Wisconsin is a significant honey producer in the United States. In 2019 Wisconsin produced 2,162,000 pounds of honey according to USDA. The main types of honey made in Wisconsin include wildflower honey, buckwheat, blackberry, and many varieties of clover honey primarily made by Italian, Caucasian, and Carniolan honey bees.
When Did Wisconsin’s Honey Production Begin?
The first recorded mention of honey in the annals of Wisconsin came in 1828, when two pioneers, John Fonda and a Frenchman named Boiseley, were carrying mail between Chicago and Green Bay.
During their travels, they happened upon a large tree that had the claw marks of a bear. When they glimpsed inside the trunk, they saw that it was filled with honey. They immediately cut the tree down and feasted on the honey, to the point at which Fonda made himself so sick that “he never ate honey again.”
Other European settlers and pioneers noted in their journals that honey had apparently been a staple of the Native Americans in the area since they came upon many makeshift ladders placed up against large trees that showed evidence of having once been filled with honey.
As for the honey and honey bee industries in Wisconsin, it had initially been difficult working with honey bees during the first half of the 19th century because of the colder Wisconsin climate, but technical advances around the middle of the century began to lay the foundation for commercial practice.
In 1841, the first human-made hive was developed; In 1851, a new type of frame was developed that aided in honey extraction; and then, in 1860, Italian honey bees – considered the finest producers of honey – were introduced to Wisconsin.
Once agricultural diversification began to take place on Wisconsin farms after 1860 and a greater number of flowers and plants were producing pollen and nectar, the Wisconsin honey industry began to boom. By 1900, Wisconsin was producing over 2.6 million pounds of honey each year, resulting in some people referring to the state as ‘one big apiary.’
How Much Honey Does Wisconsin Produce?
Routinely ranked between 11th and 16th in the nation in terms of honey production, Wisconsin has been a leading producer of Honey in America for over a century. During the course of the last several years, however, honey production has been fluctuating and eventually fell to a ten-year low by 2018.
Between 2015 and 2018, production dropped steadily from 3.4 million pounds of honey in 2015 to 2.3 million pounds in 2018. The 2015 harvest was valued at $8.4 million, while in 2018, it was valued at $6 million.
The Wisconsin honey bee industry is managed for all of the typical products and services that one would expect: the honey, of course, but also for the beeswax, propolis, the sale of packaged bees, and pollination services. Bee products are also for sale at many apiaries and farms, products such as beeswax candles, molded beeswax, comb honey, beeswax wraps, honey scrub, lip balm, and pollen cream.
What Are the Main Types of Honey Wisconsin Produces?
With its diverse plant life, Wisconsin has a number of honey varieties. The main types of honey produced in Wisconsin include Black Locust honey, Basswood honey, Clover honey (Sweet, White Sweet, White Dutch), Buckwheat honey, Alfalfa honey, Blackberry honey, Aster honey, Goldenrod honey, Knapweed honey, and Wildflower honey. Many of the apiaries and farms throughout the state also sell honey from neighboring states such as Michigan, Illinois, and Kansas.
Which Types of Honey Bees Produce Wisconsin Honey?
Wisconsin honey is produced by subspecies of the Western honey bee. Italian honey (Apis mellifera ligustica) bees are popular amongst beekeepers since they are easy to handle, and Carniolan honey bees (Apis mellifera carnica) as they generally produce 15% more honey yield than Italian honey bees.
Which Nectar-Producing Plants Are Native to Wisconsin?
Most people in the honey bee industry agree that because of the enormous range of flowers, plants, and trees in the state, Wisconsin is an ideal place in which to produce honey.
Wisconsin’s native plants are all used in the creation of the state’s honey, and because there is such a range of biodiversity and because the bees have different varieties of nectar and pollen from which to choose, Wisconsin honey typically has an excellent and unique flavor. Some of the flowers, plants, trees, bushes, and herbs on which the bees forage are here:
|Pasque flowers||Pussy willows|
|Virginia Bluebells||Plum trees|
|New Jersey Tea||American Basswood|
|Anise Hyssop||Culver’s Root|
|Butterfly Milkweed||Prairie Blazing Star|
|Smooth blue Aster||Spearmint|
Are There Any Major Honey Farms or Apiaries in Wisconsin?
Here are some of the notable honey sellers and apiaries located throughout Wisconsin:
- Honey Grove Apiaries – West Bend
- Hay Creek Honeybees – Ridgeland
- K’s Bees – Cecil
- Honey Hill Apiary – Maiden Rock
- Eau Galle Apiaries – Eau Galle
- Hansen Honey Farm – East Rhinelander
Beekeeping in Wisconsin Today
Despite the lower production figures in the past few years in Wisconsin, there appear to be common-sense reasons for the dilemma, reasons that hopefully will allow beekeepers to begin to reverse the trend.
One of the more obvious has been changes in weather trends, which many people attribute to climate change. Wisconsin has been getting later snowfalls, particularly into April, which sets back planting, results in a delayed emergence for the honey bees, and relegates the honey season to a briefer window during the summer months.
When snow has not fallen, the weather patterns have been such that the state has been getting warmer weather with not enough rain, or cooler weather with too much rain – a situation that results in pollen being washed off any flowers that have bloomed and therefore impeding the bees’ ability to feed.
Changes in agricultural practices have also contributed, particularly where the use of pesticides is concerned. Of course, the use of chemicals is usually always aimed at trying to prevent perhaps the honey bees’ number one enemy – the destructive Varroa Mite – from infesting and destroying colonies from within.
The attempts to control the colony-wide spread of the mites with various chemicals also sheds ironic light on the fact Wisconsin’s wild honey bees – those not kept for commercial use and free to both forages on the expansive vegetation that the state has to offer and to make nests wherever they choose – are in much better health than the ones kept by beekeepers. The universally accepted reason for this is that the wild bees are more genetically diverse and therefore have what we might term ‘better immune systems.’
They evolve at a faster and more efficient pace and can, therefore, easily fight off destructive mites. Further, wild bees generally only produce the amount of honey that the colony needs; the colonies of commercialized bees, on the other hand, are set up in large, open boxes that allow for more room for the bees to work and for more honey production. The problem is that larger, more spacious, but enclosed environments are much more conducive for the emergence of the Varroa Mite.