Although, no honey bee species are native to the state, Missouri honey has been around for nearly 200 years. In 1889, the Missouri Beekeepers Association was established, one of the country’s oldest apiculture associations.
The European honey bee was first introduced to North America in the seventeenth century. After their initial arrival, honey bees spread across the continent by swarming from tree to tree, eventually reaching Missouri by the start of the nineteenth century.
What Is the History of the Production of Missouri Honey?
Honey bees have always been a valuable resource in Missouri; in 1839, a local war known as “Honey War” was fought over control of honey bee trees in the state. Beekeeping and honey production continued to grow in popularity.
By the early years of the twentieth century, Missouri ranked as one of the country’s largest honey producers. Although the state’s honey output has declined in recent years due to the global collapse of bee populations, Missouri remains a major source of bee products.
How Much Honey Does Missouri Produce?
Bees in Missouri pollinate for two reasons. The easiest explanation is that bee populations managed by beekeepers typically pollinate to produce excess honey for commercial purposes, which can be consumed or packaged and sold. However, bees also pollinate for their own purposes.
Pollen helps the bees’ broods develop, and also provides valuable protein to the hive as a whole. Nectar is likewise a major food source, which is converted to honey. Honey is stored in combs for long term preservation; that way, the bees can have food to survive on during inactive months when they cannot forage or find food on their own.
Although its honey production is not as high as it once was, Missouri produces a notable amount of honey each year. A report by the US Department of Agriculture found that Missouri bees had produced more than 400,000 pounds of honey in 2018.
This came from 9,000 honey-producing colonies, each of which had an average yield of 45 pounds. The total value of this production was more than one million dollars, all told.
What Are the Main Kinds of Honey Produced in Missouri?
Various strains of clover are the most popular varieties of honey produced in Missouri. White Dutch clover honey is common throughout the state, as is sweet clover honey. Other kinds of honey produced from Missouri flowers include black locust honey, and of course, wildflower honey made from a mixture of floral sources.
At the same time, there are some beekeepers who prefer to get their floral sources from out-of-state.
Is Missouri Honey Produced Seasonally or Is It Produced Year-Round?
Due to its freezing winters, Missouri’s bees are largely inactive for several months out of the year. This means that they are only able to produce honey in the middle of the year or the beginning of the fall, once they have had enough time to forage for nectar and pollen to create excess honey. Honey flow typically begins in June or July and can continue through August.
Which Bees Create Missouri Honey?
Missouri honey is created by its official state insect, the European honey bee (Apis mellifera). Also known as the Western honey bee, A. mellifera has numerous subspecies that produce honey in Missouri.
The most popular of these is the Italian honey bee (A. mellifera ligustica), which is often sold to beginning beekeepers throughout the state as a docile bee that is easy to manage. Although the Italian bee is the industry standard, other honey bee subspecies are sold in the state, such as the Carniolan honey bee (A. mellifera carnica) and the German honey bee (A. mellifera mellifera).
What Native Plants and Trees Are Beneficial to Pollinators?
More than 400 different species of bees are native to Missouri. These include familiar insects such as carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica) and bumble bees (Bombus spp.).
However, although the European honey bee is easily the most familiar bee in the state, it is not native to Missouri. As its name implies, it is native to Europe, as well as surrounding regions like north Africa and the Middle East.
However, Missouri is nonetheless home to numerous native species of plants and trees that are beneficial to pollinators like honey bees. A few notable pollinator-friendly plants include the following:
|Aralia spinosa - known as Devil’s Walking Stick
|Antennaria neglecta - known as Pussy toes
|Echinacea purpurea - known as Purple Coneflower
|Eupatorim altissimum - known as Tall Boneset
|Eutrochium maculatum - known as Spotted Joe Pye Weed
|Monarda fistulosa - known as Wild bergamot or Bee Balm
|Physocarpus opulifolius - known as Ninebark
|Pycnanthemum muticum - known as Clustered Mountain Mint
|Silphium perfoliatum - known as Cup Plant
|Symphyotrichum novae-angliae - known as New England Aster
|Scrophularia marilandica - known as Figwort
|Sassafras albidum - known as Sassafras
|Symphyotrichum oblongifolium - known as Aromatic Aster
|Tilia americana - known as Basswood
Are There Any Major Honey Farms or Apiaries in Missouri?
Missouri’s annual honey yield comes from beekeepers, apiaries, and honey farms of all shapes and sizes. Many of them are large businesses and professional companies, of course, but at the same time, much of Missouri’s honey is produced by hobbyists and small local businesses.
Regardless of the size, there is a notable legacy of producing honey in the state, such that many of these businesses have persisted for decades. They include Sundag Apiaries in Potosi, P&D Honey Farm in Fair Grove, and Hart Apiaries in Lonedell.
What Sort of Environment Is Needed to Produce Missouri Honey?
One of the greatest threats facing honey-producing bee colonies in Missouri is the winter season. Temperatures can dip even below freezing during the winter. European honey bees thrive in warmer, more temperate climates, meaning that such cold conditions keep them from being active and performing their necessary foraging.
In situations like these, bee colonies can starve if they did not produce enough honey in the months leading up to winter. Beekeepers should check that their hives have enough resources to survive through the winter, and if not, then they should provide them with supplementary foods such as water and sugar mixed together.
When conditions do get warmer, Missouri beekeepers must watch out for mite populations in their hives. Varroa mites can appear in colonies during the early summer, sometimes even sooner in the late spring. Their population can explode during summer months, so it is critical that beekeepers maintain regular check-ins on their hives to monitor for varroa.
If left unchecked, varroa mites can destroy entire colonies of bees within weeks. Treatment should be administered immediately if a hive’s varroa population exceeds the recommended threshold. Treatment can be either with chemical pesticides or with effective natural products.
Those looking to produce honey in Missouri must comply with a number of apiculture laws. These are related to the proper transportation, importation, maintenance, and upkeep of bees.
The state offers inspections for bee colonies and hives to ensure that they are healthy, in good condition and located in compliance with the law. Beekeepers who plan to transport their bees out-of-state or bring them back in must be officially inspected and have a certificate of inspection, so as to prevent the transmission of bee diseases.