So I live in the North Central Georgia Mountains just inside of Union County. One of the most unique varieties of honey in the U.S. is made here: Sourwood Honey. If you have ever tried it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. This honey is so popular that you rarely see it for sale outside of our tri-state area, the demand is as high as its price tag. People drive from nearby states just to buy this honey in bulk and it is well worth it.
So you can imagine the disappointment of dozens of beekeepers and their customers when their beehives failed to make a single frame of Sourwood honey this last summer. On top of that, Sourwood is the only thing blooming from June to early July for the bees and their Keeper.
Of course, this confused me because I knew that my bees were working a honey flow. During the time that Sourwood trees were blooming, my area had perfect weather and my bees were flying hard. After the honey flow, which lasts about a month, I went to harvest my Sourwood crop. Or so I thought. I bought an awesome little, Two Frame Stainless Steel Manual Honey Extractor and started cranking out the honey.
This is where the surprise happened My honey didn’t look like Sourwood, it was dark amber, and it certainly didn’t taste like Sourwood. This made absolutely no sense! I know my bees made a honey crop but like I said, Sourwood is the only thing blooming this time of the year. So if this honey wasn’t Sourwood then what was it?
The Mystery is Afoot After two days of extracting my mystery honey crop, my wife asked me if I knew what kind of plant was growing on the property to the east of ours. She said it looked like some sort of cattail. So I walked back to where my neighbors had planted about 20 acres of something that looked like corn stalks with cattails on top- and my bees were all over it! I didn’t actually recognize what it was and it took me a few days of investigating to find out.
The Mystery is Solved I did Google image searches without any success. All I knew is what is wasn’t. It wasn’t wheat, barley, corn, sorghum, or cattails, which I already knew. So I made a phone call to my neighbor. She told me that her son and his wife planted a cover crop of Millet. Wow millet? I eat Millet for breakfast. How cool! Millet is a very healthy seed, and not a grain. This whole time, my bees had been flying to a field of millet when I thought they were making Sourwood honey.
So what makes it a ‘Honeydew?‘ Well it’s definitely NOT honey from a honeydew melon blossom. Honey is sourced from the nectar of a blossom. Honeydew, which is also known as Forest Honey, comes from a sugary substance excreted from plant-sucking insects such as aphids. We better leave the explanation right there. Don’t let your imagination go much further. Honeydew honey is actually quite healthy as long as it’s raw.
Anyways, this Millet Honeydew is unlike anything I’ve ever had before, and in a good way. The flavor has a unique after-kick. I compare the taste to a light blend of sorghum and molasses. You can find Whole Grain Sorghum and Golden Sorghum Syrup and Blackstrap Molasses, here.
So this last year I had A LOT of people come by my honey display at markets and festivals looking for Sourwood honey. After their disappointment of discovering that no one had any Sourwood this year, most of them walked away with a jar of Millet Honeydew after having tasted it. It was a hit! I had one review on my Facebook page, Backyard Beehives (join us), saying that he preferred Millet Honeydew over Sourwood Honey! High praise.
Reflections I’m not sure what I would have done for my bees had they not had a crop of millet. As it was, the neighbors cut the millet down as a ‘green manure.‘ But it grew back again and was part of what my bees stored for their winter feed along with mostly Goldenrod and Aster. I also did not sell all of my Millet Honeydew, though I sold a lot. Fortunately, I still have a few dozen cases to sell at markets next spring until I can harvest my Spring Wildflower Honey.
So what grows in your area? Is there anything unique to you? Perhaps there is a honey you’re especially proud of that only your honey bees produce. If you’re not sure what blooms in your area and offers forage to your honey bees, then I recommend you learn. Observing honey bees on flowers is one of my very favorite things to do, especially if I can get a good photo in the process. And if you’re not sure about the types of honey bee forage grows in your area then I highly recommend the book American Honey Plants, written by Frank C. Pellett. This is one of my most favorite books, I don’t go anywhere without it. Actually, I don’t take it to the grocery store or places like that. That’s just weird.
Many beekeepers are only aware of the plants that secure them a honey crop. I encourage you to learn about all the things that bloom in between. Perhaps you’ve been cutting it down without realizing its true value. I would love to hear what grows in your area. Please, leave a comment below and share with me and all of my readers.
Until next time, remember,
~Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee.~
Jonathan Hargus/Beekeeper Extraordinaire