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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Meeting a Melissa Pollinologist

I haven't ever met a melissa pollinologist until the meeting of the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association this past week. Our speaker was Dr. Paul Arnold and he refers to himself as such. Paul Arnold is one of the founders of the Young Harris Beekeeping Institute which I attended in May and has taught in the biology department of Young Harris College for 19 years.

He said that he is one of the few people in the country who analyzes honey to determine what pollen contributed to the honey. More people are melissa pollinologists in Europe and Australia. I was one of the nine or so people in the club who drew the straw that allowed us to bring out honey to him to take back to Young Harris and analyze.

Dr. Arnold told us that many people wonder why would one want to analyze honey for the pollen. There were four reasons:
  • To determine the nectar source for marketing purposes
    • You can't say for sure your honey is sourwood, for example, without this analysis
  • To determine undesirable nectar sources
    • This year there was an abundance of mountain laurel in the N Georgia mountains and because of the late hard freeze, the bees had little else from which to choose. As a result they made a ton of mountain laurel honey with is poisonous and smells like brake fluid.
  • To verify a pollen contract
    • If the person who hired the beekeeper wants to know if the bees he hired actually visited his almonds or blueberries
  • To determine the source of a pesticide kill
    • If bees are dead in droves around the hive, analyzing the honey may give you the source of the kill
There are many drawbacks (he had slide after slide about this) to doing pollen analysis. Among the drawbacks are:
  • Equipment cost - microscope, centrifuge, slides, etc.
  • Many pollens look alike so it's hard to come to an answer
  • There are few pollen guides on the subject
Dr. Arnold makes his own reference slides when he finally gets down to an identification

He had a series of slides which were a lot of fun to see showing the notable characteristics of various pollens:
  • Size: tupelo, for example is very large, dandelion is very small
  • Shape: pollen is sometimes triangular, 4-lobed, football shaped, round, winged, etc.
  • Wall apertures (openings)
  • Wall ornamentation (spikes, knobs, pits)
What he does in the process is:

He mixes 50% honey and 50% hot water. He mixes this well and then centrifuges it at 1500 RPMs for 5 minutes. He then pours off the liquid and there is a pollen pellet at the bottom. He pipettes this out onto slides and looks at it under a low light microscope.

I left my dark honey with him. He had said the less filtered the better, so I put some from a cut comb box of the dark into a jar and left it for him. I've been mystified by this honey because it is very dark - less dark this year - but still very dark. The bees made this honey while I was gone over the week of July 4th. I know this because the hive had no honey in any super before I left and this super was full when I came back.

Dr. Arnold did say that the dark honey in Georgia late in the season is often made from smooth sumac or catalpa. It will likely be weeks before I know the answer about my particular honey because he spends about 30 minutes processing each individual sample. He was very kind to do this for our club, and all he gets for the effort is our appreciation and a taste of each honey sample!

So I was very glad he shed a little light on the dark late season honey before he ended his interesting talk at the bee club.

I feel very lucky that he was so generous to our club - taking home members' honey samples to analyze.


  1. Anonymous10:37 AM

    Fascinating! I'm just sorry that it seems to be such a task to get the pollen results.

  2. He is being completely generous with us and doing it for free, so I'll be happy whenever the results come - it's actually fun to anticipate. I find that I looked all over the neighborhood today while I walked to see catalpa or sumac (I found two catalpa trees!)

  3. Anonymous3:37 PM

    It would be nice to know about all of your specialty honeys. But costs are of major importance.

  4. Anonymous9:35 AM

    I wish I had a fellow such as him near me, the honey from our hive is like dark root beer...

    So interesting!


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