Oklahoma Honey

Alfalfa Honey
Alfalfa honey is one of the most popular kinds of honey produced in Oklahoma

Oklahoma honey is produced by subspecies of the European honey bee including Italian and Carniolan honey bees. Due to Oklahoma’s wide variety of native grasses, many honey farms specialise in grass-based honey such as alfalfa honey. In 2018 along with nine other states, Oklahoma produced over a million pounds of honey.

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    What Is the History of Honey Production in Oklahoma?

    Although evidence suggests that a now-extinct honey bee species inhabited the Americas millions of years ago, the first modern honey bees only reached North America in the early-to-mid seventeenth century with the arrival of European settlers on the east coast.

    Since then, bees have largely followed the path of settlement, implying that honey bees arrived in Oklahoma around the early nineteenth century. The state thus has a deep history with bees, such that its official insect is none other than the honey bee itself.

    How Much Honey Does Oklahoma Produce?

    Oklahoma produces thousands of pounds of honey each year. Although specific production numbers are not available due to privacy restrictions, the USDA reported in 2019 that Oklahoma, along with Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Rhode Island, had collectively produced more than one million pounds of honey all in 2018.

    What Are the Main Types of Honey Produced in Oklahoma?

    Honey in Oklahoma is produced from a variety of floral sources. Because of the state’s large quantity of unique native grasses, grass-based honey, like alfalfa is common. Several major honey farms specialise in white clover honey, alfalfa honey, and white canola honey, in addition to using a mix of floral sources to create wildflower honey.

    Along with these native varieties, many beekeepers also import floral sources from other states.

    Beehives on Clover Field
    Beehives on Clover Field
    Honey Bee Extracting Alfalfa Nectar
    Honey bee extracting alfalfa nectar

    Which Bees Create Oklahoma Honey?

    Most honey in Oklahoma is produced by the European honey bee (Apis mellifera), also known as the Western honey bee. There are numerous subspecies of A. mellifera, and in Oklahoma as well as the rest of the country, the most popular subspecies is the Italian bee, A. mellifera ligustica. Other subspecies include the Carniolan bee, A. mellifera carniola, and additionally, another honey bee that has begun appearing in the state is the Africanised honey bee (A. mellifera scutellata).

    What Native Plants Are Beneficial to Pollinators in Oklahoma?

    Oklahoma is home to dozens of bee species, and in fact, the honey bee is even the official insect of the state. However, despite the popularity of bees throughout the Sooner State, no honey-producing bees are native to Oklahoma. European honey bees are an introduced species in the Americas that first reached North America in the early seventeenth century with the arrival of European settlers.

    Although honey bees might not be native, there is still a large number of plants native to the state that are beneficial to pollinators. A few of these include the following:

    Phemeranthus calycinus - known as Rock pink Bouteloua dactyloides - known as Buffalo grass
    Gaillardia pulchella - known as Indian blanket Glandularia canadensis - known as Rose verbena
    Sorghastrum nutans - known as Indiangrass Tradescantia ohiensis - Ohio spiderwort
    Phyla nodiflora - known as Fogfruit or Frogfruit Helianthus maximiliani - known as Maximilian sunflower
    Andropogon gerardii - known as Big bluestem Pycnanthemum tenuifolium - known as Narrow-leaf mountain mint
    Asclepias tuberosa - known as Butterflyweed Baptisia bracteata - known as Cream wild indigo
    Baptisia sphaerocarpa - known as Yellow wild indigo Coreopsis lanceolata - known as Lanceleaf tickseed or Lanceleaf coreopsis

    Are There Any Major Honey Farms or Apiaries in Oklahoma?

    There are a handful of major honey farms and apiaries throughout Oklahoma. As in the rest of the country, much of Oklahoma’s honey production comes not from major commercial ventures, but from local hobbyists or smaller family-owned businesses.

    Some of these companies have been in business for decades. A few notable honey farms throughout the state include Cheatwood’s Pure Raw Honey in Sapulpa (in business more than 50 years), Henry’s Honey Farms in Oklahoma City, and Ross Honey Company in Minco.

    What Sort of Environment Is Needed to Grow or Produce Oklahoma Honey?

    Around the world, honey bee populations are declining. In the United States, Oklahoma had one of the worst rates of decline in the 2010s. In large part, this was due to high levels of infestations from corruptive varroa mites that damage beehives through weakening individual bees.

    These parasites latch onto host bees and drain their body fluids, and the open wounds left from these infections can leave the bees open to disease. Varroa mite infestations can be prevented or stopped through the responsible application of pesticides, provided that they are applied safely and do not poison either the beekeeper or the bees.

    Varroa mites can also be dealt with through natural methods such as essential oils like lemongrass oil and spearmint oil, as well as through solar-powered ventilators.

    Honey production in Oklahoma also requires favourable weather conditions. Oklahoma has been subject to droughts throughout its history, which can have a catastrophic impact on local bee populations. Without rain, plants that are vital pollen sources die or stop growing, and without pollen, bees starve before they reach maturity. Whenever possible, beekeepers have to make sure that their bees are supplied with a ready selection of pollen-laden plants to sustain their bees.

    One critical factor that Oklahoma beekeepers must consider is the presence of Africanised honey bees (Apis mellifera scutellata), commonly known as “killer bees.” These bees are a hybrid of multiple species of European honey bees, such as A. mellifera, A. mellifera mellifera, A. mellifera carnica, and A. mellifera scutellata. These bees have their origins in Africa and were brought to Brazil in the 1950s in an effort to develop a more tropical-friendly species of the honey bee.

    Beekeeper Extracting Honey
    Beekeepers in Oklahoma often carry out Varroa mite inspections in order to maintain a healthy environment for the beehive

    However, these bees escaped their enclosures several years later and began breeding with local honey bee species, and this hybrid became extremely aggressive. This mixed-species began spreading north through South and Central America, eventually reaching the southwestern United States.

    Africanised honey bees have a notable presence in the southern counties of Oklahoma. These bees tend to build their nests next to European honey bee colonies and are highly territorial. If they get the slightest sense that their territory may be threatened, they can swarm out in large numbers and sting their perceived predators.

    While these stings are not much more than annoyances on their own, hundreds of stings at once can prove fatal. Likewise, for those with bug bite allergies, Africanised honey bee stings can have lethal consequences. Beekeepers looking to protect themselves as well as their hives should always be on the lookout for Africanised honey bees.

    As in most other states, prospective beekeepers in Ohio must be officially licenced and registered with the state to legally keep bees. Bees must be kept in compliance with the Oklahoma Apiary Act, which includes specific requirements regarding disease management, inspection, and lawful transportation and importation of bees.

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