Yukihiro Ono of Ono Apiary, which produces domestic honey that matches the ecology of bees.

Yukihiro Ono of Ono Apiary, which produces domestic honey that matches the ecology of bees.

Ono Apiary has been operating beekeeping for more than 70 years in Numata City, which has developed as a central city in the northern part of Gunma Prefecture. The apiary, which has been in operation for three generations (parents, children, and grandchildren), produces a variety of domestic honey that takes advantage of its geographical location, including the popular acacia honey and apple honey made from the honey of apples, a local specialty.

Rich river terraces nurtured by the Tone River system

Numata City in Gunma Prefecture is surrounded on all sides by mountains such as Akagi, Mt. The city’s high elevation, relatively cool climate even in summer, and the river terraces along the riverbanks allow for the cultivation of a wide variety of agricultural products and fruits. In particular, the terraces upstream from the confluence of the Katashina and Tone Rivers in Numata City are deep and clear, and are said to be the most beautiful river terraces in Japan.

From spring to summer, many flowers bloom along the riverside, and many of the trees also bear flowers. The cultivation of apples, one of the main industries, also produces flowers to produce fruit and bees help pollinate them.

Yukihiro Ono of Ono Apiary runs an apiary on such land.

River terraces are ideal for beekeeping

Honey is made by storing nectar collected by worker bees in a hive, and then the worker bees in the hive move their wings to evaporate the water, concentrating the sugar content to about 80 degrees and maturing it.

According to Mr. Ono, the best place for beekeeping is “a place where many flowers are in bloom for a long time.

In Numata’s river terraces, where there is a difference in elevation of about 100 m, the flowering period varies by about three days between the lowest riverbank and the highest land, and the flowering period is longer.

The longer the blooming period, the longer the nectar can be collected and the more nectar can be gathered.

Acacia trees are considered the easiest plants to collect honey from because they grow quickly and each tree has many flowers.

Around the same time that many acacia seeds were sown to harden the soil of the banks built to dam the flooding rivers, lotus seeds, which were said to be the best domestic honey until then, were disappearing from the rice fields due to the spraying of pesticides. Many beekeepers switched to acacia as a substitute for lotus seeds, and today, many apiaries treat acacia as the main source of domestic honey. According to Mr. Ono, many acacias are planted in riverbeds to harden the soil, and usually bloom for 10 days to 2 weeks, but on river terraces, beehives can be left for up to 15 days longer than usual, resulting in higher honey production. This is said to increase the amount of honey collected.

How to overwinter a large number of worker bees

The most difficult thing for beekeepers is to overwinter the worker bees. During the winter, flowers do not bloom and no honey can be collected, but the beekeepers have to show their skill by raising worker bees until next spring without reducing the number of worker bees during this period,” says Ono.
This is because the queen bee lays eggs in proportion to the number of worker bees in the hive.
In order to maximize the number of worker bees in May, June, and July and have them collect a lot of honey, it is necessary to have a large number of worker bees overwinter and lay a large number of eggs during the egg-laying season in spring.
For this reason, it is important to keep the bees as immobile as possible in dark and cool storage during the winter, and to feed them with nutritional supplements and sugar.

Queen bees lay eggs according to season

The queen bee lays eggs of male and female bees according to the season. The worker bees for overwintering are all male bees that are less capable of collecting nectar but have a longer life span and can live for about three months.
In the spring, the number of worker bees that survive the winter is matched by the number of female worker bees, which are more capable of collecting nectar. Therefore, the main task of overwintering bees is to live until spring without moving them as much as possible.
The life span of the queen bee is about five years at the longest. When the queen bee, the master of the hive, dies, a bee nurtured with royal jelly from the eggs of the worker bees becomes the queen bee and maintains the hive by laying the eggs of the bees that will become the worker bees every day.

The Mysterious Ecology of Bees

The bee world consists of a complete division of labor, with only one queen bee per hive, male bees that exist only to mate with the queen bee, and the majority of worker bees.

As adults, worker bees nurse (milk secretion), build the nest (honeydew secretion), and store nectar (enzyme secretion) in the hive, and then go to collect nectar and pollen as watchmen at the hive gate and finally as out-duty bees. A single bee performs these roles over the course of its lifetime as the body’s physiology grows.

Honey made according to the bees’ preferences

The worker bees have a tendency to go to one type of flower to gather nectar, and for the first half day after moving the hive, they gather nectar from a variety of flowers in the area, but eventually they will only accept nectar that the worker bees who are in charge of honey storage in the hive find delicious.

The bees naturally choose the type of flowers, so no matter how much the beekeeper wants this type of honey, it will be determined by the bees’ preferences,” he says.

It is also important to have a lot of flowers, and bees will gather nectar from flowers that are large and plentiful rather than small and scarce. Different countries, regions, and seasons produce different honey. In order for visitors to experience these differences and learn more about bees and honey, Ono Apiary operates the “Flower Honeybee Museum” as a directly managed store.

Moving hives in pursuit of flowers

Ono Apiary takes the hives out of the warehouse at the end of February and starts collecting cherry blossom honey from around April 15, apple honey from the end of April to early May, and acacia honey from Maebashi and Takasaki from around May 10, moving the hives after the flowers.

These acacia and apple honeys are collected by the bees, which are suitable for beekeeping and can collect honey multiple times a year.

Ono Apiary also sells honey from the precious Japanese honeybee, which can only be collected once a year in the fall.

Japanese honeybees have a different enzyme from the Japanese honeybee and collect nectar from multiple types of flowers. This gives the honey a rich, mature aroma from its unique enzymes and the complex flavor of blended floral nectar, so much so that some stores refer to Japanese honeybee honey as “hyakka-honey” and sell it. The unique rich, mellow, and sharp taste is also a characteristic of Japanese honey bee honey.

However, it has the disadvantage that it cannot be sold as the main product because it cannot be harvested in a stable quantity compared to the honey of the Japanese honeybee.

Nevertheless, in order to preserve the taste of traditional honey, they take the time and effort to collect honey that is concentrated and matured in the hive by Japanese honeybees that collect it from a variety of flowers.

In the spring, the variety of flowers is limited depending on the time of year, so it is a single-flower honey, but in the summer, when many flowers bloom at once, we collect honey from a variety of flowers and blend them together, which we sell as “hyakka honeys.

The type of honey collected by worker bees varies with the season and location, and the degree of moisture evaporation depends on how soon after the honey is stored the honey is removed from the hive, resulting in a different consistency and grade of honey.

Once the water has sufficiently evaporated in the hive, the honey is covered with beeswax and allowed to mature. Matured honey tastes good, but it is difficult to harvest in large quantities, making the work of collecting honey more difficult.

In order to harvest at the right time, the hive is checked frequently to determine when to take out the honey.

What we can do because we are directly managed

Currently, Mr. Ono’s sons, Daisuke and Koji, are working together to develop products and conduct sales activities at the directly managed “Hana-Honeybee-Kan” store.

Koji, who is in charge of product development, says, “Considering how to make sales with limited honey, we think it is important to make sales by processing some of the honey into processed products rather than selling only honey, and we are trying various challenges.

The most successful product is “Oze’s Honey Butter Almonds,” which has a high repeat rate and is the best-selling product in the company. In the future, I would like to make health food products using honey, royal jelly and propolis produced by bees,” he says, his eyes shining. He hopes to help consumers by developing products that help them maintain their health.

What motivates him most is the feedback from consumers.

In recent years, climate change, environmental destruction, and other factors have made it difficult for beekeepers to collect domestically produced honey. Nevertheless, they continue beekeeping because consumers say, “Mr. Ono’s honey tastes so good.

The most important factor in maintaining high quality honey is to increase the number of healthy and good bees. Ono Apiary is constantly searching for new honey gathering sites and developing processed honey products. Ono Apiary collects honey from the river terraces nurtured by the Tone River system, and their products are rooted in the local community.

Mr. Ono says, “As long as honey can be harvested at the honeycomb I inherited from my predecessor, I would like to deliver delicious domestic honey to consumers. Meanwhile, his sons Daisuke and Koji say, “We would like to open one more directly managed store in our generation so that more people can learn about the ecology and wonder of bees. While maintaining high quality, we will increase the number of touch points for interest in honey. No matter how much care we put into our honey production, it is meaningless if no one actually consumes it, and conversely, no matter how well we create an environment that allows us to communicate, if the taste and quality are not appealing, we will not increase the number of fans. Ono Apiary is a four-legged team of father and son, working together to pass on the delicious taste of domestic honey to the next generation, and to create a bright future for beekeeping by combining the quality inherited from the company’s founding with young ideas to spread the word.


Ono Apiary "Flower Honeybee Museum
450-1, Hisayahara-cho, Numata City, Gunma Prefecture
TEL 0278-23-8738
URL https://www.hana38kan.com