by Marcia Napier, Grain Valley Historical Society
Last week my book club discussed Eileen Garvin’s novel, The Music of Bees. The question was asked, “Do you know anyone who raised bees?” While I would be the first to admit I knew and still know people who raised bees, I’d also be the first to admit, I knew nothing about the process.
My Grandmother Rumbo had a beehive behind the smokehouse at her home on Walnut Street in Grain Valley. So did her neighbor, Rhodie Pearson. I can recall from my youth several beehives in our town. I was afraid to walk down the alley between Walnut and Front Street west of the old Methodist Church. At certain times of the year bees swarmed there and I had a fear of being stung.
By the 1950s, bees were more of a hobby. Some years, depending on the forage and flowers the hives had honey, some years they did not. I can only recall once, perhaps twice, when an old cake pan would set on Grandma’s kitchen cabinet with a honeycomb and dripping honey. (I thought it was gross!) Many years earlier, the beehives around town were probably there by necessity. Because sugar was in great shortage during the depression and rationed during World War II, I suspect many residents saw honey as a luxury during those years.
Did you know that in 1926, Jackson County was one of the largest producers of honey in Missouri? It was stated that there was almost no cost in the raising of nectar honey and neither did it require a lot of land--only enough on which to set the hives. The bees ranged from one to five miles and gathered pollen from the plentiful wild flowers, clover and alfalfa. (Sni-A-Bar Farms provided plenty of the latter.) The average production throughout the county was from 60 to 200 pounds per hive taken from approximately 2,500 colonies. There were between 65,000 bees in the smaller colonies to as many as 200,000 in the larger hives.
In 1926, beekeepers in the Grain Valley area included Ms. Vivian Hall with 10 hives, F. W. Sellmeyer with 4 hives, T.J. Corn with 22 hives, C.O. Webb with 20 hives, Major Luther with 12 hives, and Mrs. H. M. Hannon with 12 hives.
Missouri’s annual honey yield comes from beekeepers, apiaries, and honey farms of all shapes and sizes. Many of them are large businesses and professional companies, of course, but at the same time, much of Missouri’s honey is produced by hobbyists and small local businesses
Although its honey production is not as high as it once was, Missouri produces a notable amount of honey each year. A report by the US Department of Agriculture found that Missouri bees had produced more than 400,000 pounds of honey in 2018.