When Did Alabama Begin Producing Honey?
Its said when Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto travelled to North America around 1540, he noticed the presence of honey pots in the Northeastern section of Alabama on the Coosa River. This was the first time during his journey that he had seen any honey.
Now given most reports say European honey bees weren’t introduced into the us until 1600s, there are two main theories to this:
A lie, it has been stated beekeepers in Spain didn’t want to compete with cheap imports, so the explorer lied, saying honey/bees were already here to encourage them to establish honey production. Secondly it could have been syrup/what the Native Americans made from saw palmetto trees, which can resemble honey.
Much later, the famed naturalist, William Bartram, documented his journey throughout the U.S. Southeast during the late 1700s. He reported that he had found only one hive in Alabama, located in Mobile in 1773. As beeswax was commonly exported in Mobile during the 18th century, residents were likely also harvesting the honey.
It wasn’t until 1860 when Alabama beekeepers first imported Italian honey bee queens for their hives, and now the queen honey bee is recognized as Alabama’s official state agricultural insect.
How Much Honey Does Alabama Produce?
According to the most recently published report from The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Alabama produced 270 pounds of honey in 2018, down from 315 pounds in 2017.
That honey was drawn from 6,000 honey bee colonies and held a value of $964,000.
Main Types of Honey Produced in Alabama?
The most commonly produced honey in Alabama is Wildflower honey. That’s primarily because of the many varieties of flowers in the state and the differing bloom times for these plants.
Clover honey is also one of the most popular types, as well as cotton honey, which has a delicate taste and a light colour. Some of the bigger apiaries also produce honey from coffee and ginger plants. One big farm is known for its gallberry honey – an evergreen shrub commonly found in the Southeastern U.S.
Is Alabama Honey Produced Year-Round, or Is It Seasonal?
Beekeepers harvest honey during times of surplus. This is also known as “robbing” the hives. Robbing often occurs around Memorial Day and Labor Day.
However, some beekeepers choose to harvest before September and choose July as a great month to take the surplus. They must be conscientious about the need for adequate honey stores during the winter so that the colony can survive.
Another reason not to wait until September or even October, as some beekeepers do, is that fall nectar flow typically has a strong taste and may be less desirable by those looking to purchase honey in the state.
Which Bees Create Alabama Honey?
Like most Southeastern states, Alabama relies primarily on Italian honey bees (Apis mellifera ligustica).
The Italian honey bee is a subspecies of the western honey bee (Apis mellifera) Italian bees are easy to manage because they are relatively passive and have what is considered a relatively good temperament. However, their laid-back nature may make it more difficult to keep predators such as beetles and hornets out of the hive.
Carniolan Honey Bees (Apis mellifera carnica)
Alabamian beekeepers also use Carniolan honey bees (Apis mellifera carnica) in addition to Italian bees.
While they are more aggressive, they’re more productive during colder weather, and on overcast days, they can produce about 15% more honey than the Italian species.
Russian Honey Bees (Apis mellifera)
The Russian honey bee refers to honey bees (Apis mellifera) that originate in the Primorsky Krai region of Russia. Finally, due to the dire threat of the destructive varroa mite, some beekeepers have introduced Russian bees. Russian hybrids are more resistant to these mites because they engage in behaviours that actively remove them from their hives.
The mite-resistant “Russian honey bee” originated in the Primorsky Krai region of Russia, where A. mellifera had been exposed to Varroa since around 1900. As a result, some bee strains within the region appeared to have developed a degree of genetic resistance to Varroa.
USDA Agricultural Research Service researched and evaluated these strains, leading to their import to the United States in 1997.
Which Honey Bees and Nectar-Producing Plants Are Native to Alabama?
Honey bees are not native to any state in North America.
They were brought into the county in the 1600s when settlers arrived from Europe. But the most popular species of honey bee used in Alabama is Apis mellifera ligustica (Italian Honey Bees). The most common nectar-producing plants in the state include clover, soybean, cotton, and yellow poplar.
Clover honey is milder in flavour and has a light colour, while yellow poplar honey has an amber hue and a richer taste. Soybean and cotton plants also produce amber-coloured honey.
Other nectar-producing plants include some that have exceptionally long bloom periods, such as:
- Alfalfa: blooms April to September
- Aster: blooms June to November
- Bitterweed: blooms May to Frost
- Boneset: blooms June to October
- Buckwheat: bloom June to Frost
- Ironweed: blooms June to October
- Smartweed: blooms May to November
- Sumac: blooms May to September
- Sunflower: blooms June to October
- Vervain: blooms March to October
Are There Any Major Honey Farms or Apiaries in Alabama?
Alabama reports that there are currently more than 600 registered beekeepers in the state. That number is rising as beekeeping increases in popularity.
However, the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries notes that the number of registered beekeepers in Alabama was at one time close to 1,700.
The biggest farms or apiaries in Alabama include T&A Bees in Russellville (Northwest portion of the state) and Foxhound Bee Company in Birmingham.
Other Alabama honey vendors listed on the National Honey Board’s website include Gypsy Shoals Farm in Centre, Hewett’s Honey Farm in Duncansville, HMC Bees in Mobile, Preston Beekeeping in Athens, and Teen Challenge Apiaries in Seale.
What Sort of Environment Is Necessary to Produce Alabama Honey?
Apiary experts in Alabama stress that beekeepers in the state must be knowledgeable about the nectar-producing plants in the surrounding areas. For beekeepers to collect the honey surplus, they must be aware of when specific plants bloom so that they can best manage their colonies.
Because there are so many plants that produce nectar and pollen, it’s easy to find a good site to set up a beekeeping operation, but there are measures beekeepers can take to produce a better crop. The area should be well-drained and have at least partial shade. Too much shade can mean poor air circulation. However, there should also be a water source for the bees.
Even though nectar and pollen-producing plants are abundant throughout the state, it’s necessary that the plants be located no further than two miles away. Of course, it’s much better for the bees if they don’t have to travel more than a half-mile from their hive.
The best time to requeen is in late summer or early fall when there’s a heavy nectar flow, and during the winter, beekeepers should make sure that the location gets full sunlight for at least part of the day. A good winter spot would be an area that has some protection from cold winds. In late winter and early spring, there’s usually a large brood population that must be kept warm.
Furthermore, it is essential to be sure that water drains away from their hives. Of course, it’s advised to locate away from fields that are treated with insecticides regularly.
Benefits of Honey?
|Healing Wounds and Burns||There has been positive effects of using raw honey on wounds & burns reported.|
|Reducing The Duration of Diarrhoea||According the NCBI consumption of raw honey has been shown to reduce the severity & duration of diarrhoea.|
|Preventing Acid Reflux||Research has shown that with honey lining the oesophagus and stomach, it actually can reduce the upward flow of undigested food and stomach acid.|
|Fighting Infections||Scientists in 2010 reported that honey through its protein (defensin-1) has the ability to kill bacteria.|
|Relieving cold and cough symptoms||Its been proven that honey may prove beneficial in relieving cold and cough symptoms. The World Health Organisation actually recommend honey as a natural cough remedy.|
|Rich In Antioxidants||High quality raw honey contains many helpful antioxidants. These include phenolic compounds like flavonoids and organic acids.|
|Can Lower Triglycerides||Triglycerides are associated with insulin resistance and are a major driver of type 2 diabetes. Multiple studies have linked regular honey consumption with lower triglyceride levels, especially when it is used to replace sugar.|
This is based on raw honey. Filtered or pasteurised honey will break down and diminish these benefits.
Is Honey From Alabama Vegan?
The Vegan Society do not consider honey vegan, this includes cornflower honey. They believe that because some honey farmers replace honey with a sugar substitute when harvesting, it will naturally lack the essential micronutrients of honey, thus being detrimental to the honey bees.
Furthermore, they believe that in conventional beekeeping, honey bees are specifically bred to increase productivity. Which they believe leads to a narrowing of the population gene pool and increases susceptibility to disease and large scale die-offs.
They also believe that many honey farmers will cull their hives post-harvest and clip the queen bee’s wings to stop them from leaving to start a new colony. Thus the Vegan Society does not consider honey vegan. That, of course, doesn’t stop some vegans arguing its fine if they source their honey from reliable sources that do not practice the above.