Farm and Ranch
‘Aggie Honey’ makes its debut
By Steve Byrns, Texas A&M
Jan 1, 2014
Print this page
Email this article

COLLEGE STATION – Wow! Does Texas A&M University’s entomology department have a honey of a deal for you!

In an effort to raise awareness of the work being done at the university’s new Janice and John G. Thomas Honey Bee Facility, the staff there are proudly offering their first summer crop of genuine Aggie Honey, said Dr. Juliana Rangel, Texas A&M AgriLife Research assistant professor of apiculture at the facility.

The “Aggie Honey Team” takes a break during their first summer honey harvest. Pictured back row left to right, are Kyle Harrison, Alex Martinez, Liz Walsh, E.T. Ash and Rong Ma. Kneeling are Michael Wong and Dr. Juliana Rangel. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo by Dr. Juliana Rangel).

The 450 pounds of raw wildflower honey being labeled and offered to the public at $10 per 16-oz. jar, comes straight from the department’s apiary or bee yard managed by veteran local beekeeper E.T. Ash.

Rangel said Ash is one of the most knowledgeable beekeepers in the area, with almost 40 years experience. The hives being used for research were established in March near the new 6,500 square-foot Honey Bee Facility on Texas A&M University’s Riverside Campus. The facility, which also houses the Texas Apiary Inspection Service, is named for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service entomologist emeritus Dr. John Thomas and his wife, both of College Station.

“We had a good year here in College Station in terms of honey-making bee forage,” Rangel said. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of beekeepers close to our apiary, so our bees were able to tap into all the local forage in the nearby land which is largely owned by A&M, so this honey is truly Aggie Honey, made by Aggie bees, foraging on Aggieland.”

Frame dripping with “Aggie Honey.” (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo by Dr. Juliana Rangel).

Rangel, who credits Ash for the successful harvest, said she was very pleased with their first season’s production as the colonies were new with no preexisting honey stores. By the end of July, the initial 40 colonies had done so well that they were split to form 80 colonies.

But since Aggie Honey supplies are limited and sales have been brisk, Rangel advises prospective buyers to make a beeline to the entomology department’s main office at 412F Heep Center to take advantage of this sweet deal, or buzz them at 979-845-2516 for more information. Go to http://honeybeelab.tamu.edu or follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TAMUhoneybeelab to learn more about the lab and the research Rangel and her team are conducting.

“The Aggie Honey campaign is done all in fun, but we are serious about aggressively getting the word out about our research here,” she said.

Rangel said the entomology department had not had a honey bee research laboratory component in almost four years consequently; they had no bees. She was hired in January and the original 40 colonies were purchased in late March. Those colonies and their subsequent increase are used for work on the reproductive biology of honey bee queens and drones, or male honey bees.

“That’s our main research focus now, because increasingly we are seeing problems of colony losses associated with poor queen and drone quality,” Rangel said. “So our lab is focusing on exploring the biological and environmental factors that affect honey bees’ reproductive quality. In order to do that we do a lot of our own queen rearing using what are known as mating nucleus hives or ‘nucs,’ which are small colonies we use for the sole purpose of raising queens.

“We could potentially sell queens in the future, but we are more interested now in having people test them in their own colonies and provide us feedback on how they perform.”

Rangel said in the past beekeepers normally kept queens in a hive for two to three years, but now there are so many issues with queens that beekeepers increasingly report losing queens after the first year. Some are even being lost within months to the worker bees in a process called queen supersedure, the cause of which is another area of Rangel’s research. So bottom line, she said, people who depend on their bees for a livelihood are requeening every year to avoid the problem, but that can be time consuming and expensive and there need to be alternatives for beekeepers.

Rangel said she has extensive experience conducting queen-rearing workshops stemming from her work with the “Born and Bred in North Carolina” queen-rearing program. She spearheaded the program for three years while at North Carolina State University, her previous employer, and hopes to launch a similar effort here.

“It’s fun and it’s a very interesting process, because you learn a lot about basic bee biology by raising queens,” she said. “So that is an educational area I’d like to pursue soon.

“As to the Aggie Honey sales, we’re not in the business of making money, but we really do want to raise awareness of honey bees and our honey bee research. We want to make people across the state aware that we have a research facility that is working on honey bee health issues. We hope our Aggie Honey project will be a way the public can buy an excellent all natural product while helping to directly support our research.”