I am labeling honey to take to the Seattle’s Ballard Farmers Market, where I have a booth every Sunday 10-3. When I got to the fabulous honey from my friend Mark at Northwest Queens, in Arlington, Washington, I realized I had a perfect time to muse about how honeys can be different from hives that are close together.
Mark takes his hives upriver on the Stillaguamish – a river that starts in the high Cascades in northwest Washington state, flows down through meadows and past Mark’s hives, then heads west to the city of Arlington and out to Puget Sound. Mark’s has a number of bee yards in the upriver meadows, but they are relatively close to each other.
This year they produced very different honeys: some light, some dark. We will have both at the Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey booth – possibly not at the same time, but I’m betting we have some overlap.
They are both delicious, but quite different.
Why Honeys Differ From Hives That Are Close
Bees fly approximately 2.5 miles from their hives. Some go further, some stay closer if there is an ample floral source in the area.
Flowers can change dramatically in 2.5 miles: both in what flowers are available to the bees, and when those flowers will bloom. Sunlight, soil, and elevation are only three of the factors that can affect bloom time. If you’ve planted a garden, then traveled to friends to find their gardens blooming sooner or later than yours, you’ve seen this for yourself.
Why Light and Dark Honey:
Our area has an invasive species called “Japanese Knotweed”. It has taken over many of our streams and rivers. It is nearly impossible to eradicate (although I don’t think they’ve tried goats yet – goats eat an amazing array of things). It does produce a very nice black honey.
Mark was not after black honey. His goal was the light honey that is traditionally produced in the upriver meadows along the Stillaguamish.
In one area, the Japanese Knotweed bloomed earlier than ever before. Mark’s bees found, and enjoyed the nectar. Thus we have two styles of Stillaguamish River Wildflower from Northwest Queens this year.
Of Early Blooms and Changing Times:
Most beekeepers I know in Washington State have commented that everything seems to be blooming about three weeks sooner than “normal” – “normal” being the seasons we have become accustomed to over the last decade.
When You Find A Honey You Enjoy : Buy It
Honey changes between bee yards, and from year to year. I once had a customer who was surprised by the change in honey from one year to another. She said she would wait to buy honey “until next year when it’s like it was before.” I had to let her know that it might never be “like it was before.” Indeed that honey, from northeast Washington, changed dramatically as a two-year drought hit the area, disappeared completely when massive fires roared though in the third year, and has returned with a whole new taste as fireweed bloomed in profusion amid the other returning wildflowers following the fires.
I know there will be a few folks who will morn the passing of the lighter of Mark’s honey from the upriver meadows on the Stillaguamish River. My advice to them, as it is to all people who buy honey anywhere is:
When you find a honey you enjoy buy enough to store. Remember: honey lasts forever.
That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey in Maple Falls, Washington. It’s still snowing here, and the way to the farm remains passable, for the moment, in low 4-wheel drive and chains. I know folks up here love the snow. I would too if it would just stay up on the mountains and leave the foothills snow free. I just have to remind myself that enduring the snow is the price I pay for living in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Good blog, Karen, in my area the intense drought this year gave us much less honey than usual, but it was like a concentrated version of our typical, mid-amber honey, which tastes strongly of the blackberry that it its major component. That said, in the spring we get zingy maple honey, very light, almost citrusy in its tang. I see that Japanese Knotweed has appeared here and there just recently in our area, and look forward to its dark herbal, sultry taste notes. I love it!