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Cumberland beekeeper stocks farmers markets with elixir as old as the pyramids

By Paul Lonardo

Annette (Annie B) Birman’s deep and abiding passion for beekeeping is evident in her knowledge and enthusiasm to educate the public about the many benefits honey has on the individual and the environment. Annie describes herself as goal-achiever, which is fitting because this personality trait correlates perfectly with the work ethic embodied by the enterprising colonies of bees that she handles on her 2 ½ acre farm in Cumberland.

It was 20 years ago when Annie first got her retail license to run her beekeeping business. She started out with two hives, which produced enough honey for her to fill a few jars to sell at a local church fair. As her hives began to multiply in number, what was supposed to be a sideline career quickly blossomed into a fulltime business. These days, she has dozens of hives in 23 locations across four New England States. This results in harvesting large quantities of honey, which is used in producing a variety of honey products.

Honey bees never sleep, which keeps Annie the owner of Annie B’s Honey Farm busy all year round. Besides all the work she does with her bees around the farm, Annie also remains dedicated to teaching people about the therapeutic and medicinal benefits of honey.

“With me,” Annie says, “It’s all about the bees and the science of the bees, educating the public and customer service. Honeybees are the only insects that produces food for humans. But it doesn’t stop there. If we didn’t have honey bees, you wouldn’t have any food on your table.”

While that might sound a bit hyperbolic, it is true. The fact is that honeybees are responsible for pollinating approximately 80 percent of all fruit, vegetable and seed crops in the U.S.

As Charles Darwin once said, “The life of man would be made extremely difficult if the bee disappeared.”

How honey comes to us is truly amazing. Flowers and other blossoming plants produce sugary nectar, which worker bees suck up using a long, tube-shaped tongue and store in its extra stomach where it mixes with enzymes that transform its chemical composition and making it more suitable for long-term storage.

For humans, if the honey we buy is properly stored it will not spoil. A pot of honey found in an ancient Egyptian tomb was proved to be as wholesome as fresh honey. However, honey will ferment if it is diluted by moisture from the atmosphere or by other liquids. This can be prevented simply by keeping honey containers tightly sealed before and between uses.

Honey that is sold as “raw” contains all the pollen, enzymes and other micronutrients that are usually filtered out or destroyed by heat when processed, which helps the honey remain liquid much longer. Raw honey, on the other hand will crystallize quickly.

For thousands of years, raw honey has been used by mankind in many capacities to help give the human body energy and health. Honey is much more than just a simple sugar, it is rich in minerals and nutrients. It contains a number of natural bacteria-fighting substances, and in the medical community there is genuine excitement about honey as a treatment for drug-resistant bacterial infections, wounds and burns.

Royal jelly, the super-nutrient that bees feed to young bees and to bees that are raised to be queens, has been shown to have cholesterol lowering and anti-inflammatory properties, among other health benefits. Propolis, a plant resin used by honeybees to create a barrier within the hive structure against diseases and mites, is used outside the hive by humans to soothe and treat a variety of ills, from burns and wounds to strengthen the immune and the cardio-vascular systems.

Worldwide, there are 300,000 species of bees, but only 10 types of honey bee, and one hybrid: the infamous Africanized honey bee. Each variety has characteristics that make them unique, and environment has a large effect on differences among bee colonies, with plants in different areas yielding different honey crops.

“I work exclusively with Italian bees,” Annie says. “I breed this variety of honey bees because of their reputation for gentleness, so they are easy to work with. They are also excellent honey producers.”

Italian honey bees were brought to the U.S. in 1859 and quickly became the favored bee stock in this country and remain so to this day. Known for their extended periods of brood rearing, Italian bees are less defensive, building colony populations in the spring and maintaining them for the entire summer.

Working with Italian honey bees might seem like the set up for a joke about this particular stock shaking down other hives for royal jelly or bootlegging honey across bee farm lines. Well, as it turns out, one of drawbacks of the Italian bees is that they are notorious kleptoparasites, frequently robbing the honey stores of weaker or dead neighboring colonies. That being said, Italian honeybees are less prone to disease than other groups.

“The problems that we frequently see,” Annie says, “are fungus, pesticides and mites, which are a very big problem in New England.”

Annie also speaks out against the various other problems confronted by honeybees, not only mites and fungus, but GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) and pesticides, with lawn fertilizers being a major culprit.

Annie does not use any chemicals. Her honey is pure, raw, and natural. No additives. And everything is made at her farm. She is proud, and rightfully so, of her all-natural award-winning honey.

So whether it is the sweet and healthful benefits of pure honey you’re looking for, or some of the other tasty treats and products Annie B. has to offer, such as blueberry honey, dark wildflower honey, honey comb, honey pollen, honey candy, honey straws, lip balm, bees wax, beeswax candles, look for these products in stores, at local craft fairs, or on-line and support your local business.

Honey and pollen can be purchased at www.anniebsfarm.com or at your local Dave’s Marketplace and Tom’s Marketplace. Honey and other products are stocked at the farm’s primary store The Wave, located on 3 New England Way in Lincoln.