Friday, July 31, 2009

How royal can we be?

So I’ve been thinking about Royal Jelly. CSB was melting wax last night in the double boiler. I’d just had a margarita and a half at Tomatillo’s so wasn’t being trusted with hot & potentially scorching materials. So he stirred the hot wax with a chopstick and I got the remote. By lovely coincidence there was a show on one of the PBS stations about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and all the myriad threats facing honeybees in this world. The usual dire prognostications about pollination and what happens when you don’t have bees to pollinate; e.g. in the pear growing region of China all the honeybees have died off so humans have to HAND POLLINATE every single pear on every single pear tree. This is profoundly tedious and frankly would make me reconsider pears. Bees are so much better at it, and they don’t make alarming television specials.

Additionally, there was footage of vats of Royal Jelly being poured into other vats. This is what riveted me. About 90% of the world’s Royal Jelly comes from China, and when you realize how it is made & harvested, you will understand why this could only happen in China. Worker bees secrete royal jelly from the hypopharyngeal glands in their heads to nourish the larvae. All the bees will get royal jelly for the first 3 days of their lives, but the Queen Bee will be fed exclusively royal jelly during her larval stage. So it is one thing for honeybees to secrete droplets of this white gelatinous substance to feed their fellow bees; it is another story completely for humans to decide that if royal jelly makes a Queen Bee, think what it will do for my aging skin. Then the keepers must convince an entire hive that they are feeding all Queens all the time. Bees of course know this is not how things are meant to be in the hive. Then you have to extract – by hand – minute quantities of this white stuff from the heads of the nurse bees. That is why the footage of huge vats of Royal Jelly blows my mind. There may be 60,000 bees in a hive at its peak, but there are billions of people in China.

I never think about Royal Jelly without thinking about Roald Dahl’s story of that name. If you only know Roald Dahl as a writer of children’s stories, think again. His stories for adults are brilliant and weird and disturbing. His creepy ability to unnerve the reader is unparalleled. As I write this I am also (sort of) fondling my copy of The Roald Dahl Omnibus, which I bought at the Strand Bookstore many years ago for $7.99. Given that there are 29 stories in the collection that comes to a little more than 27 cents a story, which has got to be one of the best values anywhere. In “Royal Jelly”, Albert Taylor, a somewhat obsessive beekeeper (we don’t know anyone of that ilk personally), aware of the remarkable function of royal jelly in the creation of a Queen Bee, decides to feed his infant daughter royal jelly. I will say no more.

This morning I finished melting the wax from our recent extraction and now there is a fine layer of pure beeswax coating every surface in our kitchen.
There is a shallow frame with honey and brood in the bathtub downstairs. Even CSB says he has no idea how it got there.

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