Why does Ringwood and the New Forest area produce such great honey?
Can 'terroir' be applied to local honey? Every area has its own unique soil characteristics and microclimate.
As any wine buff will tell you, the taste of a fine wine is determined by the 'terroir', which directly translates as 'of the earth' – the result of planting the right grape variety in a distinct soil with a unique microclimate.
But honey is not a plant product in the same way as wine. There is, of course, an intermediary – the hardworking honey bees! So while you might not be able to taste the terroir itself, the taste of a honey is determined by the plants that have been foraged. A mono floral honey from two different areas can taste remarkably different.
The link between soil and nectar production
In New Zealand, a team studied the mānuka plant (Leptospermum scoparium) in different soils under rigorous scientific conditions at the Massey University in Palmerston North. Mānuka honey is a high-value product with the plant able to grown on hillsides and places not suitable for agricultural crops.
This study, published in 2016, found that different soils affected the growth of the plant, the amount of flowers, the length of flowering and, most importantly, nectar production. It concluded: "Our data indicate that, contrary to previously reported studies, L. scoparium has improved growth and floral density on soils with increased nutrient concentration."
Similarly, an Eastern European study of different populations of wild garlic or ransom (Allium ursinum L. ssp. ucrainicum) a few years earlier demonstrated that differences in floral nectar volume and concentration could largely be attributed to the varying conditions of the different habitats. This plant is valued by local bee keepers since its flowers are an important source of pollen and spring nectar.
Ringwood Honey and New Forest Honey
Many would consider the soil in this area to be poor. A fascinating study from 1902 called The Geology of the Country around Ringwood by Clement Reid says: "Taken as a whole, the district is one of light soils, dry and chalky in the north-west half, gravelly, loamy, poor in lime and often very wet."
Typified by sand, gravel and bogs, the New Forest was designated a royal hunting ground in the 11th Century due to its lack of farming potential.
In Ringwood the geology is mostly characterised by Bracklesham Beds - Glauconitic loam with flint and quartz pebbles at the base with laminated whitish clay and sand, coarse grained or brown and yellow loam,grey clay with ferrengous concretions. And from fossil studies carried out by Mr E.T Newton traces of Turritella, Voluta recticosta, Pluerotoma, NaticaSerpiula, and Corbula pisum amongst others.
For bee keepers, though, the local terroir is far from poor. Our local bees are not confronted with large areas of monoculture farming or deadly pesticides. Instead, they have a wide variety of wild flowers, trees, shrubs and garden plants.
The drier New Forest heathlands are dominated by ling and bell heather which flowers in late summer, producing the much sought-after heather honey with its unique taste and thick thixotropic consistency.
Being near the South Coast the local a microclimate allows plants that cannot grow in other parts of the country to thrive. Exotic palms grow in abundance in private and public gardens here, including cabbage palms and yuccas. When in flower, you can hear them buzzing from a distance!
Find out more about our award-winning Ringwood Honey.