I’ll say unreservedly that the honey that Mrs. Pastry and I harvested from our Chicago rooftop hives was the best I’d ever tasted. Not because it was fresh, not because it was ours, but because it had a character unlike any honey I’d eaten before. No, that’s not because it was made from sugars collected from street corner trash cans or city dumpsters (though that’s been known to happen), it’s because it was made from an extremely wide variety of flower nectars. Allow me to explain.
Bees can be very single-minded creatures. When they find a nectar source they’ll exploit it until it’s gone. Foragers go out searching for something good to eat, and when they find it come back to the hive and tell other foragers about their discovery. More bees go out, flying in a perfectly straight “bee line” to the nectar supply. If that supply is a large clover field or a flowering tupelo forest, the hive will end up making a honey comprised mostly of that particular nectar. These are so-called “single pollen” honeys, and while they are nothing like “single pollen” they’re close enough for jazz. Or the FDA.
The trouble with honeys that are drawn primarily from a single nectar source is that they can be a little, oh…one-dimensional. But put a hive of bees in a large city and their nectar-foraging habits are thwarted. There aren’t any big flower fields or apple orchards to exploit. Yet what a city lacks in volume it makes up for in sheer variety. City streets, gardens and even window boxes are loaded with ornamental plants brought in from all over the world. Bees gather some nectar from here, some from there, and it all goes in to the same big honey pot. Harvested and spread on toast, the result is delicious.
Our honey was the palest of pale yellows, an indication that much of the nectar came from the linden trees that the City of Chicago planted after Dutch elm disease ravaged its streets in the 70’s. But beyond that it’s anyone’s guess what went into it. We finished the last of it a couple of years ago with great ceremony, for we shall not see its like again.