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cover crops and other plants for honey bees  RSS feed

 
Posts: 176
Location: Alberta, zone 3
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We are getting a bee keeper to put some hives on our property next year and I am trying to adjust my cover crops on the field to make them even more bee friendly. We had phacelia, buckwheat, sunflowers and several clovers already in the mix but I would like to confirm/adjust these to have a pretty good mix for the whole season. I researched a bit and it seems like honey bees also like dill, vetch, nyger and fennel for example. Any other ideas that are reasonable priced in bulk quantities?
Btw we are a flower and herb farm so we will have plenty of other flowers and many herbs.
However, I heard they do prefer masses of the same plant instead of hoping from one type to the next. True?
Oh and one more question... Black Locust and honey bees? Is it true they like black locust? I have 5 small trees I need to plant out and one possible location is in the vicinity of the hive location.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1793
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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Mint is a great one.  Very inexpensive to get going, spreads well, and the honeybees love it.
 
Simone Gar
Posts: 176
Location: Alberta, zone 3
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Todd Parr wrote:Mint is a great one.  Very inexpensive to get going, spreads well, and the honeybees love it.



Perfect. I have a thing for mint. I am collecting them lol.
 
pollinator
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Location: Anjou ,France
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Borage Sage and thyme are big favourrates of my bees not sure if they are any use as a cover crop

David
 
Simone Gar
Posts: 176
Location: Alberta, zone 3
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David Livingston wrote:Borage Sage and thyme are big favourrates of my bees not sure if they are any use as a cover crop

David



Got that covered too We are growing tons of herbs. The three you mentioned as well as hyssop, savory, oregano, lavender, chives, lemon balm, monarda, elecampane, and several more.
Any idea if the herbs have medicinal properties for the bees? E.g. help them stay healthy? Any effects on the honey?
 
David Livingston
pollinator
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Location: Anjou ,France
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Traditional healers in the Muslim world are really into honey as it's mentioned in the Quran sura 16 vs 68 ,69 specifically as a cure all in many colours . I know that folks from north Africa really like thyme honey as a cure for colds etc .

David
 
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I planted buckwheat this fall in my garden, just to play around with cover crops. My bees LOVED it! It was a great fall food source and it was nice to have them buzzing around with me in the garden again. They are always a huge fan of our sunflowers too.
 
Taylor Cleveland
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Also, I would suggest planting more trees vs. plants if you can. A tree with provide way more blooms than herbs/flowers can in the same square feet. I’m not sure if that would be a possibility for you or not. Our bees love our woods and are always in there pollinating trees I didn’t even know “bloomed”. I can’t remember on the locust tho.
 
Simone Gar
Posts: 176
Location: Alberta, zone 3
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Thanks Taylor. All good info. I am busy planting trees and shrubs too. I added about 105 this fall and around 30 are ordered for spring. I hope I can keep adding 30-50 trees and shrubs per year. Any trees bees love? I planted black locust and after read that bees apparently love them. I want to add linden too.
 
pollinator
Posts: 251
Location: NE Slovenia, zone 6b
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Hey,  about two  of the questions that you presented :

- yes,  bees want a large target -  a big patch of flowering plants,  or several young trees

-  yes,  black locust is tremendously liked by bees (if the conditions are right concerning air humidity etc but this is valid for any other forage as well) and gives a large amount of honey with a gentle flavour that doesn't crystallize easily

Is there lavender at your herb farm? That's another favorite.

Buckwheat can be amazing but many modern cultivars do not yield nectar.  The ones that do give honey with a very strong flavour somewhat similar to chestnut - it is a love or hate thing for customers usually.
 
Simone Gar
Posts: 176
Location: Alberta, zone 3
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That’s great to hear that black locust is a favourite! I ordered a few more already! We will have close to 20 of them in the same field then.

Yes, absolutely. I have lots of lavender. It’s an easy one to sell as an herb and I use them in bouquets too. I always have hundreds of plants around. Same with hyssop for example which I heard is a bee favourite too.

Hm, that’s so sad that modern buckwheat cultivars have less nectar. I might have to look into what type of seed I am getting. Not sure if they can tell me. I had buckwheat honey and love it.

I am really excited about the bees and will definitely keep them in mind when I select what to add to the field. Most honey here is somewhat “boring” as it’s mostly canola and clover. Very sweet, quick to crystallize and just not that flavour full. I am hoping mixed flowers or some different crops at our farm make some nice honey.
 
Crt Jakhel
pollinator
Posts: 251
Location: NE Slovenia, zone 6b
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Well, black locust honey is definitely very mild, from what I've experienced so far it's not very different in taste from clover.

Canola gives a kind of honey that crystallizes super quickly and has a distinct note kind of like... uh... cabbage It *is* the same plant family after all.

Don't go ordering a large number of black locust trees unless you can get them on the cheap. If locust likes your land it will multiply quickly on its own.

I'm sorry that I can't name specific cultivars of buckwheat that would work fine for honey in Canada / USA - I'm in continental Europe and I've noticed that for many widely cultivated plants, from fruit trees to grains, the set of available varieties can be quite different than in the English-speaking countries. But if it so happens that you can get the buckwheat called Bamby (it's an Austrian one), go for it. Again, your set of what's available may be completely different than mine.

Note that in any case buckwheat is very picky about air humidity and will only attract bees if the humidity is at about 75% or more. This usually means only a few hours after the sun rises in the summer and if your summer months are droughty, you might not get a result at all. It happens - we had a great buckwheat honey crop in 2016 but none in 2017. But it's worth cultivating anyway because even if there's no honey, there's still the beneficial effect for the soil.

You also asked about the beneficial effect of herbal oils that the bees come into contact with as they visit the flowers. There is a beneficial effect but as I understand it this is also still a developing story, an area of ongoing research. There are for example anti-varroa products in the EU market that are based on thymol - the main active ingredient of thyme oil. Reports vary a lot on how effective this is. In my not exactly abundant experience - 2018 will be my 6th beekeeping season - general properties of a given year such as a prolonged hot and dry period in the summer or lack thereof have a strong influence on bee health. Add into that what kind of forage was available during the year and at what time - and already you have variables that can be more important than some individual measures that you've taken against varroa.

The linden tree is a good choice for bees as well. Just beware of the heavy shade that it can cast -- not like the soft filtered shade from black locust.

Linden honey has a minty (mentholic) flavor. Can't say what mint honey tastes like thought because I've never encountered such a quantity of mint growing in one place that it would dominate in the nectar the bees bring home.

You might want to consider maple trees, too. They give good forage quite early in the year. And hazel bushes for the same reason, the nuts are a bonus. Pussy willow for wet spots.

From what you've already described I would say your beekeeper is bringing the bees to a little piece of heaven... Make sure he gives you some good honey in return
 
Simone Gar
Posts: 176
Location: Alberta, zone 3
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Crt Jakhel wrote:Well, black locust honey is definitely very mild, from what I've experienced so far it's not very different in taste from clover.

Canola gives a kind of honey that crystallizes super quickly and has a distinct note kind of like... uh... cabbage It *is* the same plant family after all.

Don't go ordering a large number of black locust trees unless you can get them on the cheap. If locust likes your land it will multiply quickly on its own.

I'm sorry that I can't name specific cultivars of buckwheat that would work fine for honey in Canada / USA - I'm in continental Europe and I've noticed that for many widely cultivated plants, from fruit trees to grains, the set of available varieties can be quite different than in the English-speaking countries. But if it so happens that you can get the buckwheat called Bamby (it's an Austrian one), go for it. Again, your set of what's available may be completely different than mine.

Note that in any case buckwheat is very picky about air humidity and will only attract bees if the humidity is at about 75% or more. This usually means only a few hours after the sun rises in the summer and if your summer months are droughty, you might not get a result at all. It happens - we had a great buckwheat honey crop in 2016 but none in 2017. But it's worth cultivating anyway because even if there's no honey, there's still the beneficial effect for the soil.

You also asked about the beneficial effect of herbal oils that the bees come into contact with as they visit the flowers. There is a beneficial effect but as I understand it this is also still a developing story, an area of ongoing research. There are for example anti-varroa products in the EU market that are based on thymol - the main active ingredient of thyme oil. Reports vary a lot on how effective this is. In my not exactly abundant experience - 2018 will be my 6th beekeeping season - general properties of a given year such as a prolonged hot and dry period in the summer or lack thereof have a strong influence on bee health. Add into that what kind of forage was available during the year and at what time - and already you have variables that can be more important than some individual measures that you've taken against varroa.

The linden tree is a good choice for bees as well. Just beware of the heavy shade that it can cast -- not like the soft filtered shade from black locust.

Linden honey has a minty (mentholic) flavor. Can't say what mint honey tastes like thought because I've never encountered such a quantity of mint growing in one place that it would dominate in the nectar the bees bring home.

You might want to consider maple trees, too. They give good forage quite early in the year. And hazel bushes for the same reason, the nuts are a bonus. Pussy willow for wet spots.

From what you've already described I would say your beekeeper is bringing the bees to a little piece of heaven... Make sure he gives you some good honey in return



Thanks a lot. Really good info again!
 
gardener
Posts: 1064
Location: mountains of Tennessee
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Buckwheat is excellent bee food. Beware that it overpowers weaker flavors such as peach. (another bee lesson learned the hard way) Absolutely nothing wrong with nutty flavored honey with a hint of peach but ... plain peach honey is amazing.
 
pioneer
Posts: 2172
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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If you have an area to plant for a combination of bee forage and fodder then I strongly recommend Sainfoin. It is a nitrogen fixing legume, has a long flowering period producing huge amounts of nectar, and is a top quality fodder and hay crop whcih doesn't cause bloat problems.

https://www.cotswoldseeds.com/seedmix/sainfoin





 
Crt Jakhel
pollinator
Posts: 251
Location: NE Slovenia, zone 6b
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Michael, do you have any experience / info on growing sanfoin on acid soil (pH 4.5 - 5.5) ? Based on some quick googling it seems like a no-starter
 
Michael Cox
pioneer
Posts: 2172
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Sorry - unfortunately I have never grown it myself, but I know it grows in my area on alkaline soils. I keep bees, but don't have land for planting unfortunately. I have heard of beekeepers in my area who was really surprised when their bees keep packing away honey during a dearth. A nearby field was planted with sainfoin and he got a couple of extra supers of honey from each hive.
 
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