Virginia holds a special place in the heart of America’s honeybee and honey industries. If it weren’t for the arrival of some of the first European colonists in Jamestown back in 1622 – nearly 400 years ago – it might very well be the case that honeybees would never have come to America.
When Did the Production of Virginia Honey Begin?
Honey bees (apis mellifera) are not native to North America. Colonies were shipped in the United States early in 1622. Between the 1600s and 1800s, honey was mainly an article of local trade. Many villagers and farmers kept a few honey bee colonies in box hives to supply their own needs.
Since then, commercial beekeeping grew in popularity in Virginia. Today the state is an important contributor to the US honey industry.
How Much Honey Does Virginia Produce?
Virginia is typically ranked in the lower numbers of honey-producing states in America, somewhere around 40th. On average, the commercial industry produces approximately 250,000 pounds of honey from roughly 7,000 colonies, worth an estimated half a million dollars. When commercial and hobby beekeepers are combined, those numbers jump to approximately 38,000 managed colonies producing about 1 million dollars worth of honey.
According to the 2020 USDA reports, in 2019 Virginia produced 195,000 pounds of honey from 5,000 honey-producing colonies.
What Are the Main Types of Honey Virginia Produces?
Somewhere between 12,000-15,000 colonies are used each year in Virginia’s crop pollination services, and it principally helps to pollinate apples, cucumbers, and melons. Still, pumpkins, squash, blueberries, peanuts, onions, cabbage, and peppers also benefit.
It only takes one look at Virginia’s apples’ production to get a sense of the value of honeybee pollination services throughout the state. It’s estimated that honeybee pollination adds $23 million in value to the state’s apple industry, contributing about $235 million to the state economy.
Some of the primary varieties of honey produced in Virginia are Alfalfa honey, Eucalyptus honey, Acacia honey, Clover honey, Orange Blossom honey, Wildflower honey, Avocado honey, Buckwheat honey, and Chestnut honey.
Is Virginia Honey Produced Year-Round or Seasonally?
Virginia’s climate is humid sub-tropical with crisp winters and hot summers. Honey flow typically begins in the spring and continues through to the end of the summer. Honey harvest begins in June and the final harvest of the season typically occurs in September. During Autumn, honey bees are making efforts to store up food for the winter months.
Which Types of Honey Bees Produce Virginia Honey?
Virginia honey is primarily produced by Italian honey bees (Apis mellifera ligustica) and Carniolan honey bees (Apis mellifera carnica). These are all subspecies of the Western honey bee.
Which Nectar-Producing Plants Are Native to Virginia?
A wide variety of plants and trees throughout the state are beneficial to pollinators like honey bees. These include some of the following native plants, trees, and natural life:
|Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)||American Basswood (Tilia americana)|
|Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens)||Wild Bergmot (Monarda fistulosa)|
|Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)||Gayfeather (Liatris sipcata)|
|Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)||Field Thistle (Cirsium discolor)|
|New England Asters (Aster novae-angliae)||Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)|
Are There Any Major Honey Farms or Apiaries in Virginia?
The following is a list of the major apiaries and beekeepers contributing to the beekeeping renaissance in Virginia:
- Back Forty Bees – Williamsburg
- Bottom of the Blue Ridge Apiary – Afton
- Burnley Farm Apiary – Fredericksburg
- Cardinal Apiaries – Fredericksburg
- Chubby Bees Apiaries – South Riding
- Fern Hill Apiary – Marshall
- Hive Five Apiary and Bee Supply – Tappahannock
- Horseshoe Point Honey – Suffolk
- Hott Apiary – McGaheysville
- Hungry Hill Farm – Shipman
- Reedy Creek Apiary – North Chesterfield
- Stargell’s Apiaries – Richmond
- Sunshine Farm Apiary – Norfolk
- Tabb Meadows Apiary – Yorktown
- Whistle Creek Apiaries – Lexington
Declining Population in Virginia
During the first two decades of the 21st century, Virginia witnessed an alarming decline in its honeybees and honey industry. This trend could be traced back to the mid-1990s. According to the State Department of Agriculture records, Virginia had approximately 90,000 hives in the early 1970s. However, by the maid-1990s, that number had dropped to about 30,000. There were several reasons attributed to this negative trend, some of which were as follows:
Residential Land Use
More and more of Virginia’s land was being cleared for homes and businesses, resulting in the loss of habitats for the honeybees. Further, homeowners were more and more frequently cutting their grass short and spraying it with chemicals to help it look nice, which was detrimental. Clover and wildflower were largely being removed, and food that was available to the honeybees was tainted with chemicals that they inevitably brought back to the hive.
Reduced Food Sources
In addition to mowing, the extensive use of herbicides and pesticides tainted or killed off available food, or, in some cases, killed off the honeybees themselves. Collective actions to eradicate weeds and other wild areas also cut into available sources of nectar and pollen.
While homeowners were removing clover and wildflowers on a larger scale, they also began planting flowers around their homes that either didn’t attract honeybees or, in some cases, actually harmed them. Foliage such as toxic perennials or annuals that didn’t produce any pollen or nectar was a popular choice, and largely detrimental.
Colony Collapse Disorder
A true mystery in the Virginia beekeeping industry was the scientific name for an illness that still doesn’t have any known cause. By 2006, Virginia had lost 30-90% of its hives in a strikingly similar fashion: beekeepers were discovering dead colonies with no adult bees, no dead bee bodies, but still retaining a live queen. During the first part of the 2010s, this illness continued to plague the industry, as nearly a third of the entire state colonies were lost.
As a result of the more extensive clearing of land for residential use, bears were more and more pushed into the foothills to forage for food and would cause tremendous damage to the hives they encountered.