Honeybees have been having a rough go of it lately; between tragic insecticide mishaps, truck crashes and especially colony collapse disorder, the poor things can’t get a break.

And now to add to their troubles, honeybees in California are suffering from the drought, which is leaving them with very little natural forage to make honey with. Bees need flower nectar to make honey; less water means less nectar and ultimately, a honey shortage.

Typically, the Golden State is a gold mine for honeybees. Its abundant agriculture and variety of wildflowers provide an enticing array of nectars for the bees — and with that comes honey. In addition to the popular crops, with sufficient rain the state produces exotic (and sought after) honeys, like sage, buckwheat, blue curl, tarweed and Manzanita.

“In years when California receives adequate rainfall and especially in years when California receives above-normal rainfall, like the El Nino years, California is the number one honey-producing state in the nation,” Gene Brandi, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation told NPR. “We’ve done that many times in the past.”

But in a year with little rain, honey production can cut in half; this year Brandi says it might be even worse.

“I’ve never seen a year like this when it’s not only dry but the irrigation water is so scarce,” Brandi says. “I think the honey production in California will likely be one of the lowest levels we’ve seen in a long time.”

honey shortage

Along with trucking their bees to other states, beekeepers are doing what they can to battle the drought. (Photo: Sherry Yates Young/Shutterstock)

And those who keep bees are scrambling to keep those bees happy, but it’s a challenge. Second-generation beekeeper David Bradshaw is trucking in tanks of syrup to feed his brood; from hive to hive he fills gallon feeders with the sweet solution used to keep his bees from going hungry. He is also supplementing their diet with a mix of soy flour, brewer’s yeast, vitamins and minerals to keep them from starving.

While Bradshaw’s bees usually make about 250 barrels of honey a year, this year they’re producing about 10 percent of that. He says that honey packers across central California have been begging him for honey.

“Especially the more exotic honeys like sage honey or buckwheat honey,” he says, adding that, “even alfalfa honey is gonna be in very, very short supply this year.”

During drought years, beekeepers do have a backup: orange blossoms, whose numbers haven’t been as affected by the lack of rain. But alas, too many beekeepers have the same idea. Just as gold ore drove hoards of prospectors west in the 19th century, orange blossoms are bringing droves of beekeepers from all over the country to California, honeybees in tow.

“Everybody and their brother wants to bring their bees to the oranges,” says beekeeper Steve Godlin. “I do my best to protect my areas, but it’s a free country.”

For now, wholesale honey prices are at their highest in memory, averaging $2 a pound. Fortunately for honey lovers, local honey from areas of the country not suffering from drought has not been affected. But for all of the wonderful honey produced in California – not to mention the beleaguered bees there – we can only hope for rain.

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