CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Among the apple trees at Curtis Orchard and Pumpkin Patch are as many as 1.4 million bees keeping Rachel Coventry busy making the best honey.
That’s right — the honey made by this third-generation producer in Champaign was bequeathed with the title of “2016 Best Tasting Honey in the World” in early February by The Center for Honey Bee Research in Asheville, N.C.
Coventry’s one-quart “Wildflower” entry was judged in the International Black Jar Honey Selection against others from Spain, Italy, the Canary Islands, Slovenia, Israel, Rhodes, Kenya, Turkey, Canada and the U.S. Last year’s winner was from South Africa.
Why “black jar?” The judges blind sample entries with opaque straws from black jars.
Here are five fast facts about Coventry, her bees and their honey:
- Coventry started learning about beekeeping in 2009 in Paraguay as a crop extensionist for the Peace Corps. Upon her return to the orchard, she worked alongside her grandfather Paul Curtis. She works with 10 to 20 hives a year depending on how prolific the queen bees are, with each hive home to 50,000 to 70,000 bees.
- Curtis Orchard’s honey harvest varies each year. It takes bees 2 million visits to flowers to collect enough nectar and pollen to make one pound of honey. Honey is seasonal, with the main honey collections occurring in August and September.
- A favorite way that Coventry enjoys honey is by the spoonful of dripping honeycomb. “It’s delicious. It’s more of the texture that makes it so good,” Coventry said. She also recommends it in hot tea or with a peanut butter sandwich as her husband likes it.
- What makes the Curtis Orchard honey distinctive are the flowering plants within a three-mile radius of the orchard. Certainly, there are apple blossoms, but there also are strawberries, raspberries, clover, cherries, plums, peaches and wild flowers. Coventry describes her honey’s flavor as “very fruit forward.”
- Coventry won $2,000, her name on a trophy kept at the center and bragging rights. Another bonus is the opportunity to emphasize the importance of bees and other pollinators to agriculture.
Although the orchard doesn’t re-open for the year until July 21, customers are welcome to call 217-359-5565, ext. 0 and make an appointment to buy honey.
Although the winning batch is sold out, there’s plenty more.