varietal honey

Maple honey is a taste of spring

Today I harvested my first honey of the season. It turns out that maple honey is a rarity here in western Washington. There are plenty of trees—bigleaf maples, vine maples, Douglas maples—but they bloom early in the spring while the rainy season is still in full swing. So in a normal year I have these huge trees just dripping with flowers while my bees are holed up trying to stay warm and dry.  But this year I had a hunch I might get a taste of maple.

Luckily we had a stretch of warmish dry weather last month and I have one hive in particular that was just chomping at the bit to go out and forage. There is always a cloud of bees around this hive, even while all the others have bees that are barely peeking through the entrance. Carniolans are good in the wet and cold and this colony is a case in point. Their hive is perched on a steep hillside—all they have to do is leave the hive and they’re already near the top of a giant moss-laden maple.

In late February I gave them a couple of new frames and hoped for the best. Throughout the last several weeks I could hear those trees buzzing every time I walked beneath them. Today I pulled out a nearly full frame of freshly cured honey and it tastes just right. Maple honey has a very distinct flavor that is one of my all-time favorites. I replaced the one frame with an empty and left the rest of the maple for the bees. We still have many weeks of rainy weather ahead and they may need the honey to keep them going. The victory is in tasting a flavor that evaded me for years . . . but I’m happy to share it with those who did the work.


A frame of fresh maple honey


  • interesting stuff. Here in No. Fla, our Maples bloom in January, and bees can work them, though I’ve never been able to differentiate maple honey.. not that I’m great at discerning varietal honeys.

  • I never heard of maple honey until I moved to the Pacific Northwest. I wonder if the taste has something to do with the specific types of maples that grow here. Where I live now the maples are interspersed with Douglas fir, red cedar, and alder. Since alder produces only pollen and no nectar, the bees really flock to the maples.

  • Hey Rusty,

    I have italians and was wanting to try carniolans. Do I need to take any precautions as to distance between hives?

    • Tim,

      If you are trying to keep them from crossing, good luck. They can travel a long way (like teenagers with cars).

  • Not worried about crossing (unless this causes a problem), just did not know if they got along. Reason I want to try carniolans is because I live in the mountains of NC in a town called Sugar Grove named after all the sugar maples in this area. The italians use this and the tulip poplars to build up in spring and seldom get honey from either. When I have gotten these early spring honey, I much prefer it to the very popular sour wood honey we get here in July. Since the carniolans start earlier and stronger in the spring I was hoping they would be a great addition.

    Thanks as always for your insight and intelligence,


    • Tim,

      They get along just fine. Like all honey bees, they will rob and fight in times of dearth, but no more than if they were all the same race. Years ago I switched from Italians to Carniolans because they seem to overwinter better. I never looked back on that decision. I love them. Sometimes I pick up a feral swarm of Italians, but it’s not problem. They all blend together in no time.

  • Greetings Rusty and all beefriends; One of my hives was busting and I decided to go ahead and put honey box on it, the only thing blooming that could provide lots of nectar were the big red maple trees of which there are about 4 or 5 that I know of. I think this was mid -February. Today I did a look-see and had 2 full med.frames capped plus various fractions on the other 6. I also took 1 frame, cut chunks and crushed some. It is mild, light, and unique. It tastes like something………. probably spring.

  • Does maple honey taste like maple syrup?

    I have 5 hives and processed some honey today, and it tastes a lot like maple syrup. This is a first, so I’m trying to figure out where it came from!

    • Sheila,

      My maple honey comes from big-leaf maple, vine maple, and Douglas maple and tastes delicious, but nothing like maple syrup. Of course, we don’t have sugar maples here, so I don’t know for sure, but I suspect sugar maple honey doesn’t taste like maple syrup either. Remember sap and nectar are different.

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