South Dakota Honey

south-dakota-honey-farm
Hives on South Dakota Honey Farm - Credit: Blue Dasher Farm

South Dakota is amongst the top honey producers in the United States. In 2019 the state produced 19.4 million pounds of honey according to USDA. The main types of honey made in South Dakota are wildflower, alfalfa, and many varieties of clover honey primarily made by Italian, Caucasian, and Carniolan honey bees.

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    When Did South Dakota’s Honey Production Begin?

    There aren’t many written records on the exact dates honey bees were brought to South Dakota. Since Western honey bees are a non-native species introduced by Europeans, they could not have been in the area until after the Lewis and Clark Expedition in the 19th century.

    Commercial beekeeping didn’t really become popular until the 1860s, but it likely didn’t become popular in South Dakota until a few decades later, as the state was one of the last to be admitted to the Union and it’s always had a relatively low population density.

    How Much Honey Does South Dakota Produce?

    Honey bees pollinate because pollination is a byproduct of their search for food. Bees need nectar and pollen to get the essential nutrients they need to survive.

    They sometimes consume the food they get from flowers immediately, but a lot of the nectar they collect gets taken back to the hive so it can be made into honey, which bees eat in the winter when it’s too cold to exit the hive. They technically don’t need to pollinate and help along with the reproductive processes of plants in order to make honey, but it’s very helpful that they do.

    South Dakota is a big state for honey production—the only state that produces more honey is North Dakota. According to a USDA report published in March 2020, South Dakota produced 19.4 million pounds of honey in 2019 (and that’s only counting commercial beekeepers with more than five registered colonies).

    That’s a 62 percent increase from 2018, which is the largest honey production growth rate of any state in recent years. South Dakota has surpassed both Montana and California in honey production since 2018.

    In 2020 South Dakota based honey producer Blue Dasher Farm extracted 258 gallons of honey.

    Honey Bee Extracting Alfalfa Nectar
    Alfalfa is a popular pollinator-friendly native plant in South Dakota

    What Are the Main Types of Honey South Dakota Produces?

    Unlike some smaller states where bees go to other states to forage or where beekeepers must create man-made areas for honey bees to forage in, South Dakota honey is almost always from South Dakota bees who have acquired nectar from South Dakota plants.

    There’s a reason why the Western honey bee is the state insect of South Dakota—bees love all of the open plains and meadows that are available to them in the state.

    The most popular types of honey from South Dakota are clover, wildflower, and alfalfa honey. Alfalfa and clover are very similar plants and can be found all over the state in great abundance. Although clover is a popular honey variety all over the country, South Dakota offers more varieties of clover honey than almost any other state: Sweet Clover, White Dutch Clover, Ball Clover, and White Sweet Clover are all easy to come by.

    Clover honey is a sweet and versatile type of honey with a slightly sour aftertaste. Many South Dakota honey farms also offer creamed versions of clover honey, which is honey that is whipped and therefore easier to spread atop toast, bagels, and other baked goods.

    Is South Dakota Honey Produced Year-Round or Seasonally?

    Although bees work year-round, spring and summer are the most important seasons for South Dakota beekeepers. During spring, beekeepers must make sure their bee populations are as high as possible before bees begin flying out of the hive and the majority of plants begin to bloom. Summer is normally when beekeepers remove the excess honey their bees have made from the hives.

    This is how Blue Dasher Farm manages to produce high-quality honey year after year:

    In one photo, we are weighing the hives with a scale. We try to closely monitor our hives as well as run experiments on them by giving them different natural supplements and researching the outcomes.
    We try to stay away from chemical treatments as much as possible, this means our hives at BDF are never given antibiotics and mite treatments are kept to a minimum.

    south-dakota-beekeeper-bee-pouring
    South Dakota beekeepers pouring honey bees - Credit: Blue Dasher Farm
    south-dakota-beekeepers-weighing-the-hives
    Beekeepers weighing the hives with a scale - Credit: Blue Dasher Farm

    Which Types of Honey Bees Produce South Dakota Honey?

    Honey bees are the only kind of insect that produces food humans can eat, and there’s only one species of them that can be found in the United States: Apis mellifera, meaning “honey-carrying bee.”

    It would be basically impossible to find a honey bee that had a genetic makeup aligned only with one subspecies because scientists and beekeepers have been cross-breeding honey bee races for decades.

    This is because all subspecies of honey bees have positive and negative traits, and creating hybrids allows for as many positive traits as possible to be passed on. However, honey bees are still usually sold by the name of one of the major subspecies, and some beekeepers have a preference for one race over another.

    The three main races/subspecies are named by where the type of bee originated in Europe, and they include Italian bees, Caucasian bees (from Caucasia, an area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea), and Carniolan bees (from Carniola, a historical region comprised of parts of present-day Slovenia).

    Nowadays all three types can be found all over the country and continent, including South Dakota. Honey bees with a majority Italian genetic makeup are the most popular because of their easygoing nature and generally high levels of productivity.

    south-dakota-honey-pallet-of-bees
    Black Hills Honey Farm primarily uses Italian honey bees for honey production

    Which Honey Bees and Nectar-Producing Plants Are Native to South Dakota?

    All honey bees are non-native species to North America. Since it’s easier to rear bees in warmer climates, beekeepers in South Dakota often order their honey bees from southern breeders, but honey bees can still live comfortably in South Dakota.

    Pollinator-friendly native plants in South Dakota:

    Sweet clover White clover
    Maples Willows
    Heartsease Alfalfa

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

    The National Honey Board lists that six honey farms are registered with the organisation in South Dakota. Most of them are located in the southeastern region of the state, including Wonderful Bees, LLC in Kimball (who also have operations in many other states), Basic Honey in Pukwana, A.H. Meyer & Sons Inc. in Winfred. Also in southeastern South Dakota but closer to Sioux Falls are Honey World Inc. in Parker and Parsons Honey Farm in Tea.

    Other honey farms in the state include:

    • Adee Honey Farms in Roscoe, Bruce, and Kimball
    • Black Hills Honey Farm in Spearfish
    • Schmidt Honey Farms in Winner
    • Blue Dasher Farm in Estelline
    • Hollmann Apiaries in Dante
    south-dakota-queen-bee
    South Dakota Queen bee and her groomers - Credit: Black Hills Honey Farn

    What Environment Is Needed to Produce South Dakota Honey?

    For the most part, honey bees can thrive in a wide variety of locations and can adapt to different environmental conditions. However, there are some ways South Dakota beekeepers ensure that their apiaries promote as much physical well-being for their bees as possible.

    The ideal apiary site in South Dakota is one that has a high level of sun exposure with a windbreak to the west and to the north. The ground the hives are placed on should slope to the east and to the south. The slope of the land helps both with guiding cold air away from the apiary and protecting the apiary from flash flood damage.

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