North Dakota Honey

Alfalfa Honey
Alfalfa honey is a popular North Dakota honey farms

Honey production had grown in popularity in North Dakota in the past decade so much so, that the state is the biggest honey producer in the US. North Dakota honey farms produce a variety of different kinds of honey including alfalfa, sunflower, and canola honey made by European honey bees.

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    How Long Has North Dakota Been Producing Honey?

    Honey bees reached the east coast in 1622, having been brought over from England by a group of colonists. Before the end of the century, bees had spread up and down the coast. However, it took far longer for the honey bee to appear in the comparatively remote region of North Dakota.

    The area saw an explosion in growth towards the second half of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth, meaning that this was likely the earliest that widespread honey production could take place.

    How Much Honey Does North Dakota Produce?

    North Dakota may be most well-known for its frigid temperatures and sparse population, but despite that, it is the United States’ number one producer of honey. Each year, it easily out-produces the rest of the country when it comes to honey, often creating double, triple, or quadruple the amount of honey produced in other states.

    As in the rest of the country, managed honey bees in North Dakota produce honey for commercial purposes as well as survival. Bees pollinate and gather nectar to obtain protein for their hive, and it is also a critical resource for the development of their broods.

    Nectar is later turned into honey, which acts as an energy source for the hive. Honey is then stored in a comb so that bees can return to it for food when they’re not foraging during inactive months.

    Every year, North Dakota produces an incredible amount of honey. The USDA reports that in 2018 alone, the state produced over 33 million pounds of honey from 520,000 active bee colonies. The total value of this production was more than 44 million dollars.

    What Are the Main Types of Honey Produced in North Dakota?

    Due to the diverse plant life, North Dakota beekeepers produce a wide array of kinds of honey from different floral sources. One of the most popular is sweet clover honey, along with mixes like alfalfa-clover. Other frequent kinds of honey produced by this state include canola honey, sunflower honey, alfalfa honey, and like many states, wildflower honey is popular as well.

    Sunflower Honey
    Sunflower honey is a popular type of honey produced in North Dakota - Credit: The Travelling Bee Co.

    Is the Honey Produced in North Dakota Seasonally, or Is It Produced All Year Round?

    Honey is typically harvested in the warmer summer months. As highlighted above, the temperatures in the winter months can be oppressively cold, which can hinder bees’ honey production. Meanwhile, the warmer season allows bees to become more active, and excess honey production is higher after the floral blooming of the spring before it.

    What Species of Bees Create North Dakota Honey?

    The vast majority of the honey produced in North Dakota comes from European honey bees (Apis mellifera), also known as the Western honey bee. This insect has numerous subspecies, the most common of which is the Italian honey bee (Apis mellifera ligustica). Other variants include the German, Carniolan, and Russian honey bees.

    What Native Plants and Trees Are Good for Pollinators in North Dakota?

    North Dakota is home to dozens of different species of bees, such as mining bees (in the family Andrenidae), mason bees (family Megachilidae), and digger bees (family Apidae). However, as in the rest of the United States, no honey bees are native to North Dakota. Honey bees were first introduced to the region with the arrival of European settlers.

    That is not to say that North Dakota is not a favourable environment for honey bees. On the contrary, it is one of the best areas in the country for supporting honey bee populations, being home to thousands upon thousands of massive colonies. In large part, this is due to the wide array of pollinator-friendly plants and trees in the state. A few of the most significant bee-friendly native plants in the state include the following:

    Anemone patens - known as Prairie Crocus Geum triflorum - known as Prairie Smoke
    Aquilegia canadensis - known as Wild Columbine, Eastern Red Columbine, Liatris ligulistylis - known as Meadow Blazing Star or Prairie Blazing Star
    Muscari armeniacum - known as Grape Hyacinth Zizia aurea - known as Golden Alexander
    Dalea purpurea - known as Purple Prairie Clover Monarda fistulosa - known as Bee Balm
    Solidaga rigida - known as Stiff Goldenrods Symphyotrichum novae-angliae - known as New England Aster
    Helenium autumnale - known as Sneezeweed Hylotelephium telephium - known as Tall Sedum
    This is not to mention a number of non-native plants that bee producers use in North Dakota. These include salvia and catmint, for two examples.

    Are There Any Major Honey Farms or Apiaries in North Dakota?

    With such a remarkable yield of honey every year, it is to be expected that the state boasts of a few major honey farms and apiaries. In addition to larger commercial ventures, many of the state’s beekeepers and honey farms are small, family-owned ventures, and much of the area’s honey production comes from hobbyists. Below are some of the most prominent bee producers, honey farms, and apiaries in the state, many of which have been around for decades.

    • Mackrill Honey Farms – in business for over 40 years
    • Stewart Apiaries – in business for over 20 years
    • Absolute Honey LLC – almost a decade in business
    • Five Star Honey – in business for over 40 years
    • Kloten Apiaries – in business for over 40 years
    Honeybee With Large Pollen Basket On Aster Flower
    Aster flower is a native pollinator-friendly plant in North Dakota
    Apis Mellifera Collecting Nectar from Goldenrod
    Western honey bee collecting nectar from Goldenrod flower

    What Sort of Environment Is Needed to Grow Honey in North Dakota?

    The environment is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to raising bees and producing honey in North Dakota. The state may be known for its frigid temperatures, but during the summer, the weather is just temperate enough to keep bees active without being excessively hot or cold.

    Freezing or extremely hot temperatures will reduce bee activity and prevent them from foraging, making North Dakota’s seasonal moderate climate perfect for honey production.

    However, the weather can also pose issues to bees. During the winter, temperatures can drop below zero, and freezing weather can prevent bees from gathering resources necessary to survival. For this reason, many beekeepers leave the state during the winter and take their bees to warmer states to avoid the chilling season.

    Another factor to consider is the space surrounding bee colonies. Much of North Dakota is empty pastures and plains, which is an ideal environment for bees due to the lack of busy farms and toxic pesticides. In more crowded regions, bee populations are under threat from pesticide overflow or agriculture accidentally destroying food sources. In North Dakota, however, these bees are often free from these negative influences and are able to thrive safely.

    Unfortunately, it is uncertain how long bees will enjoy the benefits of North Dakota’s wide-open spaces. Lucrative soybean and corn crops have rapidly expanded across the state, even in spaces that were previously reserved for environmental conservation. This means that bees are at risk of being exposed to dangerous pesticides and losing their much-needed resources should this expansion continue.

    Prospective beekeepers in North Dakota must meet a few preliminary requirements and comply with state law. Those wishing to keep bees in the state must submit an application for a beekeeper’s licence as well as an application for the planned apiary location. State law offers a few stipulations pertaining to beekeeping, such as guidelines for properly registering apiaries with the agricultural commissioner, as well as penalties for improper apiary transportation or importation.

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