Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The varietal scoop

Honey must be one of nature’s most varied foods. Around the world bees collect the sweet essence of hundreds of different plant species, most of which produce no other human food besides honey. We really enjoy these unique tastes and try hard to capture all the unique varieties of honey we can. It’s not possible to completely prevent the bees from mixing different nectars together, but to some degree varietal honeys can be harvested. Sometimes, as in the case of the sourwood tree, a flower will bloom at a time of year when very little else is in bloom. And not everything that blooms produces nectar or, for that matter, nectar that is sweet enough to attract bees. Some flowers, like the white Dutch clover that grows in many of our lawns, tend to produce very little nectar on high acid soils like we have in the Southeast. Maples and fruit trees bloom early in the year and are a great asset to the bees, but bees are rarely ready to produce a harvestable surplus that early in the year. If you were to collect pollen, the other foodstuff of bees, you would probably notice that at any given time almost all of the pollen would be the same color. This is because bees in a colony communicate with each other and will collect mostly from one species at a time. If we know that a particular plant is coming into bloom that generally produces a honey surplus we will put empty comb on our hives, and if weather and circumstances favor us we will harvest the honey as soon as the bloom ends and the bees have finished converting the nectar into honey. These are our varietal honeys. This spring (2004) the bees produced a very unusual honey, probably from the blackberry brambles, which bloomed prolifically this year. So much blooms in the spring that we can’t say this with certainty. Its uniformity, however, indicates that it is a relatively pure varietal, and we did our best to keep it separate from the subsequent nectar flow. We hope to produce one more small crop from the completely different set of flowers that are blooming now. Goldenrod has a reputation for producing a very strong, robust honey.

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