Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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Dan Neman

Bees hip to the buy local buzz

The news out of France is alarming: In one part of northern Alsace, bees this season have been producing honey that is blue.

Blue isn't a good color for food in general, and no one wants to eat blue honey. The Alsatian beekeepers were frantic. They couldn't figure out what had happened to make the honey such an unappetizing color.

But then it all became clear: Not far away is a company that turns organic industrial waste into gas. One of its clients is M&Ms. Apparently, the bees were collecting leftover sugar from M&Ms that had been dyed blue and green, and the dyes had turned their own honey blue.

Locally, that hasn't been a problem, said Roger Myers, president of the Maumee Valley Beekeepers. But one area apiarist has seen an unusual orange tint in his honey that he traces to a neighbor's hummingbird feeder.

The Maumee Valley Beekeepers held their annual honey-tasting event last week at the 577 Foundation in Perrysburg. Local bee and honey enthusiasts came out in a swarm, so to speak, to offer tips, swap tales, and sample each other's honey.

You might think that all honey from any given region would taste pretty much the same. At least I thought that. But happily, I was wrong.

Bees collect pollen from flowers within about a 1-mile radius of their hive, Mr. Myers said. The flavor of the honey they make e_SEmD and the color, as Alsatian beekeepers will all too readily tell you e_SEmD is influenced by the different flowers they visit along their way.

Orange blossom honey comes from bees that live in and around orange groves. Clover honey comes from clover. Tupelo honey, my personal favorite, comes from the tupelo trees growing in the swamps of Florida.

Around here, the honey is likely to be a hybrid, a mixture of whatever flowers the bees come across. It is bound to include a fair amount of locust and basswood, both of which are abundant and both of which help to create honey that is light in color and flavor. Bees love small flowers, so they often go for herbs, which then lend their own unique flavor to the honey.

One flower to be avoided is goldenrod, which gives honey the flavor of "old, dirty socks," according to David Veith, the organization's vice president. Fortunately, most honey is harvested in August, and goldenrod doesn't come out until just after the harvest.

Mr. Myers began keeping bees when he moved to the country. He noticed there were no bees around to pollinate the watermelon in his garden, so he decided to bring in his own. Mr. Veith lives in a residential neighborhood and began keeping them when he realized he had never seen a honey bee in his backyard.

"Plus, I consume about a half-gallon of honey a month," he said.

The amount of honey a beekeeper collects from a hive varies with the year, Mr. Myers said, but he averages around 125 pounds per hive. Creating all of that honey requires a huge amount of work, almost all of it from the bees. A good-sized hive will have at least 50,000 bees in it, and to get enough pollen to make just one pound of honey they will have to make 1-2 million visits to flowers, he said.

Humans come into the equation when they spin the hives in machines and force out the honey through centrifugal force. When they interact with bees they do get stung, Mr. Myers said, usually when the bees feel a threat against their hive, their brood, or their food.

Though bees have a painful reputation and some people are allergic to their stings (welts and swelling are normal reactions, not a sign of allergies, Mr. Myers said), neither Mr. Myers nor Mr. Veith have had complaints from their neighbors about their hives. Many neighbors, in fact, welcome the bees, knowing that their plants will be pollinated.

"Most people are becoming more aware that the bees aren't the enemy," Mr. Myers said.

Contact Daniel Neman at or 419-724-6155.

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