As a backyard or urban beekeeper, you will need to ensure that your honeybees can find the pollen and nectar they need to build and support a healthy hive, and in the process, produce quality honey. Though your bees will go into other backyards and gardens to forage for pollen and nectar, your backyard should provide a plethora of flowers and plants that will provide the necessities for your bee colony.
Plants with high nectar and/or pollen content are the best plants to fill your garden with. The following ten plants are particularly attractive to honeybees due to their high nectar and/or pollen content:
- Borage (Borago offcinalis)
- Lemon Balm/Melissa (Melissa officinalis)
- Phacelia (Phacela tanacetifolia)
- White Sweet Clover (Melilotus alba)
- Echium (Echium vulgare)
- Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
- Yellow Sweet Clover (Melilotus officinalus)
- Goldenrod (Solidago)
- Cornflower/Bachelor’s Button (Centaurea cyanus)
- Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)
You will need to check with your local nursery to see which of these plants are the best for your climate and area of the country. You should also consult with other local beekeepers to learn about other plants that are high in nectar and pollen that will contribute to higher rates of honey production.
You can also check out these website for more information:
“Plants for Honeybees,” The Melissa Garden: a Honeybee Sanctuary
“Guide to Bee-Friendly Gardens, Urban Bee Gardens
#1 Healthy beekeeping equals healthy bees resulting in a little more balance in the ecology
#2 Simple construction of stacked boxes…you can easily add to, clean and maintain these hives and the health of your bees
#3 The Warre hive creates less moisture due to the quilt structure – Also air circulation disperses moisture through the vents
#4 Less expensive than conventional hives
#5 A Warre beehive allows bees to build more efficiently
#6 Simple and easy to use
#7 The Warre bee hive is built to resemble as close as possible to a bees natural home.
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Honey can come in a variety of flavors. The flowers and nectar available to a bee colony can affect the flavor of the resulting honey. Honey created in different parts of the country can have drastically different tastes, and certain areas of the world are known for specific varietals of honey.
Nectar collected from several sources – or a number of different flowers – the resulting honey is referred to as “wildflower” or “mixed flower” honey. But when honey is made from nectar that is 80% of the same type of flower or plant, it can be labeled as a specific variety of honey.
Though each variety of honey is made of the same elements – sucrose and water – the different flavors are due to a variety of organic acids that give each type of honey its distinct taste.
Here is a sampling of honey varieties that you may not have heard of:
- Acacia: Hungary, Italy, France. Light in color with a delicate flavor. Good for baking.
- Avocado: California, Florida, Chile. Dark amber color with rich, floral flavor. Nice table honey, good for pancakes.
- Cranberry: Wisconsin, Oregon, Quebec. Medium amber color with hints of an intense, tart berry taste. Excellent with yogurt.
- Fireweed: Washington, Alaska, Oregon. Light gold color with mild, spicy flavor. Excellent for making honey butter or as a table honey.
- Lehua: Hawaii. Off white color with a distinct, complex flavor Overtones of butterscotch and lilies. Excellent with green tea.
- Rosemary: Spain, Italy, France. Light amber color with fresh herbal, slightly smoky flavor. Nice in glazes for chicken and drizzled over focaccia bread.
- Sunflower: Georgia, Italy, Spain. Pale yellow to light amber color with nutty, apricot flavor. Drizzle over yogurt or serve with fresh fruit.
- Tupelo: Florida, Georgia. White to light amber color with floral flavor and rich, buttery texture. Nice in glazes for pork.
To learn more about honey varietals, check out these books: Honeybee: Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper by C. Marina Marchese (Black Dog & Leventhal, 2009) or Honey: A Connoisseur’s Guide with Recipes by Gene Opton (Ten Speed Press, 2000).
We all know that many of our feathered friends bulk up to survive the colder temps (or they migrate south if it is too cold).
You also may know that many of the other critters in the yard hibernate or slow down their pace in the winter months.
But what happens to bees? Well that depends on what type of bee you are talking about.
For bumblebees most of the colony will die and only the new bumblebee queens will survive. They will mate with the males and feed to build up fat reserves ready for their winter snooze. They like soil banks and sometimes even soft potting soil in a plant pot or a compost heap…so be careful when you begin to start prepping for the spring.
Honey bees don’t really hibernate, but are not really out and about. They become less active, when the temperature falls and huddle together in a temperature regulating cluster called a ‘winter cluster’. By this time, there will be no males (drones) in the hive or nest.
For solitary bees, like mason bees, they overwinter in hollow place such as plant stems or other small spaces in the garden. It is a good reminder not tidy up everything in the garden and leave some things for the critters to survive the winter.
These critters have an interesting form of winter survival. They stop flying when the temperature drops below 50 degrees and crowd into the lower portion of the hive, forming a cluster. The worker bees encircle the queen bee and flutter their wings, creating energy to keep the center around 80 degrees. The colder the weather, the tighter the cluster becomes. Observations have shown that hibernating honeybees consume up to 30 pounds of stored honey during the winter months, which helps the bees produce body heat. On warmer days, honeybees will venture out for short flights.
Mason Bee House
The adult mason bee lives only for about 6 weeks, unlike honeybees. They are solitary creatures and each female makes her own nest. Inside the nest, eggs hatch and each larvae has its own cell and food supply in it’s own compartment. After the larvae feeds, it spins a cocoon and remains there the whole summer. In the fall, the larvae molts and transforms into adult form. They spend the winter as adults in the cocoon and then emerge in early spring to start another generation.
Although bumble bees are a closer relative to honey bees, they do not maintain colonies throughout the winter. The last of the summer colony will contain a number of queens. Each of these queens will mate, she will find a place to overwinter and will hibernate until spring alone. The queen depresses her rate of metabolism which allows her to hibernate while burning very little fuel. In the spring she will find a place to build a nest and begin to lay and tend to her eggs.
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Beekeeping is not for everyone. It takes a certain mixture of patience, fascination and a bit of courage. But with some research and the right gear, it is possible to begin the journey as a beekeeper and have the satisfaction of working with the amazing creature…the honey bee.
Do Your Homework
The first place to start is to hit the books (or trusted online sources) to find out what beekeeping is all about. There are many types of beehives and ways to keep bees. It is important to find a method that will work best for you and your space. Another thing to consider is can you afford the proper equipment needed for the correct set-up.
There are also several farms and nurseries that offer classes on beekeeping and the teacher is often plugged into the beekeeping community, making them a valuable resource when you are getting started.
One Thing at A Time
Take your time with getting things set-up and be patient as you learn the ropes. Late winter and early spring is the best time to get things started and planned. Honey bees will begin to swarm and become active in the hives around March or April, depending on the area you live in. In addition to planning for your hive(s), you will want to think out how to keep your bees happy in your own yard. Research the area you live in for the best bee friendly plants that are indigenous to where you live.
If you truly want to become a beekeeper, knowledge is key! There is quite a community that surrounds this hobby and they will offer the support you need. The whole process can provide a very satisfying experience…from the time working with the bees to the knowledge of what you are doing to help the environment.
For more details on how to get started click here: https://farmgardenandbeyond.com/bee-keeping-resources
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Both Home Depot and Lowes are stepping up to help protect the bee population. Home Depot has required nurseries to label plants treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, and Lowe’s has made a commitment to phasing out sales of products that contain them.
What are neonicotinoids you ask?…Neonicotinoids are a new breed of insecticides that are chemically related to nicotine. Like nicotine, the neonicotinoids act on certain kinds of receptors in the nerve synapse. They are more toxic to invertebrates, like insects, than other higher organisms, which is why they are attractive to deter insects. They have become popular because they are water soluble, which allows them to be applied to soil and be taken up by plants.
So what is the danger? New research points to to the impact on bees and other beneficial insects. The exposure in a plants pollen passes on a low level contamination. The exposure level does not normally kill bees directly, but is found to effect some bees’ ability to foraging for nectar and locate , and possibly impair their ability to find their way home to the nest or hive.
When shopping for plants, ask question. Identify resources in your area that provide organic and non-neonic product selections.
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