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Designing a Forest Garden for Honey Bees

 
Posts: 10
Location: Centralia, WA
fungi hunting food preservation
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Hello! We just purchased a property in Western Washington (Centralia) and are designing a 2-3 acre forest garden. We use honey regularly and I make mead so we would like to incorporate beekeeping into our homestead. As we are currently in the design phase I want to ask for advice on how we can specifically incorporate design for honey bees. Really any information is much appreciated. From specific plant recommendations for the area to general ecosystem elements/structures are helpful.
 
steward
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Location: woodland, washington
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I'm a bit south of you. I also worked on a numerical model of the Chehalis River for the past three years.

but back to bees. figure out what gaps there are in nectar flow and pollen where you're at and plant things that bloom then. a whole lot of things bloom in spring and early summer, for instance, but there aren't nearly as many flowers as things dry up later on in the summer around here. a few things, like ivy, do bloom later in the year, which helps colonies put up enough for winter, but really anything that blooms any time between midsummer and winter will be helpful.

it's also important to keep in mind just how much forage honey bees need. remember that they'll regularly cover an area with a 4-mile radius (much more where forage is sparse). that's over 2000 acres. planting a few hundred square feet of phacelia isn't going to make much difference. on the other hand, it will give you a great opportunity to watch foragers at work.
 
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Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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If you are planning a food forest, not just a forest, then those plants will provide plenty of pollen for the bees.   There are lots of fruit/berry/nut trees/vines/bushes that will encourage them to stay.  You probably know about Raintree Nursery that has varieties that would suit your area.

Bees also need an easy source of water, so if you have a creek, lake, pond, or very shallow saucers full of water the honeybee water girls will come to rely on your source of water.  When they discovered my birdbaths, the birds left right away, but I was very glad to have the honeybees have the water.  I filled the ceramic saucers with 3/4" rock, leaving about a 1" empty space between the rock and the edge of the saucer, then filled it until just the tips of the rocks were left sticking out.  If it's just a plain saucer some will fall in and drown, and it felt better to give them a safe place to come and go from.  We had sometimes 25 bees at a time on two large 12" saucers, coming and going all day long, so I even had to top it off on occasion.  They are not at all aggressive,, and even waited until I topped off the water.  It was a real pleasure to spend that summer with them.

YouTube has some really great Food Forest videos of some very impressive mature, 20-year-old food forests.

It's always a good idea to try at least 50% natives for flowers, herbs and herb-type plants.   Letting some greens bolt and flower gives them a good source of pollen.
 
gardener
Posts: 1044
Location: Western Washington
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Hi Austin! I'm in the same county as you and am only half away. I designed my food forest for bees. You're welcome to come see it if you'd like. I'll try to post more information here later on what to plant
 
James Landreth
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Location: Western Washington
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I agree with Tel and Cristo.

A food forest will have plenty to offer on its own, but focusing on things that bloom in late summer and fall is essential. Spring and the first half of summer are covered.

And while it is true that ground level flowers are hard to scale up, certain trees really add a lot to your carrying capacity. Littleleaf and American Linden (avoid silver linden, which is toxic to bumblebees!) are great, and bloom June-July depending on cultivar and site. Edible chestnuts are good around that time too.

For fall I plant silverberry, Sourwood (also known as "sorrel") tree, and American witchhazel. The American witchhazel will theoretically bloomin October. Silverberry is related to goumi and autumn olive, and will bloom in fall and fruit in the spring (a rare and valuable thing in itself).

Around each of my trees I like to grow a guild that often includes comfrey and either mint or lemon balm. Where I live the grass won't allow either to spread and become invasive, so it isn't an issue. I also sow crimson and white clover in the mulch around my trees. Because I have so many trees (hundreds), these patches do add up to a little something for your bees.

Old timers tell me that some types of nectar make honeys that the bees use for treating certain ailments in the hive. To my knowledge it's unproven, but it wouldn't surprise me at all. Herbal honeys like from mint and lemon balm fall into that category. So although they won't add to your production in a huge way, they may be helpful besides. The old rule of thumb around me is that one acre of prime forage could support one hive. I don't know if that's true, and I'm sure it depends, but it's something to think about.
 
Austin Eschenwald
Posts: 10
Location: Centralia, WA
fungi hunting food preservation
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Thank you everyone. This is all very helpful! Yes it will be a food forest with a preference towards natives. We are planning to build three ponds. There is a seasonal spring on the property that seems like a great place for a pond.

We currently live in Pennsylvania and are hoping to move to the property by the end of August. We would love to come see your place James! 
 
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