Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Planting the Honey of a Garden

After reading the Honey Handbook I feel so much more informed as I prepare to put in a garden for the bees.

The Honey Handbook focuses on how to produce great flavoured honeys.  And nothing helps the bees do that more than right right kind of plants.

I'll never forget lifting the lid off the extractor after our first extraction.  The smell was like tomatoes and sweet chilly peppers.  Not what I thought honey should smell like.  The taste was different too.  I wondered what on earth the bees had gotten into.

The honey did mellow in flavour and it soon became my favourite.  I think the flavour came from Garlic Weed, an invasive plant not native to Ontario.

Plants give both flavour and colour to honey.  Stronger colours indicate a stronger flavour.  Think of Goldenrod honey from the fall and it's dark golden colour and then Buckwheat honey which is dark brown.

If you haven't tried these other honeys you should visit a beekeeper who carries this range of flavours and try them yourself.  If like to do that with friends and do a taste parade.  I set out each flavour and let them try it.  Some of these flavours I've purchased, such as Buckwheat.

The top plants recommended by the Honey Handbook to create a lovely light minty tasting honey are: Sunflowers, Thyme, Lavender, Peppermint and Borage.

The photo shows my small start.  I've learned to keep plantings close together to discourage weeds.  I left the large clumps of golden rod and asters.

I also planted Russian Sage.  I have no idea what its honey will taste like but every summer when it blooms the honey bees in my area go crazy over it.  It has a very fragrant sage aroma.  I wonder if it may help deter mites.
At my office downtown there's a shrub across the street which at this time of year is completely covered in little white flowers.  It's very fragrant and can be smelt from yards away.  I like the smell.  It's common privet.  So I cut some clippings in spring and put them in water and they have put out roots.

I also bought a couple shrubs to plant in my yard.  Any foraging bees in my area would be welcome to come and forage from it.  But the book says that common privet, although bees love it, produces an awful tasting honey.

I've heard this same thing about the almond honey produced in California.  That honey is inedible--or at least tastes terrible.  So California is all about pollination.

Mono floral honeys can be sold for more money and because bees practise flower fidelity--sticking to the same flower while foraging--it's possible to collect these precious honeys.

Plants can mature very quickly and peppermint is an herb that can be invasive which is great if you want a lot of it in a short period of time.  And I do.


Silly Sue said...

I made a list of all the plants in your post and low and behold I have them all. Just by chance it was not planned.

Beekeeper Barbara said...

Sue: That's because you're thinking like a bee and you didn't even know it! Kudos to you :)

WesternWilson said...

I was at the UBC Botanical Gardens in late September last year and noticed a lovely small shrub mobbed by bees. I was interested in that as there is not much flowering out there that late in the year for bee forage...turned out it was Caryopteris (Bluebeard). It has tiny sprays of sky blue flowers, very pretty. Got 7 for my yard!!!

Beekeeper Barbara said...

WesternWilson: Thanks for the tip on bluebeard. I remembered the flower when you described it. It's always helpful to hear from someone that has actually seen bees working a particular flower.