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Our Blog

Why is our Honey so Damned Good?

Sydney Barton

Any real understanding of honey has to start with an understanding of the foraging habits of honey bees. Foragers leave the hive and go search for nectar. When they come upon a good nectar source that has a lot of flowers in bloom they will take up all the nectar they can and go back to the hive and let all the other bees that they meet there know where to go to get the nectar. It's a little like the commercial - one bee tells two friends and they tell two friends etc. Very soon every foraging bee in the hive will be working that nectar source.

Orange blossom, tupelo, and buckwheat are examples of honeys from a single source. A beekeeper can get a single source honey by placing hives near a very large bloom of any flower from which honey bees are known to take nectar. True single source honey comes from rural areas where many acres of one plant are available to the bees.

City bees don't have the opportunity to get honey from just one source. Like any good beekeeper, we keep track of what nectar sources are in bloom at any given time and can get a good idea of the major sources our bees are visiting. But there is always a portion of nectar collected about which we can only speculate.

Generally speaking we can say our honey is primarily from two major sources. Most people don't realize that trees can be a source of nectar for honey bees. There are thousands of linden trees growing in the parkways here and our bees start working them as soon as they start blooming. One of the most highly prized honeys is clover honey. Not dutch clover but white sweet clover. It was planted on the prairies as forage for cattle and still thrives in vacant lots and railroad rights of way. It also blooms in abundance. So it is these two nectars that form the foundation flavors for our honey. It is the rest of what the bees forage on that gives our honey depth and complexity of flavor.

The French have the term "terroir" which refers to flavor imparted to wine grapes by the soils in which the vines are grown. Something like that occurs with honey but it relates more to the locality of nectar sources and weather conditions that affect when and how long a source blooms. In fact honey from hives in other locations in Chicago tastes different from the honey from our apiary. It's all about where the bees go.

We know our bees visit two large nearby public parks which have many ornamental plantings that vary from year to year. We also can be sure that the bees are working the perennial plants that are planted in the street medians. In the last few years we have noticed large amounts of Nepeta racemosa (catmint) planted in medians which can add a slight flavor of mint to our honey.

What I'm leading to here is that our honey is a truly seasonal product which varies somewhat in flavor from year to year and even from week to week. It's flavor is unique to our location in the city and is very special because of that.

There is a lot more to tell about honey. Pease feel free to ask questions in the comment section.