Kentucky Honey

European Honey Bee collecting nectar from a white flower
Kentucky honey is produced by the European honey bee and its many subspecies

Most of Kentucky honey comes from multi-floral mixes, resulting in large amounts of wildflower honey produced in the state. As per the USDA report, the state had produced 365,000 pounds of honey from 4,000 different colonies.

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    When Did Kentucky Begin Producing Honey?

    Honey bees were first brought to North America in the 1620s with the arrival of European colonists. This initial population was brought to Massachusetts, and by the start of the eighteenth century, honey bees had spread up and down the coastline and followed wherever the settlers went.

    This means that the earliest that honey could have been produced in Kentucky was in the late eighteenth century when settlement began to increase. Beekeeping and honey production became popular enough over the years that the Kentucky State Beekeepers Association was founded, which has existed over 75 years since its establishment in 1949.

    How Much Honey Does the Kentucky Produce?

    Although its output is smaller than many other states, Kentucky is still a notable producer of honey in the United States. The most recent honey report from the USDA found that Kentucky had produced 365,000 pounds of honey in 2018 alone, from 4,000 different colonies for a total value of more than $800,000.

    Meadow Honey
    One of the most popular types of honey produced in Kentucky is meadow honey
    Honey Bee Pollinating Common Meadow Daisy Flower
    Honey bee pollinating one of Kentucky's native flowers the meadow flower

    What Are the Main Types of Honey Produced in Kentucky?

    Much of Kentucky honey comes from multi-floral mixes rather than pure native plant sources, leading to a large amount of wildflower honey produced in the state. This is because many honey farms in Kentucky use a mixture of whatever flowers are on hand rather than risk venturing near toxic pesticide-covered crops for purer floral sources, risking their bees’ lives in the process.

    For the individual floral sources that are produced in the state, some of the most popular are autumn wildflower honey, black locust honey, and meadow honey.

    Is Kentucky Honey Produced Seasonally, or Is It Produced All Year Round?

    Kentucky honey flow is seasonal and typically begins around late April and continues into the summer. This is because the early spring months have provided the perfect circumstances for bees to pollinate and gather nectar, allowing them to produce plentiful surpluses of honey.

    Beekeepers typically harvest their colonies’ honey in July after this productive time because that is when the honey flow slows or stops completely, and the total excess honey is ready to be harvested.

    Are There Any Major Farms or Apiaries in Kentucky?

    Although there are a variety of larger professional companies that produce and sell honey in Kentucky, a large amount of the honey produced in the state comes from hobbyists or part-time beekeepers.

    There is nonetheless a small handful of major apiaries and honey farms throughout the state. A few of these include Schoolhouse Bees in Visalia (in business since 1975), Hosey Honey in Lexington (in business over a decade), and Crigger farm in Warsaw (three generations in business).

    Wildflower Honey
    Another popular type of honey found in Kentucky is wildflower honey

    Which Bees Create Kentucky Honey?

    Honey in Kentucky is produced by the many subspecies of the European honey bee (Apis mellifera), also known as the Western honey bee. The most popular honey bee in the state is the Italian honey bee (Apis mellifera ligustica), which is commonly sold to beginning beekeepers due to its domestic temperament. Other beekeepers sell hardier bee species such as the German honey bee and Russian honey bee.

    What Native Plants Are Beneficial to Pollinators in Kentucky?

    Kentucky is home to a variety of bee species. One of the most populous native bee species in this state is the bumblebee (in genus Bombus), which is distinct from other bees due to its fuzzy exterior and distinct colors.

    Other native bees include carpenter bees (genus Xylocopa) and tiny halictid bees. Out of all these, the honey bee is the most populous in the state. However, as in the rest of the country, honey bees are not native to Kentucky. Rather, they were introduced by European settlers at the start of the seventeenth century.

    Even if Kentucky is not the native home of honey bees, the state still has plentiful native plant life that is beneficial to pollinators. This includes some of the following native trees and plants:

    Geranium maculatum - known as Spotted Geranium Eupatorium perfoliatum - known as Boneset
    Clinopodium vulgare - known as Wild Basil Crataegus phaenopyrum - known as Washington Hawthorn
    Dalea purpurea - known as Purple Prairie Clover Delphinium tricorn - known as Dwarf Larkspur
    Lespedeza virginica - known as Virginia Bushclover Monarda clinopedia - known as Basil Balm
    Dodecatheon meadia - known as Shooting Star Carex lurida - known as Shallow Sedge
    Asclepias syriaca - known as Common Milkweed Baptisia australis - known as Blue Wild Indigo
    Baptisia tinctoria - known as Yellow Wild Indigo Monarda didyma - known as Scarlet Beebalm
    Mentha arvensis - known as Wild Mint Monarda fistulosa - known as Wild Bergamot

    What Sort of Environment Is Needed to Produce Honey in Kentucky?

    As in many other states, the weather is one of the most critical factors that beekeepers must address to have productive bee colonies and reliable harvests of honey. Each season attracts new challenges, whether it be food supply or dangerous parasites.

    In the early spring, Louisiana beekeepers must watch out for the appearance of disease and tracheal mites in their colonies, both of which develop because the bees have been sedentary for so long. Additionally, the occasional chance of rain and cold weather during these turbulent months can pose significant risks to the bees.

    Such unfavourable conditions prevent bees from going out and foraging for themselves, meaning that responsible beekeepers should ensure that their bees are provided with sufficient food sources before the weather hits.

    At the end of spring, however, bees are at risk of swarming. This occurs when large numbers of bees exit your hive at once to reproduce and establish a new hive. This can be a major problem for beekeepers because it can be an annoyance to neighbours and dethrones the current queen bee, which can potentially disrupt the hive in general.

    Beekeeper Extracting Honey on Honey Farm
    Beekeeper Extracting Honey on Honey Farm

    As summer begins, beekeepers should also watch out for the appearance of varroa mites, which can injure or infect colonies and, in some cases, destroy hives altogether. Mites are typically at their strongest in August, which means that beekeepers should monitor the mite population heavily.

    If left unchecked, mites can destroy an entire hive within a few weeks. Varroa numbers should be monitored at least through the late summer.

    Those looking to keep bees in Kentucky must comply with several beekeeping laws. Apiaries must be officially registered with the state, and beekeepers must be licenced. Local bee laws include stipulations regarding how to store bees, transport them, and look after their diseases.

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