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Va. beekeeping industry offers plenty to celebrate during National Honey Month
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Va. beekeeping industry offers plenty to celebrate during National Honey Month

RICHMOND—September marks National Honey Month, and Virginia’s buzzing beekeeping industry offers plenty to celebrate.

From early spring until the final harvest in September each year, Virginia honeybees produce around 250,000 pounds of honey from roughly 7,000 colonies. More than $2 million worth of honey is produced statewide, according to 2022 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Honey is made from collected nectar stored in a honeybee hive’s wax comb cells. Adopting the flavor of its nectar source, popular Virginia honey varieties include basswood, buckwheat, clover, locust, thistle and wildflower.

In addition to offering a uniquely sweet flavor, honey has been used for medicinal purposes for millennia due to its antimicrobial properties, according to Margaret Couvillon, assistant professor of pollinator biology and ecology in Virginia Tech’s Entomology Department.

Couvillon, who leads a research lab studying the “unique and charismatic” behaviors of honeybees and how they collect food, noted an increase in awareness of the honeybee’s importance over the years.

“People are suddenly more aware that bees do more than just give us honey—they’re really important to the way that we live our lives,” she said, naming the honeybee a “dominant force” among pollinators.

Along with providing food for surrounding wildlife, honeybee pollination boosts crop production—accounting for about $15 billion in added crop value nationally. About a third of the food eaten by Americans comes from crops pollinated by honeybees, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Beekeeping has become a unique farming opportunity, according to Keith Tignor, state apiarist for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Beehives take up little space and can provide a wide range of services for any size farming operations.

“I think that’s appealing to people because they can scale up or scale down depending on what they feel comfortable with,” Tignor remarked.

He has noticed a growing interest in beekeeping through programs like the VDACS Beehive Distribution Program, which attracts thousands of applicants each year. The program offers starter apiary kits to randomly selected qualifying applicants and a wealth of information for beginning beekeepers.

Applications for this year’s Beehive Distribution Program will be accepted Aug. 28 through Sept. 12. An online application and PDF for mail submissions will be available on Aug. 28 on the VDACS website at vdacs.virginia.gov/plant-industry-services-beehive-distribution-program.shtml.

“Even though it doesn’t take a lot of space, it does take a lot of knowledge,” said Tignor, adding that local beekeepers are the best source of information for beginners.

“It’s really hard to get started on your own, so anyone that’s interested in beekeeping should seek out local beekeeping associations—there are chapters everywhere,” said Couvillon.

The Virginia State Beekeepers Association chapters host various training programs and monthly meetings. Visit virginiabeekeepers.org for a map of local associations and more information.

Media: Contact Tignor at 804-786-3515 or Couvillon at 540-231-5707.

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