex could and should be created for this product.
A paper by Chysoula Tananaki investigated the possibility of using volatile compounds measured via Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometery (GCMS) on pine honeys in both Greece and Turkey. Specific compounds including 3-carene were found only in Turkish pine honey, suggesting these might be markers for the product. It was nevertheless concluded that although useful, this technique should continue to be used only in conjunction with both physiochemical and organoleptic methods.
Challenges in pine honey production in Turkey are many according to one of the Congresses main organizers, Muhsin Doğaroğlu . These include: inadequate colony care and standardized production, marketing and pricing techniques. Most significantly, however, may be environmental changes seen over the last 40 years that might affect the trees, scale insects, honey bees or all three together. Some potential areas include increases in the number of thermo electric power plants, tourist attractions, mines (marble and stone), and rapid urbanization coinciding with water supply issues as found elsewhere in the area.
Fortunately, the country does not appear to be affected by colony death characterized as CCD. However, a study by Tuğrul Giray at the University of Puerto Rico indicated a range in losses reported by beekeepers, some as high as 90 percent. He analyzed a battery of nine questions to try to determine a pattern based on locations, bee diseases, and inputs like sugar feed, wax foundation, and queen source. All contributed to reported losses, but no pattern could be discerned. One possibility is that the new strain of nosema, Nosema ceranae, played a role.
A paper by several researchers at the Aristotelian University, Greece, revealed that Nosema ceranae was detected in 2006 and caused significant problems the next year. Spore counts reached high levels (>50 million spores per bee) and losses in the range of 45 to 56 percent were recorded in the winter of 2007-08. It is thought to have been introduced via imported pollen. This disease is a real problem as the European Union does not allow the use of fumagillin, the only known effective control, because no Maximum Residue Level (MRL) in honey has been determined. In a trial using Fumidil B, Vita Feed God, Nosestat, Protofil, and Garlic, only the former product was considered reliable as a control for N. cerana, although all others controlled the regular N. apis.
One of the fears is how exotic organisms like Nosema ceranae might affect the native populations of honey bees that have been identified in the region. Another is whether these populations will be compromised by large-scale commercial pollination or queen rearing efforts. A paper already mentioned by A. Kence and colleagues reported that studies done have demonstrated great morphometric and genetic variation in Turkey. So far, microsatellite study has shown that native populations are intact, but how long this can last is uncertain. Thus, the authors conclude: “Behavioral work done on different Anatolian honey bees in a common garden and their native habitats corroborates adaptive evolution of honey bees. This diversity is insurance for beekeeping in Turkey, as well as the world, against future environmental changes that honey bees might face. An important threat for honey bee diversity in Turkey is the distribution of queen bees that are produced in a few localities. Distribution and quality control of queen bees should be carefully regulated. In addition, the practice of importing foreign races of honey bees and replacing local races must be stopped.”
A wide variety of other papers were also presented at the First Turkish Beekeeping and Pine Honey Congress, including topics such as the scope of European beekeeping activities of Apimondia, causes of colony losses due to CCD and other reasons, managing honey bees for pollination, legislation on honey and honeydew issues. The Congress also featured a lively poster session and commercial display area. The latter included a unique plastic beehive being sold in the country, and several displays featuring beekeeping paraphernalia.
Those hosting the conference proved to be well organized and extremely good natured, given they were charged with ushering around about 30 invited guests. Special thanks must go out to Muhsin Doğaroğlu and Ali Öztürk for their assistance, but especially Ms. Nurcan Bahar, a local volunteer who took it upon herself to ensure all travel arrangements went off without a hitch. There seems little question that Turkey is ready to host Apimondia in 2013.
Post Script: This was written before the political events in the Middle East took a definite turn based on several situations. Most importantly these were the surge of refugees across the Syrian border and the military coup that failed, providing a more authoritarian bent to Turkish political leadership. Nevertheless, Turkey will in fact host the 45th edition of Apimondia in Istanbul from October 29 through November 4, 2017.