Pennsylvania honey production began in the 1630s, since then beekeeping has continued to grow in popularity. Pennsylvania produces four main types of honey; buckwheat, goldenrod, clover, and wildflower. These honeys are produced by subspecies of the European honey bee.
When Did Pennsylvania’s Honey Production Begin?
As Pennsylvania was one of the first American colonies and is the second-oldest state, honey bees from Europe have been in the state for a very long time.
The first record of honey bees in Pennsylvania is from 1698, but it is likely that they were there earlier than that. Colonists from Finland and Sweden probably brought German honey bees (Apis mellifera mellifera) to the Pennsylvania colony in the 1630s, and honey production was helpful in providing a food source and economic stimulation.
How Much Honey Does Pennsylvania Produce?
In 2017, 811,394 pounds of honey were collected from 1,111 Pennsylvania honey farms in total. That’s down from 819,689 pounds of honey collected in 2012. However, the value of honey production in Pennsylvania has increased since 2012, going from $1,729,000 to $2,650,000 in 2017.
The decrease in pounds of honey collected could be because of significant recent honey bee colony losses all over the U.S., with Pennsylvania suffering a larger loss than average (60.6% total annual loss in 2014).
What Are the Main Types of Honey Produced in Pennsylvania?
Although Pennsylvania produces a lot of clover and wildflower honey-like other states, most distinctively Pennsylvanian honey varieties are buckwheat and goldenrod. Buckwheat honey is dark and molasses-like, boasting a rich, spicy flavor. It works well in marinades and for baking since it holds up to high temperatures. Goldenrod honey is also on the darker side, and it’s popular in its raw form.
Other types of local Pennsylvania honey include Black Locust honey, Blueberry Blossom honey, Knotweed (aka Red Bamboo) honey, Spring Blossom honey, and Fleeceflower honey.
Is Pennsylvania Honey Produced Year-Round or Seasonally?
Beekeepers and bees alike must perform various aspects of the beekeeping/honey-producing process all year-round. However, honey is harvested normally in late summer. Responsible beekeepers only take excess honey from their bees, as honey bee colonies need to keep enough of the honey, they produce to ensure they stay well-fed, especially for the winter.
Here is a typical beekeeping calendar for Pennsylvania beekeepers:
|January-February||Clean and repair equipment|
|March||Feed bees if they’re low on honey|
|April||Check on the productivity of your queens|
|May||Start checking hives weekly, add supers if necessary|
|June||Re-queen (if you need a form of mite control)|
|July||Harvest honey when you have enough in the supers|
|August||Combine weaker hives with stronger ones to begin preparing for the winter|
|September||Continue to assess which hives are ready for winter|
|October||Begin to insulate your hives for winter and add mouse guards if necessary|
|November-December||Add entrance reducers to your hives and then leave them alone; read up on beekeeping practices and wait until it gets warmer|
Which Types of Honey Bees Produce Pennsylvania Honey?
There is only one main species of honey bee to be found in the United States: the Western honey bee, whose scientific name is Apis mellifera. Therefore, only types of Western honey bees, which usually originally come from Europe, produce Pennsylvania honey. Although it is rare to find a honey bee that is purebred, there are dozens of Western honey bee subspecies.
The most popular subspecies (aka race) of honey bee in the United States is the Italian honey bee (Apis mellifera ligustica). Italian honey bees are great for beginning beekeepers and are generally easy to handle. Another popular race in Pennsylvania is the Carnolian honey bee (Apis mellifera carnica), both for its overwintering ability and tendency to rapidly grow the colony population in the spring.
Which Honey Bees and Nectar-Producing Plants Are Native to Pennsylvania?
Although it may come as a surprise, all honey bees in the United States are non-native species. Honey bees have been able to adapt to as many different climates as there are in all of the U.S., so there aren’t any types of honey bees found exclusively in Pennsylvania. However, there are other kinds of bees that don’t produce honey that is native to the state. Like honey bees, these native bees play a very important role in pollination.
Some of Pennsylvania’s pollinator-friendly native plants:
- White clover
- Willow trees
- Maple trees
- Fruit trees
Are There Any Major Honey Farms or Apiaries in Pennsylvania?
The most popular honey farms in Pennsylvania are Bedillion Honey Farm in Hickory (Western Pennsylvania), Swarmbustin’ Honey in West Grove (Southeastern Pennsylvania), and Bucks County Honey Co. in Quakertown (Eastern Pennsylvania).
What Environment Is Needed to Produce Pennsylvania Honey?
Honey bees have grown accustomed to living in domesticated environments (like a commercial or backyard apiary) as long as they still have access to natural areas (like fields, orchards, or meadows) where they can forage.
According to the official Beekeeping in the United States Agricultural Handbook by William P. Nye, the majority of Pennsylvania lies in the North-Central beekeeping region of the U.S. This means that Pennsylvania beekeepers must deal with colder winters, which for commercial enterprises sometimes means that hives must be trucked further southward for colder months to prevent colonies from dying out.
Regardless of where an apiary is located on a larger scale (i.e. within the country or the state), it’s important that apiaries are sited properly once a general location is chosen. Here are some environmental aspects to keep in mind:
Food sources: A nature-abundant area (like an orchard, forest, or meadow) where bees can forage for food should be located nearby.
Sunlight: Hives should be located where they get enough sunlight to keep the bees comfortable (especially in the winter), but not so much that they overheat in summer.
Wind direction: Make sure to notice what the prevailing winds are in a hive location—entrances to beehives should be facing away from the wind.
Water: There should be nearby ponds, streams, or rivers where bees can get the water they need.