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Forage for Bees in the Pacific Northwest

 
gardener
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I did a brief search to see if this topic existed yet, and I didn't find any. So, I wanted to start one.

Specifically I'd love to hear what your lived experiences are with bee forage in the pacific northwest (for honey bees, bumblebees, and other bees). What works and what doesn't? I've found some neat infographics online but I'm always interested in expanding my knowledge.

I've found that lavendar, buckwheat, and sunflowers are all pretty easy to grow for forage. The latter two are also pretty flexible for me in terms of targeting their bloom to times when I feel it will be most beneficial.

For trees, I've heard that linden, golden chain, honey locust, black locust, empress trees, and silk mimosa are all good. What are your experiences with these? I'm really interested in learning about bee forage trees for my orchard. It's like planting a whole garden bed or more of flowers, but a lot less maintenance and weeding. I've heard some lindens are bad for bumblebees.

Thanks ahead of time for sharing!
 
pollinator
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Location: Bothell, WA - USA
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I think the #1 goal is a lot of variety for seasonal coverage, but that is a strong point in most permie systems.

In the linden family, I would lean toward the tilia cordata because the fragrance is no incredible.  It grows very well in the PNW.
 
gardener & hugelmaster
Posts: 2017
Location: mountains of Tennessee
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Be aware that buckwheat will overpower fainter flavors. Such as peach. Learned that the hard way. I plant a lot of buckwheat after the main spring blooms. It definitely helps fill the gaps in blooms. Makes good pancakes too:)
 
James Landreth
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What are some good plants for summer and fall bee forage? I'm looking for perennials and trees especially
 
Mike Barkley
gardener & hugelmaster
Posts: 2017
Location: mountains of Tennessee
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borage

Looks like this will grow in your area.
 
master steward
Posts: 14631
Location: Pacific Northwest
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Borage DOES grow well. It self-seeds, too.

Other plants I see bees all over are dandelions, oregano, marjoram, lavender, and rosemary. They also seem to like the native blackberries and other cane berries.

There's some random evergreen shrub that my mom has that makes red berries and blooms for a loooong time, and bees are always all over that thing. I'll try to remember to ask her what that plant is...
 
Mike Barkley
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Posts: 2017
Location: mountains of Tennessee
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Washington beekeepers association

I'm not familiar enough with PNW trees & plants to make many specific suggestions. Didn't see much relevant info at the WSU website. They were focused on how to place hives for commercial pollination. Your local beekeeper association will certainly be a valuable resource.

An important thing to consider with bee foods is diversity. Where have we heard that word before? Certain varieties of bees prefer certain plants. Different varieties prefer different plants. That also varies by season & availability. Honeybees favorite color is blue. The DO love borage. (makes good soup & stew too) Another consideration is quantity. Honeybees much prefer large quantities over small. They will also wait until a particular plant type is in perfect bloom. For instance, I had an apiary that required the bees to fly directly over many huge honeysuckle plants. Those had blooms for months but the bees completely ignored it except for one day each year. Then they would hit it en masse.

Fruit trees in general are good bee food & they supply other things bees need like resins, etc. Pungent herbs are also a good choice. Bee balm is a beautiful perennial (or at least self seeding) bee food plant but I believe it requires warmer weather than the PNW. I've found the local "pollinator & bee" flower mixes from garden centers to be good. Clover. Can't go wrong with clover. I use red & white clovers. Mostly as a cover crop but the bees are frequently on it too. Stacked functions!

 
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Borage, Bee Balm, all sorts of herbs such as Mint, Rosemary, Dill, Oregano. Meadowfoam is unique to the PNW and makes a wonderful honey, if you could get some good seeds of that. As for trees, Maples are a good late winter forage around here, and I imagine would be there too. Cherry trees, Linden, Black Locust. Gallberry shrubs are tolerant of very wet soil I believe, which would be good in such a rainy area.
 
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I am starting my  beekeeping this year but i have observed what localy in my neighborhood the bees are working.  Filberts for pollen when its a warmer  late winter for one. This year however was hard in the puget sound area for these ladies.  Various willows, the native alders, skunk cabbage and then  the season with our maples begin. The cherry  apple and peaches will be worked well too.  I have been looking at  trees   and variety of species to help broaden the choices  for the bees to work on.  This is a ongoing study and  I am hopefull my  start will result in happy hives and   increase my hives from  2 to ten  assuming I can make proper splits  maybe more  ...
 
pollinator
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Location: Victoria BC
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Comfrey always seems to be a real bee-magnet for me.

I stick with th sterile Bocking cultivars so that I have some control over where it goes...
 
Posts: 72
Location: Western Oregon, Zone 8b
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In my garden I grow a ton of cut flowers and bouquet fillers/foliage, besides herbs and veggies. Some of the pollinator favorites off the top of my head:

Cerinthe (bumblebees and hummingbirds got nuts for these!), bupleurum (Bupleurum rotundifolium), cosmos, sweet alyssum, rudbeckia, zinnias, lupine, foxglove, roses, hollyhocks (hummingbirds love these!), crocus, daffodils, tulips, gladiolas, squash blossoms, overwintered brassicas left to bolt, lettuces left to bolt, and herbs allowed to flower/bolt.
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Early summer garden. The bluish-green plants on the left are Cerinthe. Beyond that are Bupleurum blooming (yellow flowers). Sweet peas growing along the fence.
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Rudbeckias, cosmos, and sweet peas. Also a chicken, but she's hiding in the jungle.
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Bumblebee sleeping on a zinnia.
 
Posts: 15
Location: Western WA
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I've been following Paul Stamets's research with WSU on fungi and bees.
They have a Citizen Science Project to build bee feeders with Mycelium extracts of polypore mushrooms (Reishi and Amadou) + 50/50 sugar water as it seems to help bees fight viruses and boost their immune systems.

I'm about to build one of these feeders for myself and see if I can help out some local bees while they visit my Bing cherry blossoms.

Here are some resources: https://fungi.com/blogs/articles/a-call-to-citizen-scientists-we-need-you-to-help-save-the-bees
Video - Action on the Bee Crisis, Paul Stamets:  


Enjoy!
 
James Landreth
gardener
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Location: Western Washington
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Let me know how this goes. It sounds interesting. I think the sugar water is a little suspicious as it usually isn't good for bees, but maybe in this context it's ok
 
Richard Mak
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Sure James, I'll post an update if I see potential in this.

Also, correction on my previous post, I meant to say 1% Sugar to Water solution, not 50/50 sugar water.
 
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I have noticed two of the first plants to flower here and also be hit up by the bumblebees despite daytime highs staying below 60F is red flowering currant and whichever Lamium it is outside - I think it's red dead nettle but not positive.  
 
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James Landreth,

What part of Western Washington are you in? Depending on your exact location, elevation and soil type, including pH, will determine the best choices. As those will dictate exactly what species of trees and plants in combination, that will be needed to provide year round bee forage. Also terrain and lighting can be useful information, as even part shade or shaded areas can sometimes get enough light to produce some types of bee forage. If you wanna keep it permaculture, those factors are essential to low or no maintenance production of your bee forage crops. This will also allow for the best selection of multi use crops, that allow for additional usage and or potential revenue streams. Lindens are known to provide the most bee forage per acer amongst tree species considering your general area, but thats only one part of the season. In addition, the benefit of Lindens are the under hung bloom structures that alow bee foraging to happen during and after rain events, which can be important in areas that rain during the Linden bloom cycle. Which if I recall accurately, Western Washington will still be getting frequent precipitation during the Linden bloom in spring.  
 
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Location: PNW
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George Bastion wrote:Maples are a good late winter forage around here


I have two Japanese Maples by my house and if you walk under them you can hear them just buzzing with hundreds of honey bees. Tiny flowers but they have been loving them for two weeks and still going strong. They are choosing it over the red clover in bloom.
 
Posts: 80
Location: Haida Gwaii, British Columbia (7b)
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I'm also in the PNW - although North of you. The native "stink currants" that grow here are some of the first to flower (starting early April) and all the flying insects seem to love it - especially the mosquitoes (are they considered pollinators?).

During the summer - besides all the berry-shrubs - the bees seem to LOVE this patch of Pearly Everlasting (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaphalis) that's growing beneath the thimbleberries.

These plants are underrated perennials - as I rarely see them talked about; they can grow in all sorts of soils - usually disturbed soils, the young leaves can be used as an herb, and the dried, fuzzy leaves can be added to a smoking mixture and have a nice vanilla flavour! Also, the dried stalks and flowers stick around all year.
 
Posts: 47
Location: 8B ("cheats" to 9A), Western WA
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The #1 food source for bees in a lot of the PNW are our ubiquitous blackberries. They're their main nectar crop of the whole season. And then I come round to harvest the berries for juicing and jamming. That huge natural monocrop also makes the bees vulnerable. Mine died in spite of feeding sugar throughout the summer last fall and winter, because first the forest fire smoke made them think their neighborhood is on fire, then the early cold and wet fall cooped them up and made it unsafe for the bees to open their hives to add sugar sooner than I did.

Black locust trees only bloom for a little time (10-14 days on average), but my bees go hogwild when they're blooming, and there are several big old ones up and down my road. They're nitrogen fixing, can be coppiced for fence posts or other construction projects, and fast growers to the point of sometimes being a nuisance, if you don't yank the new seedlings out of the ground when they're small. I've also got a couple of really old Beauty Bushes (Linnea amabilis), that are huge, and when they're in full pink bloom, you feel like you're at NASCAR when standing under them, because of all the bee species buzzing. I usually count several kinds of bumblebees, my own Carniolan honeybees, some feral local honeybees, and some other beekeeper's golden Italian bees. Beauty bushes are also one of my chickens' favorite trees, because they can shelter under their canopies for shade and predator protection. I've got the intent to scatter wildflower seeds into my pastures to increase plant diversity, too, because as long as something is blooming, the bees will find it.

For pollen, some things, such as Witch Hazel seem to be available year round. If you can find a local beekeeping course and have a chance to take it, please do. I felt very confident to start keeping bees after taking the class, and because it was a voluntary open book exam, I got myself certified as an Apprentice Master Beekeeper in the State of Washington. The PNW is one of the few areas where bees are active year round (they'll start foraging on sunny days if the temperature is in the mid to high 50's), so most beekeeping books aren't exactly applicable locally, and good classes will cover some common sources of forage in the area.
 
James Landreth
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Penny Oakenleaf wrote:The #1 food source for bees in a lot of the PNW are our ubiquitous blackberries. They're their main nectar crop of the whole season. And then I come round to harvest the berries for juicing and jamming. That huge natural monocrop also makes the bees vulnerable. Mine died in spite of feeding sugar throughout the summer last fall and winter, because first the forest fire smoke made them think their neighborhood is on fire, then the early cold and wet fall cooped them up and made it unsafe for the bees to open their hives to add sugar sooner than I did.

Black locust trees only bloom for a little time (10-14 days on average), but my bees go hogwild when they're blooming, and there are several big old ones up and down my road. They're nitrogen fixing, can be coppiced for fence posts or other construction projects, and fast growers to the point of sometimes being a nuisance, if you don't yank the new seedlings out of the ground when they're small. I've also got a couple of really old Beauty Bushes (Linnea amabilis), that are huge, and when they're in full pink bloom, you feel like you're at NASCAR when standing under them, because of all the bee species buzzing. I usually count several kinds of bumblebees, my own Carniolan honeybees, some feral local honeybees, and some other beekeeper's golden Italian bees. Beauty bushes are also one of my chickens' favorite trees, because they can shelter under their canopies for shade and predator protection. I've got the intent to scatter wildflower seeds into my pastures to increase plant diversity, too, because as long as something is blooming, the bees will find it.

For pollen, some things, such as Witch Hazel seem to be available year round. If you can find a local beekeeping course and have a chance to take it, please do. I felt very confident to start keeping bees after taking the class, and because it was a voluntary open book exam, I got myself certified as an Apprentice Master Beekeeper in the State of Washington. The PNW is one of the few areas where bees are active year round (they'll start foraging on sunny days if the temperature is in the mid to high 50's), so most beekeeping books aren't exactly applicable locally, and good classes will cover some common sources of forage in the area.




Hi Penny! Welcome to permies. I did an apprenticeship with Jacqueline Freeman a few years ago. She's a prominent natural beekeeper. I made this post just to hear people's experiences. I'm finding with summertime drought a lot of annual forage is going dry, even blackberry. I'm leaning towards trees and shrubs long term as they're easy to scale up and are low maintenance and drought tolerant. Thanks for sharing your experience and again, welcome!
 
James Landreth
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R. Steele wrote:James Landreth,

What part of Western Washington are you in? Depending on your exact location, elevation and soil type, including pH, will determine the best choices. As those will dictate exactly what species of trees and plants in combination, that will be needed to provide year round bee forage. Also terrain and lighting can be useful information, as even part shade or shaded areas can sometimes get enough light to produce some types of bee forage. If you wanna keep it permaculture, those factors are essential to low or no maintenance production of your bee forage crops. This will also allow for the best selection of multi use crops, that allow for additional usage and or potential revenue streams. Lindens are known to provide the most bee forage per acer amongst tree species considering your general area, but thats only one part of the season. In addition, the benefit of Lindens are the under hung bloom structures that alow bee foraging to happen during and after rain events, which can be important in areas that rain during the Linden bloom cycle. Which if I recall accurately, Western Washington will still be getting frequent precipitation during the Linden bloom in spring.  



Hi R. Steele! Linden's bloom in midsummer in Washington from what I understand, which is great. A man up the hill from me has one. I hope to plant hundreds wherever I can and people will water them
 
Penny Oakenleaf
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Location: 8B ("cheats" to 9A), Western WA
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My apologies. I'm not sure I intended it as "you there" -you, as much as a generic "anyone who sees this" -you, when suggesting a beekeeping class. English is not my first language, so I'm still working on the kinks and the nuances of the written language. Especially small talk is hard, because my native tongue is curt. My husband sometimes nags at me about stuff I say wrong that could be construed wrong... (I still love him.)
 
James Landreth
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That's alright! No worries :)
 
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If you live in Eastern Oregon or Washington the Russian Olive is everywhere and bees love it
 
gardener
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Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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My California lilacs are just covered in bees and bumblebees right now. I love the blue flowers on them and they are evergreen and are also nitrogen fixers.

I like to place them in my hedgerows to provide winter cover for birds and serve as a nitrogen fixer. Plus they are really beautiful when in bloom.

They do get large but they are very hardy and grow well in harsh conditions at least here in western Washington. I'm planning on planting them to fill in some holes in my hedgerows where other plants have struggled.

In the future I'm going to use them where deer pressure is high in my hedgerows since they grow fast and the deer don't try to eat them.

So a fair number of benefits in addition to being a good bee plant. Though I don't know how honey made from its pollen would taste--they seem to attract more bumblebees than honeybees.
 
Posts: 826
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Springtime and early summer is easy for foraging bees.   Natives are the best, and whatever suits your soil is your best bet.

Don't give up on blackberries, they may die back during drought, but they will be back when the ground water returns.   I've had huge blackberry patches narrow down during the drought, which tells me where the main ground water is, and that's where I put natives for late summer, fall and winter.

What kind of soil do you have?  I have heavy clay and can't do any natives that won't tolerate heavy clay.

Las Pilitas nursery in southern Calif has lots of good info on their website for natives and the specific conditions they need.



 
Nicole Alderman
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I just found out that Washignton State Weed Conrol is giving away packets of native perennial/biennial pollinator seeds. (The irony in Weed Control giving away wildflower seeds does not evade me)

https://www.nwcb.wa.gov/bee-u-tify
 
pollinator
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In my yard their favorites are (in calendar order):
- salmon berry
- trailing blackberry (the native one)
- evergreen huckleberry
- cascara
- blueberries, plums, apples, raspberries, etc.
- snowberry (late spring through fall)
- spirea
- ceanothus
- lavender
- himalayan blackberry
- teasel
- goldenrod
- viburnum "pink dawn" - flowers through late fall and winter

Thus I have year round bee forage. And yes they do forage a bit on warm days in the winter.
 
Steve Picker
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We have replaced a lot of our flowers in our beds with herbs, both medicinal and culinary. There are days we can go out and Voit 8 or 9 different kinds bees on the plants.
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