Adding Value to Honey Products Through the use of Melissopalynology Techniques

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2003: $6,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $10,400.00
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:


  • Animals: bees


  • Education and Training: display, farmer to farmer, networking
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, value added
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures


    Ames Farm Limited is a small farm network, based in central Minnesota. Our operations consist of managing 1,800 apple trees spread over several properties in the nearby area. In addition, we manage 300 honey bee colonies which also are spread out over a 100 mile radius in Minnesota. The unique feature of our honey producing operation is that we segregate the honey by 17 different sites and also by floral source. So a jar of our Single Source Honey has the location and floral source information printed on the label. Customers can look up their jar on our web site after purchase to learn more about when and where it was produced.

    Ames Farm has always practiced sustainable farming techniques in all aspects of our operations. We use IPM techniques for making a determination of when to treat our apple trees and honey bees for disease or pest damage. The focus of this project though was concerning the creation of value added techniques to make the small scale honey producer's economic existence sustainable. Very few small scale beekeepers are left in the USA as the wholesale price for honey has been at or below the break even point for many years.

    The goal of the project was to acquire the necessary equipment and knowledge to perform pollen analysis on honey samples. An important part of the project was the involvement of a recent University of Minnesota (U/M), Biology Masters graduate, Elaine Evans, as a consultant. Elaine completed her Masters thesis on pollen analysis.

    The first step in beginning the project was doing further research on the appropriate microscope equipment. When I wrote the grant proposal, I envisioned creating a digital photo database of pollen samples to use as a reference collection. Each plant in nature produces a uniquely shaped pollen grain. The unique color, shape, size, and texture of each grain can be used to compare visually to a reference sample to help identify the floral source.

    Initially a microscope was used at the U/M Biology lab during the summer and fall of 2003. This was a fortunate move as we quickly determined that while photographs are useful, having a real pollen grain on a glass covered slide as a reference sample is much more desirable. The reason is that depth (size) and texture can be gleaned from a reference slide and this 3 dimensional interpretation is not possible with a photograph.

    Elaine’s masters work was focused on pollen analysis using pollen collected directly from plants. The pollen of interest for our project was contained in honey samples. A literature review of the different techniques used for removing, classifying and counting the pollen grains from a honey sample was completed.

    The following basic technique was adopted:

    • Document collection date & geographic location date for honey sample to correlate with plants in bloom.
    • Warm and dilute honey sample
    • Centrifuge the sample and pour off the water
    • Mount pollen on slide with glycerin and calberla’s solution
    • Count 3 transects of slide or at least 20 grains
    • Identify color using Pantone color chart
    • Compare sample to reference sample and/or photo

    Initially a centrifuge was used at the U/M, but we later received a used centrifuge from the University to add to our lab equipment.

    In addition, the original money budgeted for a microscope of $1000 was not enough to buy a high quality 100X objective (total magnification of 1000X) to get the level and quality of detail we desired. So the budgeted cost of photography equipment was rolled into the microscope budget and the decision was made to develop our own reference slide collection.

    Elaine’s assistance was invaluable in making these early decisions in equipment procurement and also in the development of the sampling and identification techniques.

    The following is a list of the flora sources that were identified as significant sources of honey during the project. Other less significant floral sources were also identified

    Significant honey floral sources
    Dutch Clover
    Birdsfoot Trefoil
    Sweet Clover
    Horse Chestnut
    Crown Vetch
    Fringed Buckwheat
    Purple Loosestrife
    Red Sumac

    Less common honey floral sources
    St. John’s Wort
    Canadian Thistle
    Red Clover

    The following is the list of floral sources collected and made into reference slides.

    Reference Slide Collection

    Scientific Name Common Name
    Acer saccharum sugar maple
    Aesculus hippocastanum horsechestnut
    Asclepias syriaca milkweed
    Aster laevis aster
    Aster novae-angeliae aster
    Brassica nigra mustard
    Brassica rapa field mustard
    Centaurea maculosa spotted napweed
    Cirsium discolor field thistle
    Cirsium vulgare bull thistle
    Coronilla varia crown vetch
    Epilobium angustifolium fireweed
    Epilobium palustre marsh willowherb
    Eupatorium perfoliatum bone set
    Euphorbia corollata flowering spurge
    Euphorbia esula leafy spurge
    Euphorbia splendens crown of thorns
    Fagopyrum esculentum buckwheat
    Fragaria virginiana common strawberry
    Fraxinus nigra black ash
    Fraxinus pennsylvanica green ash
    Gleditschia triacanthos honey locust
    Helianthus petiolaris prairie sunflower
    Hydrophyllum virginianum virginia waterleaf
    Hypericum perforatum St John's wort
    Impatiens capensis jewelweed
    Kalmia polifolia bog laurel
    Lamium maculatum spotted dead nettle
    Lespedeza capitata bush clover
    Lonicera morrowi honey suckle
    Lotus corniculatus birds foot trefoil
    Lysimachia ciliate fringed loosestrife
    Lysimachia thysiflora tufted loosestrife
    Lythrum salicaria purple loosestrife
    Malus floribunda Japanese crabapple
    Medicago lupulina black medick
    Medicago sativa alfalfa
    Melilotus alba white sweet clover
    Melilotus officinalis sweet clover
    Mentha arvensis field mint
    Monarda fistulosa beebalm
    Nymphaea odorata fragrant water lily
    Phacelia franklinii Franklin's Scorpion-Weed
    Polygonum cillinode fringed bindweed
    Pycanthemum virginianum horse mint
    Rhamnus alnifolia alderleaf buckthorn
    Rhamnus cathartica buckthorn
    Rubus idaeus raspberry
    Toxicodendron vernix poison sumac
    Robinia pseudoacacia locust
    Rubus idaeus raspberry
    Rudbeckia lacinata tall coneflower
    Sambucus canadensis elderberry
    Solidago altissima tall goldenrod
    Solidago canadensis Canada goldenrod
    Solidago gigantea giant goldenrod
    Spiraea alba white meadowsweet
    Stellaria crassifolia fleshy starwort
    Stellaria media chickweed
    Taraxacum officinale dandelion
    Thalictrum dioicum meadow rue
    Tilia americana basswood
    Trifolium hybridum alsike clover
    Trifolium pratense red clover
    Trifolium repens white clover
    Typha latifolia cat-tail
    Typha sp. cat tail
    Verbena bracteata verbena
    Veronicastrum virginianum culver's root
    Vicia cracca bird vetch
    Vicia villosa winter vetch

    The data collected during the project was used to help define the floral source of honey, which was collected and sold under the Ames Farm Single Source Honey label. The project has provided credibility to our claims concerning the floral sources with which we label our honey. Sales of our honey have increased at double digit rates each year and we our recognized in our market as a major premium honey producer in Minnesota.

    In addition to being useful for marketing our honey, the pollen analysis provides more insight into the important honey producing plants in our region. This information is useful when locating sites for keeping bee colonies and also making decisions about management practices. Several floral sources were identified as producing nectar which were not considered common knowledge.

    I feel that the additional information our products provide on the nectar sources gives the general public a better understanding and appreciation for honey and honeybees. Without the information this project helped create, a consumer might take honey for granted and not consider the implications of the habitat and plant types that honey bees need to produce honey.

    During 2004, I spoke at the summer meeting of the Minnesota Honey Producers Association in Walker, Minnesota. The audience was represented by large, commercial honey producers who sell their honey in drums on the open market. Approximately 300 beekeepers attended the summer meeting. They showed interest in the pollen identification techniques and discussed their application in helping segregate different sources of honey which might provide a higher sales price. The application for contract negotiations was also considered.

    I also spoke at an August 2004 Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Meeting in St. Paul. About 65 people attended the meeting. I reviewed the project and took questions. Several people stopped to talk after the meeting and expressed interest in the techniques. In general, I raised the awareness of adding value to honey products.

    During the duration of the project, several media stories concerning my business were published. In each article, mention was made of either the SARE grant or of the pollen identification techniques I am using to add value to my products. The articles include the following and are accessible from our web site

    St. Paul Pioneer Press
    Honey Maker Living a Sweet Dream, BY RICHARD CHIN, Sunday, November 14, 2004

    City Pages - The News & Arts Weekly of The Twin Cities
    The Taste of Here, By Dara Moskowitz
    Wednesday, November 03, 2004

    Midwest Natural Food Co-ops Mix Newsletter January-February Year: 2004 Issue
    It's 10 o'clock. Do You Know Where Your Honey Came From?
    By Susan Palmquist Saturday, November 13, 2004

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.