Montana Honey

Blue Aster Flowers
Montana honey farms produce a great amount of wildflower honey due to the state's wide variety of native floar sources

Montana Honey primarily comes from European honey bees and its various subspecies. Honey is made from a large variety of flowers such as clovers, alfalfa, and wildflowers. In 2019 the state had produced a significant 14, 878,000 pounds of honey from 173,000 honey- producing colonies.

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    When Did Montana Begin Producing Honey?

    No honey bees are native to Montana; European honey bees were first brought to North America in the seventeenth century, and they gradually spread throughout the continent either by following settlers wherever they went or by swarming from tree to tree.

    Montana gradually developed a reputation for beekeeping. After a disastrous crop failure in the early twentieth century, Montana farmers began to heavily invest in beekeeping, leading to the state eventually having the monumental honey output it has today.

    How Much Honey Is Produced in Montana?

    Montana has a remarkable honey output. Its rate of production is the second highest in the United States, second only to North Dakota.

    There are two reasons why bees pollinate in Montana. The simplest is that bees create honey for commercial purposes when managed by beekeepers. In this way, honey can be consumed or packaged and sold. At the same time, bees have their own natural reasons for making honey. For them, it is a matter of survival.

    Montana Wildflower Honey
    A jar of raw, unfiltered honey from BitterootBuzzBees - A great source for Montana Honey

    Pollen is a vital resource that bees depend on for brood development while providing the hive as a whole with large amounts of protein for hive members. Then, nectar becomes honey, which is a primary food source for mature bees. This honey is stored in hives so that bees will have food to survive during the inhospitable winter months that prevent them from gathering food on their own.

    Millions of pounds of honey are made in Montana each year. A report from the US Department of Agriculture found that the state had produced more than 14 million pounds of honey in 2018. This came from 160,000 honey-producing colonies, each of which had an average yield of 92 pounds of honey–the highest colony average in the country. The total value of this yield exceeded 29 million dollars.

    What Are the Main Kinds of Honey Produced in Montana?

    Apiaries and honey farms in Montana produce honey from a diverse range of flower sources. Some of the most popular varietals produced in the state are based on clovers, such as sweet clover honey and white clover honey.

    Alfalfa honey is likewise popular in the state; some apiaries mix it with clover to produce alfalfa-clover honey. Some beekeepers opt instead to use a mix of floral sources, resulting in various kinds of wildflower honey. Of course, there are also many beekeepers who create their honey from out-of-state plants such as California orange blossom honey and North Dakota alfalfa honey.

    Alfalfa Honey
    Montana state produces a variety of specialty honey such as alfalfa honey
    Orange Blossom Honey
    Orange blossom is also a popular kind of specialty honey in Montana - Credit: Massey Honey Co.

    Is Montana Honey Produced Seasonally or Year-Round?

    Excess honey in Montana is typically produced in the late spring and early summer to be harvested in July and August.

    Even if Montana’s summers are perfect for bees, its winters are not. Cold temperatures force bees into inactivity, preventing them from foraging their environments, pollinating, gathering nectar, and producing excess honey.

    For this reason, many beekeepers in Montana ship their bees out of state during the harsh winters to warmer areas like California, where they can pollinate valuable crops. They then return in the springtime, when they can settle down and work on producing excess honey.

    Which Bees Create Montana Honey?

    Honey in Montana primarily comes from the European honey bees (Apis mellifera), also known as the Western honey bee, and its various subspecies. In Montana, the industry standard is the Italian honey bee (A. mellifera ligustica), a docile species that is easy for beginning beekeepers to raise.

    Other subspecies of the European honey bee are used in the state, such as the Carniolan honey bee (A. mellifera carnica), which is hardy and can adapt to Montana’s sometimes harsh weather conditions successfully.

    Montana Honey - Bees working in hive
    Bees from Bitterroot Buzz Bee's honey farm producing honey in Montana.

    What Native Plants and Trees Are Beneficial to Pollinators?

    Montana is home to a broad and diverse population of native bees. Although the exact number of native species is currently unknown, it likely reaches into the hundreds. It includes such well-known specimens as Leafcutting bees (Megachile spp.), Bumblebees (Bombus spp.), and Mining bees (Andrena spp.).

    Out of all these, the European honey bee is easily the most recognisable, even if it is not native. As its name implies, the European honey bee is native to Europe and the surrounding areas of North Africa and the Middle East and was first brought to the Americas by western settlers.

    Along with its vibrant population of pollinators, Montana also has many:

    Symphoricarpos alba - known as Common Snowberry Amelanchier alnifolia - known as Serviceberry
    Juniperus scopulorum - known as Rocky Mountain Juniper Rosa woodsii - known as Woods Rose
    Rhus trilobata - known as Skunkbush Sumac Cornus sericea - known as Redosier Dogwood
    Monarda fistulosa - known as Wild Bee Balm Penstemon eriantherus - known as Fuzzytonque Penstemon
    Prunus virginiana - known as Chokecherry Ratibida columnifera - known as Prairie Coneflower
    Gaillardia aristata - known as Blanketflower Symphyotrichum laeve - known as Smooth Blue Aster
    Achillea millefolium - known as Common Yarrow Prunus Americana - known as American Plum
    Sambucus nigra - known as Blue Elderberry Ericameria nauseosa - known as Rabbitbrush
    Chokecherry Blossom
    Chokecherry is one of Montana's a native pollinator-friendly plant
    Common Blanketflower
    Honey Bee Pollinating Common Gaillardia (Blanketflower)

    Are there any Major Honey Farms or Apiaries in Montana?

    With such a massive honey output every year, it would make sense that Montana would have a large number of professional apiaries or honey farms. While much of the state’s honey is indeed produced by large, commercial farms, a large proportion also comes from hobbyists and local, family-owned businesses.

    This makes Montana’s beekeeping industry extremely diverse–some companies are large and have been in business for decades, whereas others are smaller family affairs.

    Some of the Major Apiaries and Honey Farms in the state:

    • Bear Luv-Un Honey in Harlowton
    • Busy Bee Apiary in Sidney
    • Glacier County Honey Co. in Babb
    • Smooth Honey Company in Power

    What Sort of Environment Is Required to Produce Honey in Montana?

    Montana has perhaps the ideal environment for honey bees during the spring and summer. The warm yet not hot temperature is ideal for bees to forage local environments, and the vibrant native plant life is filled with pollinator-friendly plants that allow bees to be extremely productive. The state is also low on toxic pesticides in local agriculture, which allows the bees to flourish without fear of being poisoned as in other states.

    There are a few factors that Montana beekeepers need to be aware of, however. Swarming is a major factor to consider for successful honey production. This is a natural phenomenon in which the hive gets restless, and large numbers of bees leave the hive at once, including the queen.

    This may be natural, but it can have catastrophic effects by depriving an otherwise productive hive of its queen and workers. It can also be annoying to neighbours and surroundings pedestrians or businesses, even if swarms are typically not aggressive.

    Honey bees on honeycomb
    Honey bees on honeycomb

    One simple way to keep swarms from occurring is to rearrange the panels in a colony, which will give the resident bees the illusion of more space.

    Montana beekeepers also need to monitor their hives’ populations of varroa mites. These pests can appear in late spring or early summer and can wreak havoc on bee colonies if left unchecked. They have the potential to completely destroy an otherwise healthy colony in a matter of weeks.

    To protect their hives, beekeepers must make sure their varroa population stays under control. If the number of mites in a hive ever exceeds a given threshold, then preventative action must be taken immediately, either with pesticides or with natural products.

    With such a large beekeeping industry, Montana requires that all prospective beekeepers licence their apiaries and honey farms with the state. Beekeepers can register as four different classifications, depending on what they plan to do with their bee populations: commercial, landowner, hobbyist, and pollinator.

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