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Single Source Honey

The above photo of bees in a lavender field was taken in France, where lavender is grown commercially.  Lavender is also grown in Spain and other parts of the European Union.

The honey from lavender blossoms is arguably one of the most prized single-source varietal honeys in the world.  It is almost exclusively imported from Europe.  This honey is magnificently delicious with a delicate flavor and slight purple hue.  Lavender honey is expensive, but if you are a honey connoisseur, it is highly worth a try.

Single sourced honey originates from a single flower type and, as a result, takes on the unique flavor and characteristics of that blossom.  In order to capture a single source of nectar and to produce single source varietal, the beekeeper needs to strategically place colonies of honeybees on or alongside a vast area of the exact same blossoms, such as clover, acacia, alfalfa, or in the above case, lavender.  There should be at least a square mile of the same kind of blossoms in the area blossoming at about the same time.  The blossoms need to be attractive to the bees, and there should not be any competing flowers nearby that could dilute the flavor of the honey – especially other kinds of flowers that are equally or more attractive to the bees.

For most backyard beekeepers, producing single source honey is entirely out of the question.  With houses nearby and all sorts of flowering gardens, the honey produced is nearly always a blend of “wildflowers”, or more accurately, garden blossoms.

At Wildflower Meadows, we have seen our bees working lavender blossoms from time to time.  Occasionally, a nearby enterprising gardener will plant a garden of lavender, usually for some sort of aromatherapy or essential oil project that they have in mind.  Our bees are most pleased to do their part and pay a visit. Unfortunately, however, there is never even close to enough lavender to consider the resulting honey single source.  Obtaining a particular honey varietal is an art unto itself, and takes a knowledgeable beekeeper that is dedicated to this singular pursuit.

What Attracts Honeybees To Flowers?

 

When flying about, honeybees’ two most powerful senses are their eyesight and sense of smell.  When at full bloom, flowers’ most attractive features are their beauty to the eyes, as well as their fragrance to the nose.  Is this a coincidence?  No.  Honeybees are designed to find flowers, and flowers are designed to find honeybees.

Did you ever wonder why flowers are almost never the same color as the plant itself?  The flower on any plant needs to stand out, and be as beautiful and fragrant as it can be to attract the bees that it needs for the next generation of plants to survive.

As humans we also appreciate the beauty and fragrance of a perfect flower.  But compared to what a bee experiences, our visual perception of a flower is downright drab.  It is as though we are looking at an old scratched computer screen while the bees are watching a 3D movie in IMAX!  Not only is a bee’s sense of smell keenly more acute than ours, a bee’s eyesight is perfectly optimized for identifying flowers.

You may not know this, but flowers display a richness that largely escapes our range of vision.  Bees see in a different range of frequencies, or spectrum, than humans.  Whereas a human’s eyesight ranges from red to violet on the color spectrum (the colors of the rainbow), the bees’ vision ranges from orange to ultraviolet.  Bees cannot see red, but they can see well into the ultraviolet spectrum.  In the ultraviolet spectrum, many flowers have an iridescent quality, in which they appear to change color or flicker from one color to another.  While we humans fail to see this beauty, the bees identify it immediately.

A bees eye view of the same photo

If humans could see into the ultraviolet spectrum, we would see iridescent colors in a flower, along with patterns on the petals of flowers that seem to almost point the way to the nectar source.  A dandelion, when seen in the UV spectrum, is not completely yellow but has a rich and darker looking center that immediately draws attention.  That center, not coincidentally, is where the nectar lies.

Bees’ vision is also vastly faster than ours, which means that they can identify changes in colors while on the move. In fact, honeybees can actually identify individual flowers while traveling at high speed!  Is it any wonder why scout bees never fail to “stop and smell the flowers” along the way?

Honeybees and Gardening

While commercially managed bee colonies largely feed on managed crops and wildflowers, the backyard beehives rely on flowering trees and local gardens for food. Local gardens are an especially valuable resource for urban and suburban beehives.  Unlike agricultural crops, which feature acres of the same flowers over large geographic areas, local gardens provide bees exactly […]

Bee Bread

Like all animals, bees need protein to survive.  While nectar is an excellent source of carbohydrates for bees, it is lacking in protein.  Bee pollen, besides containing other minerals and enzymes, is the primary source of protein in a beehive.  In optimal conditions, foraging bees obtain protein for the hive by gathering pollen from flowers and bringing the pollen back to the hive in their pollen baskets.  Once these flower pollen pellets are gathered by foraging bees, the pollen is then referred to as bee pollen.

If you’ve ever bought or collected bee pollen to use as a nutritional supplement, you quickly learn that bee pollen needs to be frozen, or at least refrigerated, so that it does not spoil.  How then are bees able to store bee pollen in an environment that is 93 degrees on average?

The bees’ secret to storing and preserving pollen is that they convert the pollen pellets that they gather into “bee bread,” which is a combination of pollen, honey and enzymes.  The honey and enzymes combine to form a natural preservative that keeps the pollen from spoiling, and preserves its nutritional value almost indefinitely.  This bee bread is stored inside the honey combs, typically alongside the brood nest, where it is consumed by nurse bees who convert it to royal jelly or worker jelly to feed larvae.

One of the more satisfying sights to a conscientious beekeeper when inspecting a hive is finding a giant colorful frame of beebread.  The colors give away the sources from where the bees have been collecting pollen.  In Southern California, yellow bee bread in the spring typically means that the bees have been working golden mustard, while yellow bee bread in the fall generally originates from goldenrod.  Sometimes – especially in areas where the bees are located near residential homes and exotic gardens – we notice the strangest assortment of colors.  Bright blue or near florescent red can make a beekeeper scratch his head, and wonder, “Where in the world did that pollen come from!”

Orange Blossom Honey

California has many well-documented problems: wildfires, traffic jams, and earthquakes immediately come to mind.  On the other hand, however, California has orange blossom honey!

Beginning around the middle of March and lasting until about the middle of April, citrus trees – including orange, tangerine, lemons, limes, and grapefruit – all blossom in full force, emitting the sweet aroma of citrus bloom.  A walk inside a blossoming citrus grove is a sensory experience to behold:  beautiful spring weather, bright green leaves, spectacular aroma, and happy honeybees buzzing everywhere.

During springtime in California, with many types of wildflowers blooming, honeybees have countless options of where to forage.  Typically, however, one of their first choices are the orange trees, and who can blame them?

In Southern California, a downside of orange blossoms flowering in March, if there can be one, is that a strong nectar flow of citrus trees can draw bees away from nearby blooming avocado trees.  This dual blooming has the potential to impair nearby avocado pollination.  Avocado farmers who neighbor flowering citrus trees need to be aware of the competition for their bees, and compensate by keeping extra colonies of honeybees in their avocado groves to pollinate their trees.

Flowers in December

In the Northern Hemisphere, not too many plants offer honeybees blossoming flowers during December.  One exception is the jade plant, also knows as Crassula Ovata.  In most parts of the country, jade is a houseplant, but here in California, jade grows outside, primarily in outdoor household gardens.  Jade, a native of South Africa, is a succulent plant that thrives in subtropical climates and doesn’t require much water.  Therefore, it is especially popular with water-thrifty homeowners in California.

To produce blossoms, jade takes its cues from the weather.  It needs long nights, cool and dry days.  December in California fits the bill perfectly.  Usually around the first week in December, buds appear, shortly thereafter followed by somewhat sticky, pink and white, star-shaped flowers.

The bees in our queen bee yard are usually rather dormant in December, taking a well-needed vacation from the hard work of raising queens over much of the year.  Nevertheless, the blooming jade plants perk them up a little.  Where else can a vacationing honeybee get a nice serving of fresh nectar in the middle of December?

Wildflower Meadows would like to thank all our customers and friends for a successful 2015.  We wish each and everyone of you a joyous and happy holiday season.  Our best wishes to you all for 2016!

Acacia Tree Blossoms: The Start of Queen Honey Bee Rearing

When it comes to raising queen honeybees there is no more welcome sight than the first blossoms of the year.  After a long dearth of pollen and nectar, a fresh and abundant new pollen source dramatically raises the activity of the bees.  The queen bees begin to lay eggs in earnest and bee populations begin their spring explosion.  In Southern California, early signs of spring often appear near the end of January, punctuated by the spectacular yellow blossoms of acacia.

The honeybees in the queen-rearing yard come to life with the big fluffy yellow blossoms that are loaded with nutritious pollen.  Once the acacia pollen starts coming in, the breeder queen bees accelerate their brood rearing.  Shortly after the appearance of the first blossoms, the queen bees will begin to rear the first drones of the season.

There are over 800 species of acacia in the world, making it one of the world’s largest tree species.  Acacias are found in Australia, Africa, Hawaii, and Central America.  They are also well established in the United States, specifically in California, Arizona, and South Carolina.  The acacia tree blossoms are pea shaped and, at least in California, are a very bright and bold yellow. California acacias are not a particularly strong honey producer, but the bees thoroughly enjoy the flowers for pollen!

Although acacia honey is renowned and highly prized, believe it or not, most “acacia” honey actually does not originate from acacia trees – but rather from black locust trees!  Black locust is also called “false acacia.”  The black locust tree is found in Southern Europe as well as in the United States.  This “acacia” honey is some of the most delicious tasting honey in the world; pale and clear with exquisite flavor, and well worth a try if you can find it.