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  1. #1
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    Default best plants for bees?

    ok after researching and asking around online.i found that lavender,grosso and super variety are really good for bees.then i went to this website chat room and the guy told me ALFALFA Medicago Sativa.the gov website tells me its Annual Perennial.also somebody told me if i wanted a vine to put on the fence that bees like,then i should get any honeysuckle vine.so what do u guys think? i need about 10+ for vines and for ground plants i'm about to put about 50 or so now then more later when i have time.the ground plants i need them to be perennial.any input is welcome

  2. #2
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    Default Re: best plants for bees?

    Welcome to BeeSource. Listing your location as the United States makes it impossible to talk about plants that will do well for you in your area. If you are talking about providing a floral source that your bees will benefit from you ought to be thinking in terms of acres not individual plants or vines. If you want to do something that makes you feel good but doesn't do a whole lot for your bees than your plans sound reasonable - talk with you local cooperative extension and see what they think.
    Master Beekeeper (EAS) and Master Gardener (U Maine CE) www.beeberrywoods.com

  3. #3
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    Default Re: best plants for bees?

    I am a professional horticulturist and very new beekeeper.

    Your question is an interesting but very complicated one, and as Andrew Dewey said above, it's important to know where you live.

    And also what's your experience level at gardening?

    Lavender is not always the easiest plant to grow. It likes what it likes, and it sulks elsewhere. The two cultivars (a cultivar is a horticulturally distinct variation on the typical plant) you mentioned are not terribly hardy. I wouldn't count on them north of zone 6.

    Alfalfa is more zone tolerant, but it's not a really a specimen garden plant. It's a field plant where you need thousands of them all at once to feed a hive of bees.

    Honeysuckle is a plant which has many different varieties which grow throughout the US. But different ones are better than others depending on where you are. Some imported varieties (Lonicera japonica, or Japanese Honeysuckle, for instance) have achieved almost pest-level saturation of the Mid-Atlantic/Upper Southeast of the US. I struggle up here in northern NY to coax a few flowers from vines I transplanted from my Mother's farm in VA, where it was rampant. They would hardly contribute anything to my bees, but native bush honeysuckles are huge providers of nectar for me in the late spring.

    And that brings me to the larger critical issue is that for bees you need a constantly changing stream of flowering plants throughout the entire growing season. Unless you live in an area like Hawaii, plants' blooming periods come and go all year long.

    For instance right now my first variety of goldenrod is just starting to fall off bloom and the main Common Goldenrod is just coming to peak. It will last a few weeks as plants in slightly different places nearby come and go. Then Asters will start, and then the final round will be the very tall sneezeweed plants which are so tall (6-7 feet) they avoid being hit by the first frosts and keep on producing flowers for a few weeks more.

    I happen to be in the early stages of working on a project to identify the best bee-feeding (nectar/pollen) plants for my area. The published lists of the best nectar plants are helpful, but many are geared to other parts of the country, and also to be providing nectar to the wide range of creatures that are defined as pollinators: everything from bats in some areas to butterflies, moths, bees (honey and wild bees), flies and ants.

    Instead of a small patch of a few different plants, I think one of the best ways to have a significant impact on bees' nectar and pollen needs may be to plant trees. Because trees are usually so much larger, with thousand or perhapps even millions of blossoms. Of course, most of them bloom only once per year.

    Here's one link with many listed that are believed to be nectar sources for bees and other pollinators:

    http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=12052

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_American_nectar_sources_for_honey_bees

    These sources may give you a start, but it will take some local digging to figure what's best for you and your bees.

    Enj.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: best plants for bees?

    Quote Originally Posted by fpsfreak View Post
    ok after researching and asking around online.i found that lavender,grosso and super variety are really good for bees.then i went to this website chat room and the guy told me ALFALFA Medicago Sativa.the gov website tells me its Annual Perennial.also somebody told me if i wanted a vine to put on the fence that bees like,then i should get any honeysuckle vine.so what do u guys think? i need about 10+ for vines and for ground plants i'm about to put about 50 or so now then more later when i have time.the ground plants i need them to be perennial.any input is welcome
    In my region, honey bees do not work honeysuckle. Some say honey bees tongues are too short. If I was going to plant a vine for my bees, it would be clematis. It blooms during our "dearth" and the bees love it.

    Shane

  5. #5
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    Default Re: best plants for bees?

    Since your post was labled "best plants for bees", and alfafa is not a vine, any of the mints would have to be near the top of my list of best bee plants.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: best plants for bees?

    I vote for sainfoin, rape/mustard, mints, and alfalfa. Also, various species of milkweed have extended blooming periods and are quite attractive to honey bees.

    Though, as has been mentioned, honey bee colonies need a great many blooming plants, producing nectar and pollen, in order to provide them with their forage needs. Even if I saturated my entire country acre with blooming/nectar/pollen producing plants, it would not produce enough forage to meet the needs of even one small colony.
    48 years - 50 hives - TF
    Joseph Clemens -- Website Under Constructioni

  7. #7
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    Default Re: best plants for bees?

    You need to know that your bees will travel out to hundreds or perhaps 1000's of acres. Do you have a large area to plant? A better approach is to learn the honey plants in your area and locate your bees in proximity to them.

  8. #8
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    Boonville, Indiana,USA
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    Default Re: best plants for bees?

    A combination of sweet clovers, using the tall yellow and white clovers. Also mix in some of the short white like you see in yards, I think this is called White Dutch. Now throw in some yellow birdsfoot trefoil and you have a mix that the bees love and will be in bloom from mid spring till early fall.

  9. #9
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    tacoma, wa. usa
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    Default Re: best plants for bees?

    You might also go down to the local home depot or Wal-Mart and visit the garden shop and see what the bee's are on (I was surprised on how many honey bee's were in the department.... Beeing an urban beek, I have been looking for late august and September flowers that the bee's are on now after our August dearth.... catmint, sedum, clover.. Walking around the neighborhood anything blue seems to have bee's on them. I am in the NW, Western WA... the goldenrod bloom seems to be on the other side of the mountain.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: best plants for bees?

    http://shop.wildseedfarms.com/Purple...ductinfo/3334/

    Purple tansy is an awesome one. It is down the page a bit. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norther...for_honey_bees

    Also I plant buckwheat on 2 acres and the Tansy on one acre. They self seed. all I do is mow it and let it dry then disk in after 2 weeks. The buckwheat is very fast to grow. My bees are all over both of these when in flower. You can literally stand in the middle of them and hear the hum of the bees.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: best plants for bees?

    It's very interesting to read the comments about the various recommendations. And it illustrates my point about needing location specific recommendations, and even more important plant, variety specific information when talking abut a particular plant.

    The comment above that bees don't use honeysuckle, but do like clematis is the perfect illustration. (Sorry, not trying to pick on the writer, just use it as an example.)

    Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) which is rampant to the point of being overwhelming in VA has a long, narrow, tubular flower that may be too tight and extended for bees. But the native honeysuckles (bush form, not vine) in northen NY are prime components of the late spring nectar flow, producing a lovely, pale mild honey. There are a couple dozen, or more, species of honeysuckle growing in the US, and many times that many horticultural variations ("cultivars") available. So something known by the common name of "honeysuckle" may not be a good nectary plant in one area while another plant also known elswhere as "honeysuckle" might be a fantastic source of nectar and pollen.

    Clematis, BTW, is much the same as there are several distinct horticulturally popular species and several native species. The times and patterns of blooming (some are repeat bloomers, and some can be tricked into repeat blooming) vary widely. You really need to specify which plant, and which cultivar, you are talking about in order to recommend one or the other as a reliable source of nectar during "the dearth".

    It may sound like pointy-headed showing off to be focusing in on the specific names, including suggesting use of the scientific names of each plant rather than the common ones. But it does make a difference in the same way that beekeepers know quite well the difference between Apis mellifera and yellow jackets. And we are mildly exasperated by non-bee people who think all bees are the same, because to us these flying yellow "bees" are utterly different creatures.

    Good garden plant guides, wild flower guides, etc. will help in sorting out which plant is which.

    For woody garden plants, you can't go wrong with anything written by Michael Dirr. His Manual of Woody Landscape Plants is the ultimate reference, though it has few illustrations.

    In the case of woody or vining plants this publication from the New York Botanical Garden which focuses on identification of similar looking native and exotic invasive plants is quite useful.

    http://www.nybg.org/files/scientists/rnaczi/Mistaken_Identity_Final.pdf

    Regional wildflower and gardening guides abound.

    And a starting point for identifying a particular plant is always Google. It's surprsing how often even a pretty simplistic description of a plant in the search box will quickly lead to the correct identification.

    As for the idea of using bee-visits to plants in a nursery or garden center to identifiy nectar sources: it's a start, but I wouldn't put too much stock into it if that is the only basis. Bees visit lots of plants, especially in areas where there aren't a lot of blooming plants to begin with. You need to see sustained visiting, of multiple honey bees, working a particular kind of plant in order to to know if it's just prospecting or real foraging.

    We beekeepers are focused right now on the arrival and plentitude of the goldenrod flow. (Notice all the posts about it here in the Bee Forums.) There are many species of goldenrod in the US, some are better than others in producing nectar. Some produce more or less nectar in response to differing local growing conditions earlier in the year. As beekeepers we depend on the "goldenrod" flow for end-of-season sustenance and honey-making nectar to keep our bees fed all winter. All of them are known locally as "goldenrods", most are probably also in the genus of Solidago. But we are depending ondifferent plants from one place to another, and from one time to another. In NY, alone, there are twenty three different kinds of "goldenrod."

    Enj.

  12. #12
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    May 2013
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    Halfway, Oregon, USA
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    Default Re: best plants for bees?

    My votes are in approximate order of bloom - willow, phacelia, maple, chestnut, buckwheat, locust, hyssop/mints, sweet clovers, alfalfa, fireweed, cottonwoods(for propolis), trefoil and golden rod. Also, 3rd and 4th cut alfalfa will bloom later then golden rod. I live in a irrigated agricultural valley, where most of these plantings are 10 or 20 acres in size.

    If you are going to plant for you bees, it should be at least 1/4 acre in size. Borage is also a good one, just not prevalent in my area. Phacelia is my hands down favorite and it blooms in 32 day of planting, copious nectar, and good winter kill cover crop. But then again, of I was planting a foraging cover crop, I would plant vetch and buckwheat. I've been considering producing phacelia and buckwheat seed, as they are similar in seed maturity and shape.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: best plants for bees?

    Has anyone planted a bee bee tree? I put a new one out there this summer, it's about 24" high right now but will grow I believe 30 feet, and supposedly blossoms during dearth end of summer and is a big bee magnet.

    Also, my buckwheat patch housed tons of pollinators including the bees this summer. I mean, they loved that stuff. And supposedly buckwheat honey sells for a premium, altho you'd have to have I believe I read one acre of buckwheat per hive. Next summer I'm planting more. But in only grows in the cooler climates, not down south.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: best plants for bees?

    How do the economics work out on buckwheat? One acre of buckwheat per hive -- what is the cost for prepping the soil and planting and how much buckwheat honey do you produce per hive. Do you get anything out of the buckwheat itself? I'm curious - definitely not trying to be a naysayer here as I have no knowledge here but am curious. This fits in with the notion that honey production in the future will be more stationary - with the beekeeper controlling the property the bees forage on.
    Master Beekeeper (EAS) and Master Gardener (U Maine CE) www.beeberrywoods.com

  15. #15
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    Default Re: best plants for bees?

    A few years ago I purchased some Evodia danielli (Bee Bee Tree) seed from someone on this forum, but I misplaced it before I managed to plant any. Even if I located it now, it would likely be quite low in viability. I would like to start some to try this species, here, so I will need to find some more fresh seed.

    I did get a few seed of Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata), and have managed to start one of these, though it is only a little more than 14 inches tall, so far.
    48 years - 50 hives - TF
    Joseph Clemens -- Website Under Constructioni

  16. #16
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    Apr 2012
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    Default Re: best plants for bees?

    My area is weird too...I never see bees on dandelions, they weren't much on the white clover, I have peppermint blooming in pots on my patio and they ignore it..... I have a big pear tree they ignore it too...this week I noticed a lot of buzzing coming from my fig bushes. Would you believe there are honeybees all over them, clustered on figs that have been torn open by birds and squirrels, or over ripe? I saw like 10 honeybees on one fig, I guess they are eating them? or possible getting sweet juice? I had bees and figs last year and the year before and I never saw them on the figs like they are now....

  17. #17
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    Default Re: best plants for bees?

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Dewey View Post
    How do the economics work out on buckwheat? One acre of buckwheat per hive -- what is the cost for prepping the soil and planting and how much buckwheat honey do you produce per hive. Do you get anything out of the buckwheat itself? I'm curious - definitely not trying to be a naysayer here as I have no knowledge here but am curious. This fits in with the notion that honey production in the future will be more stationary - with the beekeeper controlling the property the bees forage on.
    Ours wasn't an acre patch, it was actually an idea of my husband's to kind of green manure and get rid of weeds (smother crop), but he likes the way the buckwheat flowers look so he wants to plant more next year, plus he is trying to find ways to reduce mowing.

    But, you can shell and mill the buckwheat (it doesn't look easy tho) and add it to breads and buckwheat pancakes, I believe it's considered more of a legume than a grain. I guess it's supposed to be very healthy, from looking around at internet links. And you can save the buckwheat seeds for replanting the next year.

    Besides being a source for the bees pretty much the entire summer, and recouping your seed investment by gathering the seeds for next year, I like keeping the bees as close to home as possible to try to keep them from getting into pesticides, etc.

    Here's a link on the buckwheat: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/buckwheat.html

    We didn't till, just put black plastic on the ground to kill the grass and weeds first. Buckwheat can grow in poor soil too from what I understand, and improves the soil.

    As far as how much honey, that I'm not sure.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: best plants for bees?

    Quote Originally Posted by Joseph Clemens View Post
    A few years ago I purchased some Evodia danielli (Bee Bee Tree) seed from someone on this forum, but I misplaced it before I managed to plant any. Even if I located it now, it would likely be quite low in viability. I would like to start some to try this species, here, so I will need to find some more fresh seed.

    I did get a few seed of Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata), and have managed to start one of these, though it is only a little more than 14 inches tall, so far.
    I haven't heard of the Golden Rain Tree, will have to look into that. As far as the Bee Bee, I got mine as an 8" sapling from a nursery.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: best plants for bees?

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Dewey View Post
    How do the economics work out on buckwheat? One acre of buckwheat per hive -- what is the cost for prepping the soil and planting and how much buckwheat honey do you produce per hive. Do you get anything out of the buckwheat itself?... This fits in with the notion that honey production in the future will be more stationary - with the beekeeper controlling the property the bees forage on.
    I'm not sure about the hive per acre thing... that sounds like a heavy honey bumper? But I know that other beekeepers have mentioned needing at least 1/4 acre planted to be attractive as a forage source of significance. I'm sure there is more regionally appropriate information from your local ag extension office.

    As far as the economics are concerned... It's an extremely efficient green cover crop. However, most people that are planting for cover crops are tilling or plowing the crop down, not long after it goes to flower. There are pros and cons to this depending on whether you are planting heavy feeders next, or if you are trying to build lignin (humus), in which case you would wait until the plant had more 'woody' older growth.

    Most would plant with vetch too. These are easily managed crops, a single-gang disc with two horses with make quick work of an early buckwheat/vetch crop. Following limited till practices you might summer fallow after that and then plant again in the late summer. The Nordell's out of PA have immense wealth of information on this technique.

    Growing the plant for seed allows the most foraging opportunity. I believe it is winter killed in most climates.

    Quote Originally Posted by NewbeeInNH View Post
    But, you can shell and mill the buckwheat (it doesn't look easy tho) and add it to breads and buckwheat pancakes, I believe it's considered more of a legume than a grain. I guess it's supposed to be very healthy, from looking around at internet links. And you can save the buckwheat seeds for replanting the next year.
    I am interested in producing buckwheat for seed and your guess at it's difficulty isn't far off. Similar to phacelia, the seed on each head mature a different rate. So you are either threshing a head early, and not having fully mature seeds... or you wait and probably lose some of your seed to shattering. They also have that interesting hexagonal shell shape...

    It is definitely a highly nutritious grain substitute but I am interested in producing a seed crop to sell to other growers interested in bee forage and no-till green crops etc. Bringing my back to Andrew comment about beekeepers controlling the crops grown around them.

    YES!! This is my whole trip... I live in this totally fantasy world where in 5 to 10 years we will transition to farms and market gardens between 10 to 150 acres or so in size. Each supporting it's own resident beekeeper and using bee foraging cover crops that they rotate using limited till methods. Oh, and implements drawn by horses.

  20. #20
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    Default Re: best plants for bees?

    I'm with you Hazel-Rah!

    We're in the threshing phase right now. I've read to cut the buckwheat (a scythe would be great for that) when it's about 75% brown, then thresh onto a large area, we're using row cover for that. To remove the chaff, you sift it with your fingers in front of a box fan which blows away the chaff and the heavier seed falls. The difficulty tho, I think, lies in separating the buckwheat from the hull and then milling, if you want buckwheat flour.

    Buckwheat flowers almost the entire summer, so it's a good source for bees. It dies in a freeze, so you have to wait to plant after spring frost date.

    I guess there is not too much profit in buckwheat flour itself, since more people aren't growing it. But the seed is expensive, so I would think there is a market for that.

    edit: from the link in my thread up there ^ is this: "an acre of buckwheat may support a hive of bees and yield up to 150 pounds of honey in a season. Reports are that it is not uncommon for a strong colony to glean 10 pounds of honey per day while foraging buckwheat."

    edit edit: I guess buckwheat is a grain, not a legume. I must be thinking of something else that was a legume. Hmm.

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