One of every three bites we eat is made possible by bees. Without their pollination of plants, there would be a lot of foods we’ve grown dependent upon that wouldn’t be available. So, it’s important to support our honey bees by providing them with abundant food sources. We can do that by planting flowers that provide blooms that are good sources of food for them (as identified in the lists below), and make sure that we have plants that they like blooming throughout all the temperate seasons.
The photo of two bottles of honey in the picture to the right demonstrates how the differing blooms that honey bees are gathering nectar and pollen from can affect the resulting honey. The honey in both bottles was extracted from the same hive at the same time; however, it’s obvious that one is much lighter in color, and if you could taste it, it’s also more delicate in flavor. How is this possible? Well, the bees collected the nectar at different times from different floral sources. By recognizing that they had stored honey from different floral sources in different frames in the hive, we were able to extract them separately and produce two distinct flavors and colors of honey.
How Much Bloom Does It Take
It takes a gallon of nectar to make a quart of honey, and to support just one hive of bees, it takes approximately an acre of continuously blooming foliage starting a month before the last spring frost and continuing until a month after the first fall frost. That’s a lot of blooming foliage, and in today’s environment, can be difficult to accommodate. It means that the bees need access to a wide variety of blooming vegetation throughout the season, something that was easy in yesteryears environment of small family farms, but much more difficult with today’s sprawling cities and monoculture farms.
Generally, bees will go between 1 – 2 miles to forage for food, and if you think of this in terms of acres of potential foliage available to them, this means:
100 yards = 6.5 acres available forage
½ mile = 502 acres available forage
1 mile = 2,010 acres available forage
2 miles = 8,038 acres available forage
5 miles =50,240 acres available forage
Of course, the further the bees have to travel for food, the more time they’ll spend travelling and the less time they’ll spend making honey. So when thinking about a location for a bee hive, it’s a good idea to take a look at an aerial map, and identify exactly what kind of potential forage exists at ½, 1, and 2 miles for the honey bees.
Good Blooms for Bees
We can all help the honey bees by planting vegetation that the bees like and are good for honey production. Rather than having just grass lawns, we can create much more interesting and varied landscapes for both us and the honey bees.
When Do They Bloom
Of course, when selecting plants to add to our landscapes, it’s important to select a range of plants that bloom over the entire season, so that honey bees have food sources from spring through fall. Here are the major bloom times for just a few:
Maples, Willows, Lamium, Cherry, Plum, Crab Apples, Mustard
Black Locust, Tulip Poplar, Blackberries, Raspberries, Russian Olive, Honeysuckle
White & Yellow Sweet Clovers, Basswood, White Dutch Clover, Alsike Clover, Holly, Hyssop, Cotoneaster, Buckwheat, Sumac, Hairy Vetch, Milkweed, Knotweed
Goldenrod, Aster, Fireweed, Heather, Sunflower, Mint
Whether we’re beekeepers or food consumers, we can all help the honey bees by providing a wide range of floral sources for them to forage from.