Whoa! I was overwhelmed by the response to It’s pink with star-shaped petals. It seems that everyone wants to know what plants their bees are foraging on. I received many photos already and many suggestions.
Here are some of the requests:
include the U.K.
include a list of hardiness zones where the plant will live
indicate bloom time by hardiness zone, region, and country
say whether it is a pollen plant, a nectar plant, or both
describe honey characteristics
provide scientific names
provide photos of pollen loads
include photos of the leaves
provide plant pairing photos for garden design (oh sure)
Other people provided links to their favorite plant information sites, including:
So, here’s my question: Do any of you have ideas for arranging, storing, indexing, and presenting all this information? I think the original idea was to have a list of bee-friendly plants that were linked by name to a page of information about that plant, including photos. But if people don’t know what the plant is to start with, shouldn’t there be a way to go to photos first?
What do you think? What would you like to see? I’m eager to hear any ideas you might have, but remember I’m not a computer geek. I barely muddle through with a sprinkle of html and a pinch of css . . . and I don’t even know what php does.
I am announcing a new project here at Honey Bee Suite, a collaboration with Bill Reynolds of Minnesota. Credit the idea to Bill. He mentioned that many beekeepers don’t know what their bees are foraging on simply because they can’t identify the plants. So he thought it would be useful to link the list of honey bee-friendly plants to actual photos of those plants in bloom.
I haven’t worked out all the details yet, but basically we’re going to try to collect photographs of bee-pollinated plants from all over North America and post them, cross-referenced with name, location, bloom time, and type of bee seen on them.
We’re going to need help from all corners of North America to get this done, so if you like to take pictures, please consider getting involved.
I will post them as they come in, so it will be a work in progress throughout the coming year. We think that the flower is the most important part to capture. If you can photograph a flower and forager together, all the better. Don’t worry about plant identification. If you’re unsure, just say so and we’ll figure it out.
If we get multiples of the same plant we will either pick one or have a vote to determine your favorite. You can watermark your photos with your name or just tell me how you want your name to appear and I will do it for you. How I arrange the photos will depend on how much response we get.
So, if you want to send a flower photo—or if you haven’t yet sent a hive photo—please e-mail them to me. My e-mail (altered to reduce spam) is: rusty[at]honeybeesuite[dot]com.
Spring is just around the corner, especially in the south, so get your camera ready. To get things rolling, Bill sent the following picture of a honey bee on milkweed. Can’t wait to see what you find!
When we think of bee forage, we usually think of vegetable plots, row crops, orchards, hedgerows, flower gardens, and meadows. But some of the best bee forage in the world comes in the form of trees—not only fruit trees—but trees like maple, chestnut, willow, basswood, locust, and alder. Some species provide only pollen, some only nectar, and some both, but in any case they are important food supplies for both honey bees and wild bees.
Unfortunately, treed areas are becoming scarce. In the southeastern United States, coal mining operations flatten mountains in order to extract the coal. Mountaintop removal, as the practice is called, leaves bees with nothing to eat for acres in all directions. Local trees such as sourwood and tulip poplar, along with native shrubs and perennial flowering plants, are typically replaced with non-native grasses that do nothing for bees.
Here in western Washington, our Department of Natural Resources routinely sprays new plantings of Douglas-fir with herbicides designed the kill the maple, alder, elderberry, bitter cherry, and cascara that normally appear in newly logged areas. The purpose, of course, is to give the “economically important” species a head start. But it seems short-sighted. Instead of a healthy recovery with multiple species in a complex habitat, you get the same type of monocrop seen in agricultural areas—with similar problems.
As I hike the state forests, I’m amazed and distraught at the number of warning signs posted by the DNR which list the panoply of herbicides that will be (or were recently) sprayed. Not only do I think it’s an unnecessary and questionable practice, but I wonder that any state so deeply in debt can afford to purchase and apply all those expensive chemicals. Surely there’s a better use for public money than poisoning the land while making the rich corporations even richer.
We beekeepers need to spend less time blaming each other for trivia (you should/shouldn’t feed sugar, you should/shouldn’t stop swarming, you should/shouldn’t provide ventilation) and go after some of the serious problems we have as a nation. We need to occupy the stripped mountains, the clear cuts, and the monocrops until we make our voices heard.
The myth goes something like this: bees will not forage within a 25-foot radius of their hive because that is the “cleansing area”–or restroom, if you will. This is nonsense.
The rumor probably arose when beekeepers watched their charges fly right past flowers within inches of the hive only to alight on something in the distance. Remember that honey bees practice floral fidelity, meaning they want all the pollen collected on one foraging trip to be of the same species. If there aren’t enough flowers of one species near the hive, the bees will fly on to a place where there are many similar flowers.
There are other reasons, too, that may cause the bees to ignore your carefully tended near-hive plants. Something else may be sweeter, more attractive, or fresher than those plants. Also, plants have nectar flows during different parts of the day. Buckwheat, for example, only secretes nectar in the mornings, so bees ignore it in the afternoon.
When all conditions are right, your bees will happily forage within walking distance of their front door. So if your hive sits in a vast field of clover, and that clover is freshly bloomed and secreting nectar, the bees will collect it.
Related to this argument is the fact that bees don’t necessarily defecate within 25 feet of a hive. One look at my truck, which in not anywhere near a hive, illustrates the point. It is polka-dotted yellow with bee poop about eight months of the year.
It’s hard to say why honey production is so unpredictable. One year you get oceans of the stuff—maybe 200 pounds or more of harvestable honey per hive. The next year you get nothing—not even enough for the bees.
In truth, this variability is no different from any other crop, whether it be apples, tomatoes, corn, or cotton. There are great years and horrible years, but most fall in the middle.
I’ve seen various estimates for the average surplus crop in the United States. Surplus or “harvestable” honey is the amount of honey the beekeeper can take from the hive while still leaving enough for the bees. Here in the U.S. that number hovers around 40 pounds per hive—or about one medium super.
Of course, the amount varies according to where you live. States like North Dakota with vast areas of clover can out-produce areas covered in corn, wheat, or asphalt. Areas with long growing seasons can sometimes out-produce those with short growing seasons—but not always.
But even in a given location, your honey production will vary from year to year. We’ve all seen photos of colonies topped with 11 or 12 supers. But that is not typical. In fact, the reason those pictures were taken is that it is unusual. For every colony like that there are dozens—maybe hundreds—of colonies with one or two not-quite-full supers. Why?
Weather that is atypically hot, cold, dry, or wet will affect the ability of a plant to produce flowers and nectar. A late spring cold snap can freeze the buds. Excessive heat or drought can wither the blooms. Constant rain can dilute the nectar or prevent foraging. High winds can blow the flowers from trees or even topple them. And some great honey plants, such as black locust, just don’t flower every year.
Timing is critical as well. If the big bloom occurs before your bee populations are strong, you can lose a lot of nectar. The same is true if a bloom is followed by unseasonably cold, wet, or windy weather.
Unfortunately, it’s not only acts of nature that screw things up. Some invasive species that produce large and reliable crops of delicious honey, may suddenly come under attack by your local roads department, parks department, or other local, county, state, or private organization such as The Nature Conservancy. Some of these groups spray vast acreages with herbicide and destroy your crop. Invasive honey plants that come to mind are yellow star thistle, Himalayan blackberry, Japanese knotweed, purple loosestrife, and spotted knapweed.
Of course, there are many things a beekeeper can do to maximize the probability of having strong, populous hives during the honey flow. But if there is no strong flow, if the seasons and the weather don’t mesh in perfect harmony, there is very little you can do. The bees and the flowers are both at the mercy of larger forces.