How is honey made?

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Me as a beekeeper!

Having worked in an apiary for a summer a few years ago, I have developed a different, stronger connection to bees than most have. I learned a lot about bee-farming, colony collapse disorder and bee communication. We harvested honey and beeswax, made candles, and took care of the bees, ensuring the hives were healthy and kept busy. But what I didn’t learn that much about was how the honey was actually made by the bees, so here I took it upon myself to learn and to share this with you all here. Also enjoy some photos of the candle-making, me in a bee keeper’s outfit and bees hard at work!

Honey, as we see it in grocery stores, is simply nectar that has been collected and processed by honey bees. Nectar is a sugary liquid secreted by flowers as an evolutionary mechanism. Insects consume it and use it for energy, meanwhile, the flowers’ pollen sticks to the insect bodies and is carried from flower to flower as the insects collect more food for themselves. This pollen exchange, fueled by the desire for nectar by the insects, is how different plants reproduce. This is referred to as the co-evolution of insects and plants, which you can learn more about here.

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Bees will fly from flower to flower, collecting nectar and storing it into one of two stomachs. One stomach is called the honey stomach. It takes nectar from over 1000 flowers to fill this stomach, and once it is full, it can weigh as much as the bee itself.

The honey stomach contains special digestive enzymes that break down the nectar into the smaller sugar molecules that make up honey. However, one bee alone cannot produce honey. Honey bees are extremely social and complex creatures, and the making of honey is just one demonstration of this. Once a worker bee returns to the hive with a full honey stomach, it will vomit the nectar into another bee’s mouth, and that bee will vomit it into another bee’s mouth, and so on. As this is happening, each bee is adding more and more digestive enzymes to the nectar.

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Worker bees hard at work in their hive. In the bottom right corner you can see the honey-filled cells capped with bees wax

Once there are enough enzymes in the nectar, it is then deposited into a beeswax cell in the hive. The worker bees then beat their wings to create an air current to evaporate excess water from the nectar-enzyme mix to increase its viscosity. Once this is done, the cell is capped with beeswax so that the digestive enzymes can continue to complete the nectar’s transformation into honey.

So yes, honey is literally digested-bee-vomit, but it is also the hive’s source of food in the winter. Therefore, it is important for apiaries to ensure that they do not extract too much honey from each hive, as this can result in the mass die-out of colonies over the winter. However, these apiaries need to take some honey from the bees to keep them from swarming. When a hive runs out of space to store honey, they have officially run out of things to do, making them restless, unhappy and will eventually lead them to swarm in search of a new hive.

One hive will make and consume more than 50 kg of honey in a single year, but this takes much more work then you think. To make one pound of honey, 10 000 bees have to fly over 120 000 km and visit over 8 million flowers. So next time you eat honey, take a moment to appreciate the tremendous amount of work that went into producing this delicious substance.

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DIY beeswax candles in the making. We used the sticks to hold the wick out of the wax wile it solidified

honey extraction

Is there enough land to feed the world? Calling for more sustainable diets

A new study at the University of Guelph and the University of Waterloo have found that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommended diet is too land-intensive for the planet. If everyone on the planet followed this recommended diet, then an additional gigahectare of land (the size of Canada) devoted agriculture would be needed to produce this food, exceeding the amount of fertile land actually available. This means that these dietary guidelines are fundamentally flawed and that not only nutrition, but also the long-term stability of the food system and of the environment need to be considered when creating them.

This study focuses specifically on the supply of food needed to feed the world based on USDA dietary recommendations, and the land required to achieve this supply, regardless of the accessibility of the food to the world population and how much of this food is lost or wasted from farm to table. Results show that in North America, land could be spared by switching to the USDA recommended diet, because the current consumption of land-intensive foods by people in this area, such as meat products, is higher than the USDA guidelines recommend. Conversely, Africa, Eastern Europe, the European Union and Oceania would cause a large land deficit by following the USDA recommended diet. Focusing in on the European Union, where instances of malnourishment are currently infrequent, causing a land deficit, suggests that the USDA guidelines are unsustainable when it comes to land-intensive foods.

The information in this study is novel in terms of the physical quantification of the land required to feed the world according to USDA guidelines, however, the results and implications line up with what the sustainable diets discourses have been saying for many years. As early as 1971, Frances Moore Lappé’s pioneering book, Diet for a Small Planet, pointed out the consequences of unfair and ineffective food policies that favor meat production over plant-based diets. Lappé advocated for change toward overall consumption of food that is lower down the food chain and placed urgency on the need of corporate and social responsibility to achieve this.

To feed a person on a plant-based vegan diet for one year, requires one-sixth of an acre of land. To feed a person on a vegetarian diet including egg and dairy products, requires three times that amount of land. The average American’s diet, that is high in meat, egg and dairy consumption, requires 18 times as much land. This accounts for the land required to grow the food needed to feed the livestock as well as the land needed to keep livestock. There are currently 9 billion livestock maintained on US soil to meet the demand of animal protein consumed by Americans. These livestock consume 7 times more grain than is consumed directly by the entire American population. This amount of grain would be sufficient to meet the needs of 840 million people on a plant-based diet. Additionally, producing 1 kg of animal protein requires 100 times more water than producing 1 kg of grain protein. This incorporates the water needed to grow the amount of feed needed to maintain the livestock over the course of their lives as well as to support the livestock themselves. For example, to produce 1 kg of beef requires about 13 kg of grain and 30 kg of hay. Approximately 17 000 L of water is needed to grow that grain and about 30 000 L for the hay.

Given the land and resource intensity of meat production, devoting more land to meat production to meet the USDA guidelines worldwide is neither a feasible nor sustainable way to feed to world. For food production to be sustainable, it must not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Current food production is condoning the overuse of chemical fertilizers, land and water, degrading the soil, accelerating biodiversity loss, altering biochemical cycles, disturbing the carbon cycle and supports unfair trading practices. These exploitative and destructive patterns are severely compromising the health and even the existence of future generations as well as future planetary health.

Given this, it is no surprise that the policies surrounding food production and standardized dietary guidelines are in serious need of an overhaul, but this is not the first time researchers are saying this. In 1986 Joan Gussow and Kate Clancy coined the term “sustainable diet,” arguing that food choices cannot be solely based on nutrition, but must also incorporate environmental, cultural and economic and ethical criteria. A sustainable diet therefore works toward protecting and respecting biodiversity and natural ecosystems, is culturally acceptable, accessible, economically just and affordable, nutritionally sufficient, safe, and healthy.

 Sustainable diets are therefore needed because as humans, our well-being is founded on the well-being of the environment in which we live. Anything threatening its well-being, integrity and stability is inherently threatening our own. This new research supports the urgency of policies that promote sustainable diets by putting a quantitative lens on this ethical foundation of sustainability and implies that dietary guidelines must consider sustainable global land use, equity, and natural ecosystem conservation in addition to human health requirements.

Zero Waste with Guest Star Paige McNeely – Podcast #6

Today we talk about going Zero Waste, the Montreal plastic bag “ban” and various CSAs in the region with our guest Paige McNeely.

World Water Day: connecting us to nature and outlining the changes we need today

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The world’s waters are in peril and I wrote this post to share my experiences of today in celebration of World Water Day. Today I had the amazing opportunity to attend World Water Day at my university. I even got a fancy name tag and everything. Overall, it was a great day of learning about the amazing water research my colleagues are doing and to share new innovative ideas on how to deal with the world’s water crisis.

The day began with The Water Song interpreted by UW’s Indigenous Students’ Society. This song represents the cultural importance of water to Indigenous communities in Canada. For Indigenous peoples, water is seen as a living thing, a spiritual entity that emits “life-giving” forces. With this, comes the duty and responsibility of its protection and respect by all. This song resonated with the crowd throughout the day, to remind everyone that water scarcity and pollution are not solely ecological and health issues but are merely small parts of the broader holistic perspective recognizing that everyone and everything on Earth are deeply and fundamentally connected and interrelated.

The Water Song fit extremely well into the theme of the day, The Answer is in Nature, A2_POSTER_WWD2018_EN-01which is all about utilizing natural solutions to help solve the world’s water crises. The Keynote speakers,  Tyler and Alex MifflinThey are the stars of their own TV show The Water Brothers, which looks at various environmental issues through the lens of water, aiming to increase the accessibility and understanding of these issues.

With 60 percent of the world’s lakes and 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater, Canada is among the most water-abundant countries in the world. Such a fortune, comes immense responsibility that should be followed by examples of protection, preservation, conservation and care. However, Canada is one of the world’s biggest water wasters, consumers and polluters. This was described by Mifflin as The Myth of Abundance which is the idea that we have so much water, we do not need to worry about its quantity or quality, when actually the opposite is true.

In Canada, we may seem very far removed from the current water crisis in Cape Town, however the reality is that it could happen anywhere. Many human activities have disrupted the stability of the Earth’s water cycle to the point of creating a “preferred” water economy, wherein water use and consumption has little to do with natural cycles, but actually has a lot to do with the way humans have modified local ecosystems to meet demand for their desired activities. Water management in Capetown was based on the  more stable climatic conditions of the past, however, human induced climate change has fundamentally altered the water cycle to the point where Capetown’s water management systems simply do not work anymore.

This brings me to my main point, why should we, as Canadians, in the country with such abundant freshwater sources, focus on water issues?

Water is in everything we eat, drink, wear and consume. Our eating and consumption habits connect us to the water challenges all around the world. The water on Earth today has been on Earth for hundreds of millions of years. We share the the water on Earth with all other life forms on the planet now and in those in past and future generations. We are not “running out of water,” per se. With so many people and other living things on the planet, we are running out of ways to provide everyone with the water that they need to live and thrive.

“No water, no life. No blue, no green.” – Sylvia Earle

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California is facing many issues with water scarcity due to periodic droughts related to climate change and the destabilized water cycle. Canadians have high dependence on California for winter produce, therefore, much of what goes on down there, affects us up here. To mitigate the water crisis, Californians were told that the best course of action was to take individual actions such as taking shorter showers and watering their grass less etc. These are all good things, that definitely have a positive impact on water conservation, however, the agricultural industry is actually responsible for 70 percent of freshwater consumption. It was those agricultural lobbyists that were encouraging other people to use less water so that they don’t have to.

The truth is that the water crisis is global issue that implicates everybody. To ensure availability and sustainable water management and sanitation for everyone on the planet, we have to think bigger than just taking a shorter shower. For instance, think about your own food choices, eating 10 hamburgers consumes the same amount of water as taking 365 showers. By eating less meat you are inherently are saving more water. We must take these individual actions, but we also must put pressure on governments to put adaptive and sustainable water conservation policies in place. These have capacity to make even bigger differences on even larger scales. When people raise their voices, that’s when changes are made. This is why the Mifflins are so passionate about using use their TV show and media presence to engage and educate people who care and have potential to work toward making the changes that are needed in the world.

 

The Plastic Tide Citizen Science Project

I’d like to bring a really important citizen science project to your attention today. As you may know, I am very passionate about plastics in the ocean and it is often a huge source of emotional stress when I begin to think about it.

That being said, I often feel like I should be doing more than I am doing to help save the planet because we are running out of time. Being in school and sitting at my desk in my small office everyday,  I find it hard to take the strong activist position that I would like to. So when I came across The Plastic Tide’s project, I got very excited because I finally feel like I am making a tiny impact and helping in some small way, which is extremely important.

The Plastic Tide has created an algorithm that works to identify plastics on coastlines with the goal of determining exactly how much plastics and other man-made debris are actually there. They are seeking people who will examine high-resolution photos of beaches and flag the plastic debris that appears in the photos. This will thus, teach the algorithm how to identify plastic debris, so that it can be used at a more broad scale. It is purely a citizen science effort, which is even more special, as it gives so many people, like me, the opportunity to participate in something they care deeply about, even if it is in just some small way.

Of course, it is not a project that works to solve systemic issues with the creation of plastic debris, however, the quantification aspect is something very important because I believe there is a lot of strength that can come from numbers.

I believe that projects like these are very important in raising awareness and encouraging participation of the people. If people can understand it, they can care about it and fight for the change that the world needs because ultimately, politicians do not enact the needed change, passionate people do.

If you wish to participate in the project, you can do so through their website (link above) or through Zooniverse (as I did). Zooniverse is a platform for all kinds of citizen science projects, so you can explore it and find other projects that mean something to you.

Blog Highlights… from then to now

The Incredible Sustainable Planet has recently reached its 2nd birthday, and already, I can see a huge evolution in not only my writing style, but also in the topics that I chose to publish articles about. My blog has matured from something I would do for fun on Sunday nights in the library, to something more serious, professional and relevant. There are some true gems on this blog that I want to resurface and will highlight them in this post. There are also some very strange posts that I just want to bury and hope will never be read again.

First on the list is Zero Waste Week at McGill. This was the first time I was exposed to the zero waste movement and I was so excited to take part in all the social events, but with my crazy busy schedule, I wasn’t able to. I still tried to do the challenge on my own, but failed miserably, because I just wasn’t prepared or thinking enough about it. Luckily, I’m taking a second go at it with this year’s New year’s resolution in my own way which will most likely be more successful. Following the zero waste theme, I wrote about Revolutionizing Disposable Utensils which was a project on Kickstarter about disposable utensils that you can eat once you’re done using them. This was such a great idea, as it could drastically reduce the number of plastic utensils that get used once and then are thrown away.

Next up, is Trading Convenience for Sustainability which is the article I wrote when I had two hydrologists as professors. They both introduced me to the immense impact of human water use on the planet and also led me to write Some Interesting Perspectives on Water Usage, which also talks about the hidden water use that comes in products that you wouldn’t normally think about as a heavy water user.

Bringing Back the Woolly Mammoth sounds a bit silly, but actually features some very important information about the human domination of the planet and about recent advancements in genetic cloning that can actually make de-extinction possible.

Did you ever wonder if store-bought eggs could hatch? Well I can answer that! Yes, it is possible for store bought eggs to hatch, was surprisingly, this blog’s 3rd most popular article!

Finally, the most popular article from the past two years has been The underlying truth to why Montreal’s plastic bag ban doesn’t actually ban plastic bags by a landslide. This article talks about how the by-law implemented to eliminate the distribution of plastic bags in retail stores in Montreal could potentially be the source of more plastic waste.

The past two years have been absolutely life-changing for me, completing my undergraduate degree at McGill and then moving hundreds of kilometers away to start my Master’s degree. Since then, I’ve met so many new inspirational people, traveled far and wide, learned so much, and had so many incredible experiences. During all of this, my blog has matured so much, it got a new name, its own domain, new members, new segments, and has really been able to portray my own personal journey and evolution. I hope to always continue writing and bringing important issues to the attention of my followers.

And of course, remember that we always love to get feedback from our readers, whether it is comments, questions, suggestions or contributions of any kind. Hope you enjoyed reminiscing the past years as much as I did.

-Charlotte

Wrath of the Water Bottles – Podcast #2

In this podcast we talked about the impact of disposable water bottles on our planet. From shocking facts to various alternatives we dive into the bottled realm of water. We are not in any way sponsored by or affiliated with any of these companies discussed in this podcast. Enjoy!

Links:

Facts:

National Geographic Kids;  David Wolfe; USA today

Pollution video:

https://www.facebook.com/iBanPlastic/videos/667057933503894/

Alternatives:

Pay for the subway by recycling; Ecologic water bottles; 360 Paper water bottles; Edible water bottle/blob; Jayden Smith’s Company; Turning plastic water bottles into rope; Water bottle crafts

Cool Sustainable Inventions- Podcast #1

In this podcast we talked about some really cool products/inventions that promote sustainability. We are not in any way sponsored by or affiliated with any of these companies. These products are just some things that we’ve seen around the internet that caught our attention and that we believe deserve yours. Enjoy!

Here are the links to the products discussed in this podcast:

  1. The Drumi: http://www.yirego.com/product
  2. Pineapple leather: http://www.ananas-anam.com/pinatex/
  3. Zero electricity air conditioner: http://iflscience.com/environment/these-diy-ecofriendly-air-conditioners-are-cooling-down-bangladesh/
  4. Clean up the ocean:  https://www.facebook.com/greenmattersmedia/videos/10155024603076538/
  5. Edible drone that delivers humanitarian aid: http://www.windhorse.aero/
  6. Machine pulls drinking water out of the air: http://water-gen.com/products/
  7. SALt Lamp: http://www.salt.ph/
  8. Sprout Pencil:  http://mymodernmet.com/sprout-pencil/