Bees and honey have always been an important part of what came to be known as New Jersey. Centuries ago, the native Lenape Indians were very familiar with bees and their vast production of honey. They eventually came to refer to the middle of the summer (what we might call ‘July’) as “Honey Bee Month,” a time when they would begin harvesting the sticky stuff from wild tree hives.
When Did the Production of New Jersey’s Honey Begin?
Once European colonists began to settle the area, and the industry began to develop, the beekeeping business, honey production, and export of beeswax became one of Camden’s most important commercial enterprises.
During the 1700s, sweets were generally regarded to be a luxury for a couple of reasons: first, the production of refined sugar was very costly, and second, while there was plenty of honey available to the residents of the Delaware Valley, harvesting it was something else altogether. It involved a great deal of work and physical risk. It was, therefore, reasonably expensive.
Nonetheless, by the time of the American Revolution, production of honey and beeswax were major local industries, so much so that there were many ads in the newspapers of the day seeking out either one of the two or both or they were making it known that they would exchange services for honey or beeswax.
In fact, one form of the printed currency in the New Jersey colony had a picture of a honey bee on it. The honey bee industry was yielding so much wealth that its products functioned as a form of currency in and of themselves.
By 1773, Philadelphia and New Jersey merchants were annually exporting approximately 65,000 pounds of beeswax. New Jersey had become a honey and bee product powerhouse.
How Much Honey Does New Jersey Produce?
Given the fact that New Jersey provides a reasonably good habitat for honey bees (temperate climate and vast, available flora on which to feed), it is mildly surprising that its honey-related production isn’t better than it is, especially given the state’s history.
Statistically, New Jersey has approximately 20,000 managed bee colonies, most of which are hobbyists. The commercial industry is worth $7 million, as the combined assets of the worth of the colonies, the annual physical production (roughly 350,000 pounds of honey), and the annual value of the honey (roughly $450,000) are significant.
The industry is also managed for contract pollination services and secondary bee products, such as beeswax, pollen, royal jelly, and propolis.
What Are the Main Types of Honey New Jersey Produces?
From this vast array of available flora comes quite a few flavors of honey unique to New Jersey. Included in that list are the following:
Cranberry honey, Linden honey, Alfalfa honey, Tupelo honey, Aster honey, Knotweed honey, Tulip Poplar honey, Buckwheat honey, Rosemary honey, Wildflower honey, Eucalyptus honey, and Orange Blossom honey
Is New Jersey Honey Produced Year-Round or Seasonally?
Honey production times vary by location in the state, depending on the blooming periods of specific flowers from which the bees collect their nectar. The honey is sold wholesale in bulk to redistributors and bakeries and retailed to individuals at roadside stands, farmers’ markets, grocery stores, and specialty product markets. New Jersey honey is typically harvested during the summer months.
Which Types of Honey Bees Produce New Jersey Honey?
New Jersey honey is primarily produced by Italian honey bees (Apis mellifera ligustica), Carniolan honey bees (Apis mellifera carnica), and Russian Hybrids. These are all subspecies of the Western honey bee.
Which Nectar-Producing Plants Are Native to New Jersey?
New Jersey does provide a wonderful habitat for raising and managing honey bees, and in addition to its temperate climate, there is a bountiful amount of flora from which the bees can extract nectar. That rather expansive list includes the following:
|Plants||Skunk Cabbage, SpiceBush, Maples, Hazel, elms, Willows, Dogwood, Dandelion, Ash, Horse Chestnut, Birch, Hickory, Oaks, Locust, Crimson Clover, Tulip Whitewood, Wild Cherry, Mountain Laurel, Sheep Laurel, Black Alder, Oneeye Daisy, Indian Corn, cucumber, melons, Sunflower, Wild Turnip, Ragweed, Touch-Me-Not, White Aster, Heath Aster, St. Michaelmas Daisy, Goldenrod|
|Less Than Surplus Nectar Plants||Peach, Pear, and Apple trees, Wild Strawberry, Lupine, Raspberry, Grape, Persimmon, Vervain, Virginia Creeper, Milkweed, Silkweed, False Indigo, Buttonbush, Tree of Heaven, Pride of China, Catnip, Motherwort, Horsemint, Boncaset, Poison Ivy, Holly, Burdock|
|Surplus Honey Plants||Tulip Tree, Swedish Clover, Alaska Clover, White Clover, Dogbane, Indian Hemp, Basswood, Linden, Huckleberry, Blueberry, California Princt, Sumac, White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover, Cranberry, August Flower, Soap Bush, Sweet Pepper Bush, Rose Mallow, Swamp Mallow, Spanish Needle, Heartwood, Smartweed, Blackheart, Buckwheat|
Are There Any Major Honey Farms or Apiaries in New Jersey?
Some of New Jersey’s most prominent apiaries include:
- Bee Flower and Sun Honey Company – Milford
- Beehive Barn – Cranbury
- Blueberry Wood Apiary – Jackson
- Bountiful Bees of Broad Street – Hightstown
- Cape May Honey Farm – Cape May
- Dr B’s Wild Honey – West Orange
- E & M Gold Beekeepers – Tinton Falls
- Eco Bee Supply – Morristown
- Garden State Apiaries – Jackson
- Gooserock Farm – Montville
- Hilltop Honey – North Caldwell
- Honey Brook Organic Farm – Pennington
- Lakeview Apiary – Lake Hopatcong
- Lee’s Bees – Hardyston
- Neshanic Station Apiaries – Neshanic
- Ptak’s Apiary – Red Bank
- S & F Honey Farm – Flemington
Varroa Mites: A Threat to New Jersey’s Bees
The primary reason that New Jersey’s bee industry production has become lower than one would anticipate is no different than what most of the country and the world are experiencing: significantly declining honeybee populations, which is mostly attributed to the destructive Varroa Mite.
The Varroa Mite migrated to New Jersey in the early 1990s and has been on the move ever since. Given that New Jersey is one of the smaller states in the country and one of the most densely packed in terms of population, many of the state’s residents live in tightly packed towns.
Combine this with the fact that most of New Jersey’s beekeepers are amateurs and probably keep their bees on their private property, and the potential for the rapid spread of the mite becomes a significant reality.
As of 2017, New Jersey’s annual bee loss during the winter months was at 41%, compared to the national average of 33%. The decline of the honey bee population in North America may be rapid, but New Jersey managed to pull ahead several years back.
Chemical treatments for the Varroa mite typically take place twice a year in New Jersey, and individual beekeepers usually line their hives with different types of pesticide-induced stripping that helps to manage any infestations. It’s clear, however, that until a new method – either natural or chemical – can be devised to eradicate the Varroa Mite, New Jersey’s size and population density will most likely continue to work against it in this war of attrition.