Color Contrast: Light and Black as Night?

So this has been a year of surprises, but I thought I was beyond the big ones now. As you will remember we harvested the majority of the honey from the hives at Whiting Forest the first week in September. We decided that there was still a lot of nice weather and blooming flowers so we put one honey super on each hive to see what would happen. 

As the weather started turning cooler and fall was becoming busy here at the Gardens, we decided it was time to pull the last supers so that the bees could accurately gage the space that they would have for the winter. We want them to be as successful as possible.

Elly suggested that since we probably didn’t have all that much, we could borrow a small, homeowner-sized honey extractor from our friend Chuck to get the last of the honey out of the frames. As we tossed around the idea, we said “hey, why not make this a demonstration that people can drop in and observe?” We are all about the ideas here and so we went for it!

On October 8th, we held a honey extraction demonstration. We actually had the equipment but hadn’t really looked into the hives to see what was left to extract. This is a bit funny because we wound up with NOT MUCH (4 pints)! Thankfully, they left us just enough to run our event, but not enough to have us work our tails off harvesting. We had over 50 people drop-in at the Whiting Forest classroom to observe and learn about the process, give the extractor a crank and taste the honey. We tasted both the previously harvested honey and the honey we were extracting that day. They were very different from each other!

The honey from earlier in the season was a traditional golden color, the color you would expect!

This late-season honey had a few qualities to point out: 

  1. It was much thinner than the other honey. I would almost call it liquidy. We know the bees had not finished working their magic yet because it wasn’t capped with wax. Part of their process is to fan the processed nectar using their wings to evaporate excess moisture before they cap it.
  2. The second aspect of this honey that was surprising was its COLOR! It was literally as dark as molasses. (the photo compares the two batches). The contrast was so surprising. The differences didn’t stop at consistency and color. 
  3. The flavors were also really different as well. I was almost afraid to try the dark one – it didn’t look like what I thought of as honey. Although one is on my tasting stick (a simple popsicle stick), it didn’t look any different in color than the other one. The dark one had richer, bolder flavors while the earlier honey was lighter, crisp, and had more floral notes.

The big question people ask is why is the color so different? I won’t presume to know all of the possible factors, but one big reason is the source of the nectar. Plants such as buckwheat and sumac have very dark nectar, whereas those plants that bloomed earlier in the year and were visited by our bees had lighter nectar. 

We call the Whiting Forest honey ‘wildflower’ honey because we really cannot get those bees to wear a GoPro camera so we can see what exactly they are visiting to make this delicious gold treasure. You can purchase some of the early extraction honey, which is now available in the Dow Gardens Gift Shop for a limited time.