It’s not known exactly when honey bees were first spotted in Delaware, but it’s generally recognized that the bees were first introduced on the east coast in the 17th century and then moved gradually westward.
When Did Delaware Begin Producing Honey?
The University of Delaware listed Entomology as a required course in 1886, but because so little was known about bee pollination at the time, most of the course focused on other insects, and the ways in which they were harmful to vegetation. Beekeeping was a 4-H project in 1933, but it wasn’t until 1936 when the Delaware Beekeepers’ Association was formed. The current Delaware laws regarding beekeeping were first enacted in 1947.
The first record of honey sales activity was recorded in 1937, when roadside stands were surveyed.
What Are the Main Types of Honey Delaware Produces?
Although some of the local honey sellers offer unique varieties like Apple Blossom honey or Blueberry Honey, Wildflower and Clover honeys are the most often produced varieties in the state.
How Much Honey Does Delaware Produce?
The majority of honey-sellers in Delaware are hobbyists, so commercial honey production isn’t very significant in the state. In fact, the USDA doesn’t even report the dollar value, or the volume of honey produced in Delaware.
Instead, the state’s 6,000 managed bee colonies are valued mostly for their contribution – through pollination – to the production of fruits and vegetables like blueberries, cucumbers, pumpkins, strawberries, and watermelons.
Is Delaware Honey Produced All Year Round or Is It Seasonal?
The majority of honey is harvested in July and August, and there may be an opportunity to collect more honey in September, but by the time the fall approaches, it’s important to ensure there’s enough honey in the hive to sustain the bees throughout the winter.
But without careful year-round hive management, hives may offer a lacklustre supply or even risk disease or collapse. Beekeepers should be ready to perform specific tasks during almost all of the months of the year:
Ensure food supply is adequate and, if not, prepare for supplemental feeding. Dead bees must be removed from the hive during this time, and any snow should be cleared from the entrance. January is also the time to order new equipment as well as new bee stock.
If planning to move the hives for the season, January is a good month to make those moves. In February, most of the same tasks continue, but beekeepers should also start treating for varroa mites.
March is a busy month for Delaware beekeepers. Some of the work has to do with adding or removing supers. Toward the end of the month, it may be a good idea to add a super with a wax foundation to help with comb drawing. Beekeepers should also remove frames where the comb is too old or there are too many drone cells.
Nosema treatment should be considered, and it’s not too early to cheque for varroa mites late in the month. March is also a good time to cheque for brood production and to replace the queen if brood production isn’t adequate. Beekeepers should have the equipment ready or the contacts in place to stop swarms.
April is when swarming may begin, so it’s important to watch out for it and prevent it from happening by reversing some of the boxes to give the queen more room to lay eggs. Mite assessment continues, and beekeepers should also inspect and treat for diseases like foulbrood. Bee packages and nucs should have arrived, so now is the time to install them.
May is the busy month for bees! Nectar flow is very heavy, and beekeepers may want to add another hive entrance. During this time, beekeepers should continue to assess the activity of the queen and replace her if necessary. Watching for swarms – and preventing them – also continues during this month. Finally, beekeepers may want to install a queen excluder – a barrier placed between the honey supers and the brood chamber – to ensure the queen does not lay eggs in the honey super.
The nectar flow continues in June. Beekeepers should continue to watch for queen egg-laying activity and replace her if necessary. Swarm prevention may still need to take place during this month. It may be helpful to add another hive entrance, and to lay traps for hive beetles. June is the time to plant warm season annuals and to install a couple for watering holes for the bees.
The nectar flow begins to slow down during July. Now is a good time to begin harvesting the honey, and to make sure that wet supers are put back to discourage honey robbing.
August provides another opportunity to harvest honey. It may be time to examine the queen and to replace her if she’s more than two years old. August is the month when varroa peaks, so treatment and careful assessment are advised.
Besides being extremely vigilant about pests this month, September is also the time when bees may become more defensive if their honey supply is low. While making sure ventilation is adequate, it could help to install robbing screens and to reduce entrances to the hives. By the end of the month, it’s time to start feeding the bees a thicker syrup to make sure they’ll have enough food stored for the cold months.
Continue supplemental feeding and to assess for mites. October may be the time to combine colonies where the queen is weak or failing. To keep mice out, entrance reducers may need to be installed. Plant perennials, shrubs, and trees during this time for future nectar and pollen collection. Inspections should be limited after mid-October and any cracks should be sealed with propolis.
November is disease-prevention month and is also the time to begin to winterise the hives. Place weights on the top of the hives to prevent the wind from blowing them off and aim to improve heat insulation by closing off the screen board on the bottom. But it’s still important that the bees have adequate ventilation.
Assess and review how well yearly management tactics worked, continue to learn more about the practice of beekeeping, and take a well-deserved rest!
Are There Any Major Honey Farms or Apiaries in Delaware?
Honey production is typically a side-gig for Delaware’s 300 beekeepers. Those who do sell their honey offer it at roadside stands and farmers’ markets.
These are some of the bigger farms and apiaries in the state:
- S&S Apiaries in Dover, Delaware
- Big Joe’s Honey in Wyoming, Delaware
- Mellivora Pete’s Apiary in Smyrna, Delaware
- Planting Hope Apiary in New Castle, Delaware
Which Species of Honey Bees Create Delaware Honey?
The top supplier of honey bees for the state of Delaware offers Italian (Apis mellifera ligustica), Carniolan (Apis mellifera carnica), and Russian hybrid bees.
Italian bees are known to be docile and easy to handle, Carniolan bees are more adept to colder and wetter weather conditions, and Russian hybrids are often selected because they’re reported to successfully root out the deadly varroa mite that currently poses the biggest threat to the health of honey bee colonies.
Which Honey Bees and Plants Are Native to Delaware?
Honey bees used for honey production are not native to any of the states. Apis mellifera was brought to the United States from European settlers during the 1600s.
The USDA-NRCS and the Delaware Department of Agriculture lists the following plants that are attractive to honey bees:
|Red Maple - Acer rubrum||Canadian Serviceberry - Amelanchier canadensis|
|Highbush Blueberry - Vaccinium corymbosum||Wild Strawberry - Fragaria virginiana|
|American Wild Plum - Prunus americana||Golden Alexanders - Zizia aurea|
|Golden Alexanders - Zizia aurea||Black Raspberry - Rubus occidentalis|
|Blackhaw - Viburnum prunifolium||Wild Blue Lupine - Lupinus perennis|
What Sort of Environment Is Needed to Produce Delaware’s Honey?
In order to start producing honey in Delaware, beekeepers must register their bees annually with the State Apiarist. Within ten days of receiving their bees, they are required to report – in writing – the number of colonies and the location of their hives. Subsequently, beekeepers must follow all rules mandated by the State Apiarist.
The best hive locations have access to a water supply and good foraging material but should not impact ongoing agricultural activities.
In general, beekeepers must communicate with land owners and neighbours to choose locations that will minimise bee drift and focus on keeping the community safe. Communication should be ongoing, and planning is essential to prevent harm or damage to neighbours.
Beekeepers must also stay in touch with pesticide applicators to let them know where the bees are located. The hives should also be easily visible, and often that means painting the hives in a colour that will stand out.
There’s also a registry called DriftWatch that allows beekeepers to flag their hives’ locations. If hives need to be moved to avoid pesticide contamination, beekeepers must inform landowners and neighbours.
If bees are killed due to pesticide contamination, beekeepers should report that information to the lead pesticide regulatory agency in the state, known as DDA. Applicators must be held accountable for the harm they cause to bees.