Honey hobbyist connects learners with nature

Pexels Pixabay 144252

Pexels Pixabay 144252

April 2021

“I’ve always had an appreciation and respect for nature,” said Amy Hill, Central Community College Regional Director at the Lexington Center.

Her appreciation for and awareness of bees was heightened when her son was involved in an Entomology project through Dawson County 4-H.

“As a family, we truly learned a great deal,” she said. “I am not a professional beekeeper; I am a ‘honey hobbyist’.”

Hill offers a Honey Tasting and Bee Appreciation class as part of CCC’s Community Education program. The class focuses on monofloral and polyfloral honey, its production, and how home gardeners can provide foraging opportunities for bees.

“Similar to wine, which has different flavors based upon the type of grape, honey has different flavors based upon the unique nectar source,” Hill explained.
Honey starts as flower nectar collected by bees, which gets broken down into simple sugars stored inside the honeycomb. The design of the honeycomb and constant fanning of the bees’ wings causes evaporation, creating sweet liquid honey.

There are two types of honey: polyfloral and monofloral
Polyfloral honey types are produced by honey bees using nectar from many different flower sources. Monofloral honey types come from the nectar of mainly one flower species.

Monofloral honey is harvested when the beekeeper moves the hive into place when a particular flower or crop begins to bloom and provide a specific nectar source. Once that source ends its bloom season, the beekeeper harvests the honey.

“It is important to note that it is impossible for a honey to be completely monofloral, due to the fact the bees will generally forage within two miles of the hive, but may travel up to four miles,” Hill cautioned. “If a plentiful nectar source is provided close to the hive, then it’s more successful to collect what can be labeled as a monofloral honey.

“Monofloral honey is not that same as honey that has been infused with a flavor. Infused honey has flavoring that has been added to the honey.”

Polyfloral honey is created when the beekeeper will allow the bees to collect nectar from a variety of plants beginning in the spring until late summer or early fall. The honey is harvested once at the end of the season. Polyfloral honey is often labeled as Wildflower Honey.

“One thing to note is that Wildflower Honey from a local beekeeper will have different flavors when comparing honey from one part of the country to another,” Hill explained. “This is due to the difference in native plants and trees.”

According to Hill, this is where the fun begins.

“Experts in this area from the Honey and Pollination Center at the University of California, Davis have developed a Honey Flavor Wheel that has a multitude of categories to describe the flavors and aromas of varietal honey,” Hill said. “As an example, Cranberry Honey that is collected from the bees who work pollinating the commercial cranberry bogs in Wisconsin and New England has a flavor that is described as warm cinnamon spice and candied fruit, with a hint of brown sugar and dried plums.”

Now, doesn’t that sound tasty?

But honey production and pollination of crops comes at a cost. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, critical honey bee populations in the United States have been declining in recent years due to many factors, creating concern about the future security of pollination services in the U.S. Honey bees are not native to North America. They were imported from Europe in the 17th century.

Today, honey bees help pollinate many U.S. crops like fruits and nuts. In a single year, one honey bee colony can gather about 40 pounds of pollen and 265 pounds of nectar. Honey bees increase our nation’s crop values each year by more than $15 billion.

So, what can we do to support these important pollinators? Home gardeners can plant specific annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees that are beneficial to the bee populations. But there are two important things to remember.

First, select native plants. These are the plants and trees that native bees and other pollinators will be seeking. Second, offer a variety of plants and trees with staggered bloom times from spring until fall. This ensures a consistent food source all season long. The University of Nebraska Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources is a good source of information for popular honey bee foraging plants organized by bloom season.

Another way to support bee populations is to purchase honey from local beekeepers.

“These folks are the experts and they have the bees’ best interest at heart,” Hill said. “Just as other areas of agriculture, local beekeepers are dependent upon the success of maintaining the land and natural resources.”

Whether you are a home gardener, a honey aficionado, or just simply like to learn, bees can teach us all about the importance of nature and our connection to it.

    Honey Bee Plant List

  • Common Blue Violet
  • Common Dandelion
  • White Dutch Clover
  • Blackberry
  • Wild Strawberry
  • Winged Lythrum
  • Anise Hyssop
  • Bee Balm
  • Cup Plant
  • Yarrow
  • Asters
  • Autumn Fire Sedum
  • Goldenrod
  • Sunflower
  • …and more
  • Visit UNL’s website for a complete list

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