Tree Blossoms and Honey

Wood is not the only thing that grows on trees — as the bees know. June 12, 2014

This is sort of a sidetrack question related to beekeeping. A friend of mine keeps beehives on my property. A couple years ago we got incredible black locust honey out of them. It was almost water clear and had a magnificent flavor. Last year we didn't fare as well and although it is still wonderfully tasty it has a much more golden color and is not quite as good.

My friend told me today that the honey was not as good last year for two possible reasons. First was that black locust blossoms early in the spring. If the hive is already strong (say 30,000 bees), they spend their time harvesting pollen. If they are not that strong, they spend more time caring for the brood stock and eating much of the honey they produce. The hives didn't get to full strength last year until later in the season.

The other possible reason was the strength of the black locust blossom for last year. This is where the questions comes in. Does black locust located in Connecticut (invasive species here) have strong/weak cycles like other species? If so what would those cycles be? There was a weak crop of acorns here this year and we are already seeing a response to that in the way the deer population is feeding. Could there be the same sort of strong year cycling in the black locust blossoms? I did a little digging but did not find info on this specific subject.

Forum Responses
(WOODnetWORK Forum)
From contributor C:
I think your friend's comments have merit… For many years, I used to keep a few beehives, and in my area (NE Pennsylvania), black locust is a common tree. Pure locust honey is a real treat, to be sure. It's been my observation that the biggest factor in the collection (at least in my area) is the rain - so many times, just as the blossoms are coming on strong, we get hammered with rain, and they end up on the ground. This is much more common than years where it's dry and the blossoms hang for days/weeks. When it is a dry spring, the aroma from the blossoms is like no other. I have noticed years where the blossoms seem higher in number, but can't say that I've noticed a year where the rains didn't influence things more than anything else.

And another thought is the timing of the bloom... If there are other nectar producing flowers that bloom with the locust blossoms, the bees (in my opinion) will grab the easiest nectar. Locust honey is so light and clear that it doesn't take much from other sources to change the color.

And one other thought I just had - if a person were really looking to capture just locust honey, they'd want to find a beekeeper who would manage the hive so as to place brand new comb/frames in the hive just as the locust peaks, and then remove those frames as soon as the peak is over (and be willing to share such fine honey;)

All disclaimers apply... These are just thoughts from a person who for many years had bees, and is very aware of the locust trees.

From contributor R:
Very interesting. I am aware that flower type influences honey flavor, but I had no idea about how good black locust honey is.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for taking the time to add that great, detailed response. Very much appreciated.

My shop is located in a 1924 two room school house building I restored 7 to 8 years ago. When it was done I rented it out to a couple neat ladies who opened a tea room. They served lunch daily and brunch on Sunday. The food was spectacular and within weeks reservations were needed on the busier days.

They were sisters and ever since they were young girls wanted to have a tea room. It was fun but they had other careers they interrupted to do the Tea Room. After 2 successful years they sold the business to a couple guys who didn't have a clue and it failed very quickly after that. When they moved out I moved my shop in.

Anyway… I mention all this because I have an expression I use to describe some of their best dishes. They made soups every day - and I'm talking New York Soup Nazi (re Seinfeld) good here. There were times when I would taste one of their new soups and my knees would almost buckle as I swooned from the incredible flavors. Absolutely amazing food.

I bring that experience forward now so I can explain that black locust honey is that knee-buckling wonderful a taste treat.

From contributor U:
As a beekeeper in Western NC, I have a wide variety of tree species. Since bees travel up to 2 miles to obtain the best pollen/honey, there really is no way to limit their collection to one species. They usually stay closer around if adequate trees and wildflowers are in bloom nearby.

That said, there are particular species they prefer for ease and quality of collection. I was always interested in sourwood honey that would bloom later in the year. I had good early honey with tulip poplar, black locust and other trees and wildflowers, but I reiterate - the bees will go from one tree to the next in line and you can't really make them work on a particular species. The end result is truly wildflower honey from a variety of species.

Contributor C is spot on in this observation as well.