In case y’all haven’t gotten enough of bees this week (I never will), I thought I would share some thoughts on the pride of the Florida Panhandle and my home town: Tupelo Honey.
I have a bit of sad news. The tupelo honey harvest was less than stellar this year. The water rose too high and beekeepers couldn’t get their hives close enough to the tupelo blooms. On top of the that, between the polar vortex and a late, paltry bloom, the tupelo trees didn’t really fulfill their end of the bargain, either. I had big plans to share the details on my friend’s honey business, but alas, he doesn’t have enough to sell directly to my readers. However, I decided it was worth sharing the pictures anyway, because I hail from the land of Tupelo and it’s an important industry in my hometown of Bristol, Florida and the surrounding areas along the Apalachicola River. So with that introduction, meet my buddy Andrew Finch of Deep South Honey.
DEEP SOUTH HONEY
I grew up with Andrew Finch. A Chattahoochee native, Andrew has been keeping bees for a few years. Constantly striving to grow his hives and his business, he has upwards of sixty hives now. He is passionate about his bees and tupelo honey, and he has become a great resource for a novice such as myself. He has learned from some of the Wewa beekeeping giants, but he says he learns something new every day.
“Snow on the frames!”
That’s what Finch (as we grew up calling him) said as soon as he cracked open the first hive on the day I visited him in one of his bee yards.
That snow-white wax is a sure sign of tupelo blooming.
TUPELO IN THE PANHANDLE
I know I talk about tupelo honey a lot, and for good reason. I mentioned it’s a huge industry in my hometown of Bristol, Florida, along with Hosford, Wewahitchka (aka Wewa) and many other places along the Apalachicola River. In fact, it’s about the only industry besides timber. But it’s an industry because of its special qualities. Tupelo honey tastes amazing. It’s delicate and light in color and flavor. And that flavor? It’s unmistakable. It’s the only honey that won’t granulate (aka crystallize). It’s the perfect table honey. Obviously, I’m biased because I was raised on it, but lots of other people think so, too. Ever seen the movie Ulee’s Gold?
It was filmed from Hosford to Wewa, with real local beekeepers as stunt doubles for Peter Fonda, and it made our sweet Tupelo Honey pretty famous.
TUPELO THE TREE, NOT THE TOWN
I’ve been asked before if Tupelo Honey comes from Tupelo, Mississippi. Most people don’t know what makes Tupelo… well, Tupelo. Honey is named for the nectar source the bees were feeding on when they made the honey. Hence Orange Blossom Honey in Central and South Florida, or Wildflower Honey on the Plains, or Pumpkin Honey, or Avocado Honey, or Blueberry Honey, or any one of the many, many varietals of honey. To get pure varietals of honey, beekeepers must put their bees at the nectar flow just as the species begins to bloom and then remove them just as quickly.
Tupelo Honey comes from the White Ogeechee Tupelo Tree (nyssa ogeche), which was imported from China many moons ago, and thrives in the river swamps of the Florida Panhandle.
Those little poof balls turn into barely visible white fluff, which may see a little anti-climatic to you and me, but not to the bees. If you venture out into the swamp when the tupelo is in full bloom, you’ll hear what beekeepers call the “tupelo roar.” Literally all you can hear around you is the buzzing and humming of millions of honey bees. Tupelo Trees produce an extremely high nectar flow, and the bees will focus all their energy on this single source of nectar until the bloom is over. Once it is, the beekeepers must pull the frames or move the bees, lest their precious Tupelo gets tainted with any other source of nectar.
It’s pretty amazing how much honey these bees can make while the Tupelo is blooming, and if conditions are right, they’ll make a whole lot of it.
I know that everyone is partial to certain types of honey, but I thought I would explain a bit of my love affair with Tupelo. Keep an eye on Deep South Honey – Finch will update the site if he can sell any directly to you, and has plans to grow his business. Otherwise, I thought I would include some Tupelo Honey Resources for your browsing pleasure, whether you’re a beekeeper or just a honey-enthusiast.