The Vermont beekeeping industry has grown steadily over the last decade. There are now approximately 2,000 beekeepers owning about 11,000 hives in Vermont. These beekeepers have 2,500 locations where they keep their bees throughout the state. While most are hobby beekeepers with just a few hives kept at home, there are several commercial operations with upwards of 1,200 hives and dozens of locations each, mostly on farms, primarily on the western side of the state, along the Champlain Valley. A few commercial operations are also migratory in nature. These operations typically take their bees to the southern U.S for the winter and return to Vermont when the weather improves in the spring. While honey production is the primary goal of many beekeepers, most of the commercial operations also derive a significant portion of their income by providing bees for pollination services. Apples are the main crop, with pumpkins, blueberries and various small fruits and vegetable crops also pollinated.
There are a wide variety of flowering plants in Vermont which provide honey bees with good sources of nectar and pollen. The first plants start to bloom in early spring, with soft maples, pussy willow, alders and poplars providing pollen, an essential protein, for the bees just starting to expand their populations after a long winter. Later in the spring, dandelions begin to bloom, which under the right conditions can provide honey bee colonies their first surplus nectar of the season. Shortly thereafter, as the weather warms, fruit trees, including apples and cherries come in to bloom, providing both pollen and nectar for building bee populations. The major nectar producing plants start to bloom in late May and often last into August. These would include white dutch clover, black locust, sweet clovers, basswood, milkweed, alfalfa, vetch and trefoil. It is from these plants that the majority of the harvestable honey in Vermont is produced. Late season plants of importance are goldenrod, aster and knotweed. The long term average honey production of hives in VT is around 70 pounds per colony. This can range widely, from 20# to 150# per colony, depending upon the weather, bee colony status, and plant and soil conditions.