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Apiforestation: Reclaiming coal mines for bees

Apiforestation is bringing back local honey. Flickr photo by moonlightbulb/Selena N.B.H.


Apiforestation is a unique plan to replant abandoned coal mines with pollinator habitats. If all goes well, it will be a boon to bees, other pollinators, and beekeepers.

If you’ve done much “bee reading” in the past few years, you’ve probably come across a fascinating history by Tammy Horn. Entitled Bees in America: How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation, it was published by the University Press of Kentucky in 2005. The book was a great success that helped launch Horn’s next project, Apiforestion.

Apiforestation is a joint effort among several groups, including The Lost Mountain Honey Project in Perry County, the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative, and the Eastern Kentucky Environmental Research Institute to encourage beekeeping in rural Kentucky.

The project leaders advocate the planting of bee-friendly, pollen- and nectar-rich trees on land that was deforested by strip mines. The idea is to encourage a sustainable forest industry while providing a “honey corridor” with species that support honey bees.

In the past, the understory, including shrubs, and wildflowers, was ignored in favor of high-value trees. But Horn convinced the project leaders that the understory together with the trees is critical to biodiversity, honey bee health, and the economy.

Before the introduction of parasitic mites in the 1980s, bees in this area of the south thrived on abundant forests of black locust, sourwood, chestnut, tulip popular, and wildflowers. But the bee populations never recovered and the beekeepers who sold honey, candles, and soap at roadside stands virtually disappeared. By replanting strip mines with nectar-rich trees, supplementing the area with native wildflowers, and breeding queens that are suitable for the local environment, the group hopes to re-establish beekeeping as a local way of life.

On her website,, Horn notes that pollination was not an important part of Kentucky agriculture while it was largely engaged in the production of tobacco–simply because tobacco is not a bee-pollinated plant. But now that local agriculture is becoming more diverse, bee pollination will be of greater importance to the local economy.

In addition to honey bees, Apiforestation will be a boon to native bees and other wild pollinators as well.

Honey Bee Suite

Apiforestation is bringing back local honey. Flickr photo by moonlightbulb/Selena N.B.H.

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