In Oregon, honey production dates back to the 1840s. Despite the recent decline in honey bee populations, Oregon remains a prominent state for beekeeping in the US. Wildflower, clover, buckwheat, and blackberry are the main types of honey produced in Oregon.
When Did Oregon’s Honey Production Begin?
The Oregon Trail popularised treks to the Northwestern region of the continent in the 1840s, and it didn’t just bring people. There was a concerted effort to bring honey bees west in 1846, most likely by a man named John Davenport.
Some bees likely also moved into the area from natural swarms. More significant honey production, however, picked up in the early 20th century. The Oregon State Beekeepers Association was founded in 1921.
How Much Honey Does Oregon Produce?
Oregon’s honey production hasn’t been doing so well lately. The state produced 14 percent less honey in 2019 than in 2018—2.78 million pounds of honey was produced by only 87,000 colonies, which is also 6,000 fewer colonies than in 2018. The value of honey production was also 25 percent lower, coming in at $5.76 million.
In general, this is caused by a gradual decrease in honey bee populations in the United States that’s only getting worse each year. Oregon actually saw the lowest annual loss of honey bees compared to all other states in a study conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership.
Despite losses, Oregon is still a prominent state for beekeeping and honey production. Like the sought-after wine grapes grown in the Willamette Valley (which is known internationally for its Pinot Noir), honey from plants in this area is widely known. The city of Talent, Oregon has even been designated the second Bee City USA, a title showing Talent’s efforts to purposefully create a flower-filled haven for bees.
What Are the Main Types of Honey Oregon Produces?
The most popular kinds of honey produced in Oregon are wildflower and clover. They both have the most familiar “honey” taste because they’re often what’s sold in standard grocery stores. In Oregon, clover honey can either be made from high desert clover (a sweeter kind of clover) or from cultivated red/crimson clover (which has more of an amber colour), but it’s most often a blend.
Other kinds of honey native to Oregon include:
Blackberry and meadowfoam are going to have more vanilla notes, while fireweed and buckwheat will have a more earthy flavor.
Which Types of Honey Bees Produce Oregon Honey?
Although there are seven species of honey bee that live all over the world, only one species can be found in the United States. The Western honey bee, or Apis mellifera, has dozens of subspecies (sometimes called races), but only those originating from Europe are commonly used for beekeeping in the U.S.
Although some Western honey bees are better adapted to cold winters (which can be a useful trait in the colder parts of Oregon), usually the same five subspecies are used all over the country. One should keep in mind, however, that most honey bees are not purebred and there are many hybrids.
The most popular race of honey bees, especially for beginners, is the Italian honey bee, or Apis mellifera ligustica. They are typically very gentle bees and are capable of producing lots of honey within a shorter period of time. Carniolan honey bees (Apis mellifera carnica) and Russian honey bees are also used relatively frequently in Oregon because they both come from Eastern Europe and therefore are better suited to cold winters.
Is Oregon Honey Produced Year-Round or Seasonally?
Beekeeping is a year-round process, as there is always something beekeepers should be doing to tend to their hives on at least a biweekly basis. Bees work on various parts of the honey-making process throughout the year, and honey is usually harvested in the summer. There are location-specific considerations for honey production timing, however.
Expert beekeeper Howland Blackiston (author of Beekeeping for Dummies) has created four beekeeping zones that are a good way to explain how various beekeeping activities are performed at different times depending on where you live in the U.S. Western Oregon (including the Willamette Valley) is in Zone C, while everything east of the Willamette Valley in the state is in Zone B. Zone B’s winters are typically colder and longer than those in Zone C, which calls for an altered beekeeping calendar.
Beekeepers in Eastern Oregon must prepare their hives for winter earlier, and they’ll be harvesting honey a little later than those in the west (mid-July through early August as opposed to starting in June). Beekeepers in Western Oregon might be able to spend a little more time checking on and tending to their bees in the winter since it won’t be as cold.
Which Honey Bees and Pollinator-Friendly Plants Are Native to Oregon?
There are plenty of bee species that are native to North America. However, none of those species are honey bees, so there are no types of honey bees that are actually native to Oregon. Most honey bees have proven adaptable to many different types of climates, which is why there aren’t many location-specific honey bee races.
|Alfalfa: blooms late June-August||Sweet clover: blooms late June-August|
|Fireweed: blooms late June-August||Crimson/Italian clover: blooms late May-June|
|Maple: blooms late March-early May||Vetch: blooms May-early August|
Are There Any Major Honey Farms or Apiaries in Oregon?
Unlike other states, every beekeeper in Oregon who owns more than 5 hives must register their hives with the state. In addition to the many backyard beekeepers, there are in Oregon, there are many large honey farms, the most prominent ones being Oregon Honey Farm in Dundee (Northwest Oregon), Raw Oregon Honey in Oak Grove (near Portland), Oregon Bee Store in Eagle Point (Southwest Oregon), and Bridgetown Bees (Northeast Portland).
What Environment Is Needed to Produce Oregon Honey?
Most honey bees thrive in temperate climates, which aligns well with Western Oregon’s warm-summer Mediterranean climate. But since honey bees are so adaptable, they can also be productive in Eastern Oregon if the proper measures are taken. For example, because Eastern Oregon’s winters are on the colder side, beekeepers will want to keep their hives well-stocked with enough food. You can measure this by weighing hives individually—you’ll want each one to be around 80-90 pounds to last the cold winter.
Special Considerations for Urban Areas:
For people who live in apartments in Portland and don’t have much space, beekeeping is still possible. On apartment building roofs and in small backyards, a hobbyist beekeeper could have one or two productive hives. Another possible set-up for city dwellers is to keep hives at a friend’s out-of-town property.