Maine Honey

Maine Honey - Credit: Royal Bees and Honey

The first documented appearance of honey bees in what would become the state of Maine occurred in 1630, and since then, bees have had a strong presence in the state.

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    What Is the History of Maine Honey?

    Maine has a lengthy history of keeping honey bees, which goes back almost if the European honey bee has been in North America. Bees were first introduced to Massachusetts in 1622 by English settlers, and at the time, Maine was part of Massachusetts territory.

    How Much Honey Is Produced in Maine Each Year?

    Honey bees in Maine produce honey primarily for two reasons. First, honey bee populations managed by beekeepers produce honey for commercial purposes to be packaged, sold, and/or consumed.

    Second, however, bees have their own motivations for pollinating, gathering nectar, and producing honey, since it is a matter of survival for them. Pollen is a vital resource for the development of bee broods, on top of being an important source of protein for the hive.

    Nectar is used to make honey, which is the primary food for mature bees. Honey is then stored in combs so that bees can return to it during times when food is scarce, or they are unable to venture outside and forage.

    Maine is a noteworthy honey producer nationwide. A USDA report found that, in 2018, Maine had produced nearly 400,000 pounds of honey for a total value of more than one million dollars.

    What Are the Main Types of Honey Produced in Maine?

    Maine boasts of robust pollinator-friendly plant life, meaning that beekeepers in the state nurture their bees with nectar from a variety of floral sources, resulting in many kinds of honey produced in the state.

    A few of the more popular varieties include blueberry honey, black locust honey, Japanese knotweed honey, and buckwheat honey. Of course, many apiaries also sustain their local bees with a mix of floral sources rather than just one, resulting in Maine wildflower honey.

    At the same time, other beekeepers get their floral sources from out of state or neighbouring territories. Some apiaries produce basswood honey sourced from Vermont, for example, whereas others venture further south to have orange blossom honey from Florida.

    Beekeeper unloading hives in the Blueberry barrens of Maine - Credit: Royal Bees and Honey

    Is Honey Produced in Maine Seasonally, or Is It Produced All Year Round?

    Like many other states, Maine’s first honey flow begins towards the end of spring and the start of summer, typically around late May, or early June.

    This flow typically continues until sometime around the end of July; the exact end date differs depending on that year’s weather and the local conditions of the beehives. Another flow usually begins not long after this in August and lasts until September.

    Which Bees Create Honey in Maine?

    Honey in Maine is produced by the many subspecies of the European honey bee (Apis mellifera), also known as the Western honey bee.

    The most popular European honey bee subspecies is the Italian honey bee (Apis mellifera ligustica), which is often sold to beginning beekeepers as an easy bee for novices to raise. Some beekeeping companies in the state sell other subspecies, such as Carniolan honey bees (A. mellifera carnica).

    What Native Plants and Trees Are Beneficial to Pollinators in This State?

    Maine is home to nearly 300 different native bee species, including several species of bumblebees (in the genus Bombus). The state also has other kinds of native bees, such as “sweat bees” (in the Halictidae family). However, out of all of these, no honey-producing bees are native to Maine.

    Although there may have been a species of honey bee in the Americas millions of years ago, the modern honey bee was first brought to North America in the early seventeenth century with the arrival of European settlers–hence the current name, “European honey bee.”

    Even if honey bees are introduced in Maine, the state still has many native plants that are beneficial to local pollinators. These include some of the following:

    Quercus rubra - known as Red Oak Viola tricolor - known as Johnny Jump-Up
    Agastache foeniculum - known as Anise Hyssop Borago officinalis - known as Borage
    Allium schoenoprasum - known as Chives Hypericum perforatum - known as St. John’s Worst
    Monarda didyma - known as Bee Balm Origanum vulgare - known as Oregano
    Oenothera biennis - known as Evening Primrose Taraxacum officinale - known as Dandelion
    Trifolium pratense - known as Red Clover Acer rubrum - known as Red Maple
    Honey Bee Pollinating Buckwheat
    Honey bee pollinating buckwheat
    Japanese Knotweed
    Japanese Knotweed

    Are There Any Major Honey Farms or Apiaries in Maine?

    According to that same USDA report, Maine’s honey yield of 2018 came from 12,000 honey-producing colonies. Although many of these colonies are housed in larger companies, a large proportion of the honey in the state comes from hobbyists and small, family-owned apiaries.

    Some of the more notable honey farms in the state include:

    • Royal Bees and Honey
    • Swan’s Honey
    • Maine Street Bee
    • Backwoods Bee Farm

    What Sort of Environment Is Needed to Produce and Grow Honey in Maine?

    Maine is famous for its frigid weather, especially in the winter, when the temperature can descend well below freezing.

    Although honey bees are typically proficient at keeping themselves warm through tightly clustering in their colonies, they still rely on responsible beekeepers to keep them safe from the most extreme weather conditions, such as heavy snow or wind.

    Because bees will not forage for food very much during the cold months, beekeepers should make sure that their bees are supplied with a consistent source of food such as sugar candy or syrup.

    As the cold season ends and the weather gets warmer, bees become more active and are at risk of swarming. Beekeepers should monitor this behaviour and prevent it when possible so that they do not lose their colonies due to swarming.

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

    Pests such as Varroa mites may appear during this time, and if their population surpasses the beekeeper’s given threshold, appropriate pesticides or natural treatments should be applied to keep them under control.

    Varroa mites can sometimes destroy colonies within a matter of weeks, meaning that beekeepers must monitor these populations closely. They are an issue throughout the year, sometimes posing problems as late as September or October.

    Beekeepers in Maine, as in most other states, are required to fill out an application to receive an official licence to keep bees in the state. They must also register each of their apiaries with the local government.

    The state government’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry also offers hive inspection services to not only ensure that the bees are healthy, but also that they are being kept in compliance with state laws regarding possession, transportation, location, and caretaking.

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