Local honey production increases as commercial beekeepers fade
Statewide honey production grew 9 percent last year, putting the state among the top 10 honey producers nationally for the first time in a decade. “The United States uses about 500 million pounds of honey and we only produce about 200 million pounds of honey,” said commercial beekeeper George Jersey of Wild Mountain Apiaries in Cold Brook. “So 300 million pounds is coming from other countries.”
Joe and Sue Kappler of Plainfield have a farm winery license and plan to start selling mead soon.
The mead – an alcoholic beverage made with fermented honey – will join the honey and homemade soap made with honey, mead and beeswax that they already sell at farmers markets from their farm, Heartsease Hill.
“Unfortunately or fortunately, it is true that a lot of people haven’t tried it even though it is the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage, way back in Mesopotamia and the Vikings,” Joe Kappler said. “Every culture has something based on fermented honey.”
The Kapplers’ mead combines a huge local trend toward craft-brewed beverages and another toward interest in small scale #beekeeping.
Statewide honey production grew 9 percent last year, putting the state among the top 10 honey producers nationally for the first time in a decade, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced earlier this month. That honey brought in $10.6 million.
“The United States uses about 500 million pounds of honey and we only produce about 200 million pounds of honey,” said commercial beekeeper George Jersey of Wild Mountain Apiaries in Cold Brook. “So 300 million pounds is coming from other countries.”
The problem is that American honey just isn’t as cheap as some foreign honey, he said. Jersey supplements his honey income by renting his #bees to #pollinate crops – almonds in California and blueberries in Maine, Georgia and North Carolina.
Commercial #beekeepers like him are fading and the future lies in people who take up beekeeping in a smaller way, he said.
The Mohawk Valley Beekeepers Association teaches a spring class for new beekeepers and it’s always full with 40 or 50 would-be beekeepers, said Jerry Waskiewicz of Boonville, who’s been keeping bees for about seven years. He said he’s building a honey house that he’ll rent to other people by the hour so they can process their honey.
Foodies definitely have gotten interested in honey, too. Jersey sells his honey to places such as The Tailor and The Cook, Turning Stone Resort Casino and Beekman 1802, the Sharon Springs store of television’s “The Fabulous Beekman Boys.”
“The best honey in the world is produced right here in New York,” Jersey said. “Mohawk Valley is a treasure. One of the reasons is limestone (which fertilizes the soil).”
Kappler said he and his wife have attended courses in California that cover growing, winemaking and varietal honey (which depends on which flowers bees have pollinated.)
“Around here, we don’t see as much varietal,” he said. “Mostly what you’re going to see can be classified as wildflower honey, which is whatever the bees are finding. We don’t have giant orange groves or sage brush.”
But the invasive species knotweed is taking over Central New York and bees that pollinate knotweed make good honey, Kappler said.
“It’s very rich and dark, not as dark as a buckwheat honey, but it has a darker color and a little bit richer flavor, and I think we’re going to start seeing more of it.”
Bees have fallen on tough times in the past decade, though, with a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder in which worker bees disappear, leaving behind the queen, nurse bees, immature bees and food.
And life can be tough on beekeepers, too.
“It’s a losing battle. It’s horrible,” said Waskiewicz, who wasn’t prepared to blame colony collapse disorder for his losses. “I had 21 hives last fall. I have five left.”
He’s far from the only beekeeper having problems, he said, and he wonders if honey production will fall again.
Jersey acknowledged the problem. It’s normal for beekeepers to lose half their bees over the winter in this area, he said.
“It’s why we move the bees to North Carolina in the wintertime,” he said.