Georgia is one of the top three U.S. states for producing honey bees and queens for sale, and apiaries often rent their hives for use in pollinating apples, blueberries, cucumbers, and watermelons. For these crops, 1-2 colonies are needed for every planting acre.
When Did Georgia Begin Producing Honey?
As stated earlier, it’s thought honey bees first arrived in Georgia in 1743. Records are difficult to find prior to the mid-to-late 1800s, but in 1878, the Georgia State Agricultural Society estimated that 77,135 honey bee colonies were present in the state. By 1909, the USDA Honey Production Census recorded that Georgia produced 884,662 pounds of honey.
One of the earliest bee-producers was the Puett Company, which was established in 1920 in the small town of Hahira, Georgia. The company raised queens and shipped bees across the U.S. and also to Canada. But perhaps the best-known beekeeper in the state was J.J. Wilder, who owned 150 apiaries and had a total of 10,000 colonies as early as 1920.
Eventually, he grew to house 14,000 colonies of honey bees in 300 apiaries, and in his book, System of Beekeeping claimed to be the world’s largest honey producer. While that fact can’t be verified, he was indeed nicknamed the “Georgia Bee King” by the locals.
How Much Honey Does Georgia Produce?
Although Georgia is a top bee producer, and it did turn out 3,366,000 pounds of honey in 2019, it’s not currently considered to be one of the top honey-producing states.
What Are the Main Types of Honey Produced in Georgia?
Georgia is known for a number of honey varieties. Here are the types that are either unique to the state or are commonly sold there:
- Sourwood Honey – Sourwood trees tend to grow at high elevations in Georgia, and it’s the main honey plant of the southern Appalachians. It’s a very mild-tasting honey and varies in colour from almost a clear white to medium amber.
- Tulip Poplar Honey – The Tulip Poplar is the most common honey plant in Georgia and grows in both mountainous and coastal areas. It’s a very dark honey with a slight red colour, and it varies in taste from a moderate mild to a strong flavour.
- Gallberry Honey – The gallberry shrub is common in the southeastern part of the United States and is known as a major honey plant in this region. It grows in sandy soil on Georgia’s coast and has a somewhat mild flavour and a light colour.
- Tupelo Honey – Tupelo honey is a prised variety that’s available only in select regions of Florida and Georgia. Because of its rarity, it’s more costly than other honey. There are likely fewer than 200 beekeepers in total who produce this honey in large quantities.
Is Georgia Honey Produced All Year Round, or Is It Seasonal?
In Georgia, the honey flow begins in late spring, and its possible beekeepers could collect surplus honey in mid-April. During the remaining months of the year, beekeepers must manage their colonies in the run-up to the flow and in preparing the colonies for winter.
Queens lay eggs as early as January, so beekeepers should prepare to start supplemental feeding in January and February to ensure the brood receives enough nutrition to be healthy enough for spring forage.
A common beekeeper’s task is to inspect the hives to check for a productive queen and a healthy brood population. The first detailed inspection should occur in mid-February when the temperature is at least 45℉.
If queens are found to be unproductive, they should be replaced near the end of March, which is when the mail-order queens typically arrive. When a new queen comes in, it’s often a good idea to split the colony and move the queen and a newly formed hive to a different location. Beekeepers split their hives in an effort to try to get ahead of a situation where swarming might occur.
Honey bees will swarm and look for a new hive when the existing hive becomes too crowded. Effective management that provides proper nutrition and works to prevent swarming should leave the beekeeper with a healthy colony that will be able to provide a honey surplus in late spring.
During the summer months and early into fall, there’s a drop-off in both brood and honey production. Now is the time to try to crowd the bees and give them only one or two supers, which forces them to store honey with the brood population.
Georgia beekeepers overwinter their bees in two hive locations – or one hive body and one honey super. It’s important to weigh the hives to ensure there’s enough honey for them to survive the winter months. Hives should weigh at least 100 pounds, and if they’re light, they must be fed a sugar solution of two parts sugar and one part water.
Are There Any Major Honey Farms or Apiaries in Georgia?
While there are many small honey-sellers in Georgia, there are a few larger honey farms and apiaries:
- Mountain Sweet Honey Company LLC
- Georgia Honey Farm
- James Honey Company
- Honey Next Door
- Paul Farms Apiaries
- Weeks Honey Farm
Which Species of Bees Create Georgia Honey?
Managed honey bees (the species used to make surplus commercial honey) are not native to the United States. They first appeared in the U.S. in the 1600s when European settlers arrived in the country. It’s estimated that the Apis mellifera honey bee was first seen in Georgia in 1743.
Georgia apiaries tend to raise their own queens, and the queen and bee packages they offer for sale are either Italian (Apis mellifera ligustica), Carniolan (Apis mellifera carnica), or Russian hybrids.
Georgia sells many of these bees to other states, but for beekeeping within the state, many honey producers will select either Italian bees (because they are easy to manage) or Russian hybrids if they are experiencing a problem with varroa mites. Russian hybrid honey bees have a reputation for being able to mitigate varroa in their colonies.
Which Native Georgian Plants Are Attractive to Honeybees?
The University of Georgia Extension program recommends the following nectar sources for honey bees:
|Maple tree||Black Locust tree|
|Spring Titi||Black Gum Tupelo|
|High Bush Gallberry||Palmetto|
The plants may vary in the times they bloom during the year, and some are more prevalent in South Georgia versus North Georgia.
What Sort of Environment Is Needed to Produce Georgia Honey?
It’s not difficult to find a good location for raising honey bees. They simply need to have close access to nectar-and-pollen-producing plants and should be sheltered from full sun and high winds. It’s recommended bees not be housed in low spots in the yard because cold and damp air could accumulate there during the winter. Bees also favour areas that are undisturbed, which is why beekeepers often plant hedgerows.
The bees should also have easy access to a good water source, and it’s advised that foraging paths be kept away from public areas because there’s a chance the bees may choose to visit swimming pools or water fountains during a dry spell.
Georgia beekeepers should also be prepared for a summer slowdown since most of the state’s plants bloom in the spring. Supplemental feeding may be necessary from June through August.