The bees’ calendar and the beekeeper’s calendar are not the same as the one in Outlook or Google that displays all the holidays for you and the “year” by which we proceed through our daily routines. They are more responsive to temperatures, and hours of daylight–what’s really going on in nature. They are awaiting the spring nectar flow to increase the population of the hive and to store honey. Or the fall nectar flow to store food for the winter months.
In summer when we are enjoying a surfeit of fruits and vegetables (because of the bees’ pollen and nectar gathering in the spring) we have to realize that about that time there is a declining flow of nectar–fewer things are blooming. Life can be hard for bees in July. A nectar dearth means less food for them, so depending on forage region, we may be feeding bees while enjoying plenty of fruits and vegetables. The bees will be waiting for the fall nectar flow–in my forage region (Appalachian-Ozark Upland) that’s primarily asters and goldenrod.
This seasonal variation is one of the delights of honey and beekeeping. The photograph at the top of the page shows the difference between spring/summer honey (left) and autumn honey (right). It’s seasonal flavor when honey is not blended. In this forage region, as an urban beekeeper, I have “wildflower” honey since my bees don’t have access to a large monofloral flow. I can’t produce varietal honey such as sourwood or alfalfa honey, or even clover honey, but I do have seasonal honey.
I’ve always loved honey–even as a child–especially comb (also known as cut-comb) honey. Now that I have bees I have my own honey–but it is wildflower honey. It’s a mix of whatever is currently providing nectar for the ladies to tote back to the hive and process into honey.
Varietal honeys have flavors that can be quite distinctive. (Note that I’m not referring to “infused honey” which has had flavors added–e.g. chilli pepper, which sounds delightful to me, but rather honey which is made exclusively (or almost) from a single flower.) My honey shelf includes varietals such as leatherwood, tupelo, orange blossom, thyme, lavender, eucalyptus, buckwheat, sourwood–and what was purported to be kudzu honey. I think the Hawaiian white is all gone. Always on the lookout for good varietals. It’s a real treat to have these on biscuits or warm, homemade bread, or used in a sorbet, sherbert, or granita where the individual flavors really stand out–or just on morning oatmeal.
These thoughts on varietal honeys sprang from update from Honey Bee Suite answering the question of whether or not bees made honey from poison ivy/poison oak. Turns out that they do–and the blog post included a link to a source of some really interesting varietals from the Pacific Northwest varietals. I think I really have to have some poison oak honey–especially as I share the experience of having that same kind of reaction to exposure to poison ivy, although mine didn’t involve any horses. Just a lot of poison ivy.
The post on poison ivy/oak honey had a link to a site that has an interesting array of varietal honeys from Old Blue Raw Honey as single season, samplers, and the year-long honey subscription–a serious gift for a honey lover!
To have a varietal honey there has to be enough of the blossoms to let the honey bees do their “monofloral” thing. Even wildflower flavors will vary from season to season as the flora shifts; fall will bring goldenrod and aster nectar for honey. One of the intriguing things about honey in the comb is that you get to variable flavor even within “wildflower” honey.