Friday, September 6, 2013

Varietal Honey

How does a beekeeper harvest varietal honey?  Once again just like wine, when you have a varietal honey it is from a single source. That means that blueberry honey is harvested from blueberry flowers, orange blossom honey from orange blossoms, and ...well you get the picture.

So how could that work?

A beekeeper will put a honey super, the smaller box where the honey is stored, on top of a hive near at least two acres of a particular kind of flower, say cranberries, just as the flowers are getting started. Then the bees go and suck up all the lovely nectar from the cranberry flowers, bring that  back to the hive, and make honey in the super.

Bees have this really wonderful single-mindedness that varietal honey makers exploits. When a forager  bee has a strong nectar source, think acres and acres of cranberries, she tells all her sisters about it. They go out and enjoy it returning to the hive to tell more bees about it. Soon the whole cadre of foragers is on the cranberry flowers and little or nothing else.

Just as the blossoms are fading, the beekeeper returns to the picture. She cannot be late or the bees will start adding honey from the next flower in bloom in the area. She will take the honey super off and do one of two things. She can put a new super on or move the bees.

The beekeeper extracts the honey and now has a varietal honey, in this case, cranberry honey.  What is the point of doing such a thing? I think it is two things. First taste - varietal honey has a wonderful palate of colors and flavors. Second money - varietal honey commands a premium price. There are some terrifically rare honeys that are quite expensive.

Some of my favorites are:
*Lavender - super light and floral
*Clethra - also light and delicate with a delightful aftertaste
*Blueberry - medium colored with a strong fruitiness - rarely crystallizes

A few others I've tried are:
*Manuka - tea tree honey - medicinal and camphory {shiver}
*Buckwheat - dark, mahogany colored - I can't get over the grassy taste


  1. Thanks for answering my question! I do like orange blossom honey, because I can definitely taste the citrusy notes. Or maybe that's just my imagination.

    One more question - I found a delightful honey in Lancaster, PA that is "Wildflower Honey" - is that truly varietal, or is it just a catch all for "whatever the bees happened to find"?

  2. Any time Amy!

    Wildflower honey is the term that beekeepers use to describe all non-varietal honey. My honey is wildflower honey.


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