Although West Virginia is not considered a top producer in the country, it is a prominent state for US honey production. According to the 2020 USDA report, West Virginia produced 222,000 pounds of honey from 6,000 colonies. The majority of this honey was produced by subspecies of the Western honey bee such as the Italian and Carniolan honey bees.
When Did the Production of West Virginia Honey Begin?
Honey bees are not native to West Virginia. They were shipped into North America in the early 1600s by European settlers. In the United States, commercial beekeeping only became popular in the 1860s, prior to that honey was primarily an article of local trade.
West Virginia Beekeepers Association was founded in 1917. Today the Association works closely with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture to support beekeepers and promote the honey bee and hive products.
How Much Honey Does West Virginia Produce?
West Virginia is typically ranked around 40th in the nation in terms of honey production, coming in 39th as of 2018. On average, the state has 6,000 working colonies that produce roughly 230,000 pounds of honey valued at $925,000. Each colony yields an average of 38 pounds of honey, and the price per pound comes in at about $4.
West Virginia’s honey bees are managed for all of the typical business ends: production of honey, pollen, propolis, and beeswax, crop pollination services, and the sale of queen bees, packaged bees, and bee products (beeswax candles, skin and lip creams, etc.)
What Are the Main Types of Honey West Virginia Produces?
With the different types of terrain in West Virginia and the assortment of flowers available from which the honeybees can feed, there likewise comes an assortment of different flavors, which not only includes some staples but also some unconventional ones as well.
Here are some of the main types of honey produced in the state: wild mountain honey, black locust honey, basswood honey, buckwheat honey, goldenrod honey, hazelnut, lavender honey, lemon honey, rosemary honey, tulip poplar honey.
Which Types of Honey Bees Produce West Virginia Honey?
There are three main races/subspecies of bees of the European honey bee and they are named by where the type of bee originated from. These races include the Italian honey bees (Apis mellifera ligustica), Caucasian honey bees (Apis mellifera caucasia), and Carniolan honey bees (Apis mellifera carnica).
The majority of honey in West Virginia is produced by the Italian honey bees. They are favoured by beekeepers due to their passive nature and docility.
Which Native Plants Produce West Virginia Honey?
Because West Virginia has such a diverse and, in some cases, mountainous terrain, there are three flowers that are considered the staples for honey production. There are, however, a number of others that also produce some degree of nectar for the honey bees that allows for both surplus honey production and for the needs of the bees during the colder winter months.
The majority of the state’s beekeepers produce most of the state’s honey from locusts, Tulip Poplar, and Basswood blossoms. These three allow the beekeepers to be able to produce between 80 and 100 pounds of honey during a successful season. Tulip Poplar and locust both bloom in the spring and are generally available almost everywhere for bees. Basswood, on the other hand, while plentiful, is generally only found in the higher, more mountainous areas.
Other flowers that contribute to the state’s production are as follows:
Are There Any Major Honey Farms or Apiaries in West Virginia?
Some of the most popular apiaries and honey farms in Virginia:
- Earthway Primitives Apiary – Lost Creek
- White Oak Bee Company – White Oak
- Eversweet Apiaries – Kearneysville
- Faye’s Sweet Addiction Apiary – Phillippi
- Windswept Farm – Wheeling
- Honey Moon Apiary – Martinsburg
- Geezer Ridge Farm – Hedgesville
- Mountain State Honey Company – Parsons
Beekeeping and Its Roles in the West Virginia Economy
The Appalachian Beekeeping Collective is a recently formed venture which aims to help displaced coal miners learn a new skill, the art, and business of beekeeping. Beekeeping always had been a part of the heritage of West Virginia, as the many farms that dotted the state’s landscape often had some form of beekeeping taking place. In a sense, the farms were producing the meals, and the hives were producing the sweetener.
With the help of The Collective, that’s beginning to change, and it’s gradually beginning to transform the entire economy of the rural parts of West Virginia.
Many of the newly-minted beekeepers have come to see the hills and mountains of West Virginia from a new perspective: where once people would look up into the mountains and see ‘seams of coal’, they now see ‘seams of gold’ – all the different types of trees, large forests, and abundant flowers are there for bees to turn into honey.
With the number of graduates increasing from The Collective’s classes and moving on to become certified beekeepers, The Collective has so far managed to produce over three tons of honey. With any luck the progress will continue, the West Virginia honey industry will continue to develop, and former miners will regain a connection to their land and change the way others see rural West Virginians.