How are the bees doing in NJ? We got an update from beekeepers
🐝 This year's honey production is tops in New Jersey
🐝 On average, New Jersey produces about 30 lbs. of honey per colony each year
🐝 NJ's honey production typically lasts from May through October
If you have visited a New Jersey farmer’s market or a local farm stand this summer, you may have picked up a jar of raw local honey, another one of the Garden State’s lucrative agricultural products.
When did honey production begin in New Jersey?
Honey production started in the 1700s when the first bee colony was brought in from Europe. The bees’ goals were to get enough honey so they could survive through the winter. Anything left over is what people extracted and consumed, said David Elkner, President of the New Jersey Beekeepers Association.
By 1773, New Jersey and Philadelphia merchants were actually exporting approximately 65,000 pounds of beeswax. New Jersey had become a honey and bee product powerhouse, according to beeswiki.com.
The honeybee is not a native insect here. They are an invasive species, but they have significant value in New Jersey and the United States, Elkner said.
When is honey production in New Jersey?
Honey production will start in the southern part of the state about three to four weeks earlier than the northern part, Elkner said. In a normal year, with normal temperature, normal humidity, and normal rainfall, honey production starts in May and lasts through the first killing frost, which is in October.
How does the honey production process work?
The bees first look for food for survival. They come across a plant that has an attractive nectar source. They gather the nectar and bring it to the hive or it’s transferred from the bee that’s gathering it to a nurse bee that’s inside the colony. The nurse bee then transports the raw nectar to a storage cell inside the brain. That nectar is about 80% moisture at that time, with a very low sugar concentration, Elkner said.
The bees keep filling that cell up and then they fan air through the hive which acts as a dehumidification source. They extract the moisture out of the nectar. When that nectar comes down to 17%, the bees cap it with white wax on top of it. That keeps the honey from fermenting over the winter, Elkner explained.
“It’s a multi-role process because the bees gather it, the bees transfer it, then you have the bees inside that are cleaning air throughout the hive to pull that moisture out of that nectar and then send it back into the air and then concentrate it into white honey inside the colony,” Elkner said.
How much honey is produced in New Jersey?
Like any other crop, sometimes there is a great year with perfect temperatures, perfect rainfall, mild winters, and great blooms. Other years are super hot and dry. So, it’s difficult to record just how much honey is produced in New Jersey, Elkner said.
However, traditionally New Jersey’s average is about 30 pounds of extractable honey per colony in the state. Typically, the southern part of the state sees less surplus honey than the northern part of the state. The north is in a better geographic area with plants, and moisture content, he said.
How does this year’s honey production look in New Jersey?
This year’s honey production can be summed up in one word, according to Elkner. “Phenomenal.” He puts this year’s honey production in his top five, and Elkner said he’s been keeping bees for 45 years.
“It is a very good crop this year, and compared to last year, my honey is a lighter color. That all goes back to the floral source the bees are gathering from,” Elkner said.
Many state beekeepers started pulling surplus honey from their colonies at the end of June. Elkner said typically, the honey extraction process begins at the end of July.
What varieties of honey exist in New Jersey?
Most people buy wildflower honey. But New Jersey has a good White or Dutch Clover flow, Elkner said.
In North Jersey, there is a very good Goldenrod flower honey flow. That honey is sweeter and has a more pronounced odor to it.
In the western part of the state such as Camden, there is a Linden tree. It has a white flower and looks like a grape hanging from the tree. Elkner said it produces very clear honey. It’s so clear, you can almost read a newspaper through it, he said.
There is also the Clethra flow. It’s a plant that grows predominantly in the wetlands. It’s about three to four feet tall and looks like a hyacinth flower when it blooms.
No matter the plant, Elkner said there needs the right weather, the right temperature, and the right humidity to produce nectar. If there were a lot of storms one year that came through with wind, it blows the nectar out of the plants. If it was an extremely dry year, the plants don’t have the moisture to produce the nectar.
“It’s truly weather dependent on what you gather and what plants are able to produce,” Elkner said.
What is an interesting benefit of honey?
Pollen grains exist in honey. Some people believe that when raw and unprocessed honey is eaten, people are consuming very small amounts of those pollen grains.
For example, if you were to have an allergy to ragweed and bees were gathering ragweed pollen at the time, you’re getting a small dose of the ragweed pollen in a raw and pure honey. The body then develops an antibody to the ragweed, Elkner explained.
It’s beneficial to get local honey, specifically if you have allergies.
If the honey is heated over 110 degrees and is called processed (which many food chains carry), that kills off the enzymes in the pollen, so people are eating pure liquid sugar.
Is the honeybee population in trouble?
It depends, Elkner said. From December to March, many beekeepers experience loss. Their colonies are at their lowest numbers. But in the spring, the queen bee explodes in egg production.
However, New Jersey does not have as many bees as in the 1800s. Statistically, the 1800s was the peak of beekeeping in the United States, Elkner said.
“Right now, the bees are cyclical. April and May the colonies are blooming,” he said. But if every bee colony survived, there would be an overpopulation of bees, which like any other animal, is not necessarily a good thing.
What are some fun facts about honeybees?
According to Elkner, there are about 3,500 to 5,000 bees in a pound. In a colony, at its peak, there could be between 50 and 60 thousand bees in a hive. So, you could be looking at upwards of 10 pounds or better of bees alone inside that colony.
In its lifetime, a honeybee will produce one teaspoon of honey. They need to produce four teaspoons of nectar that evaporate down to one condensed teaspoon of honey. That means the bee logs over a million flower visits to get to that number.
New Jersey has about 3,500 beekeepers in it. About 1,500 or so are registered with the state.
A queen honeybee will only live two to three years.
Honeybees should not be confused with wasps or yellow jackets. The stinger on the wasp or a yellow jacket is like a hypodermic needle. They can insert it and inject the venom into a person multiple times. But a honeybee’s stinger is shaped like a fishing hook and has a barb on it. So, when a honeybee stings a person and tries to pull the stinger out, the human flesh is designed to lock the barb in that and the honeybee tears its insides out.
A honeybee can only sting a person once, and then it dies.
So, the next time you pour some honey into a cup of tea, be sure to check that it’s local, raw honey from New Jersey.