Honey Yield, Nectar Secretion, And Pollen Production:
Vansell (1941 ) showed that some alfalfa cultivars yield more honey than others. Loper and Waller (1970) showed that when several clonal lines of alfalfa were presented in bouquets to honey bees, the bees consistently showed preference for certain ones. Several terpenoid compounds have been identified in alfalfa varieties (Loper et al. 1971, Loper 1972). The significance of these compounds in honey bee behavior is under investigation. Loper et al. (1971) identified one of the aromatic compounds as ocimene. Its true significance in bee attractiveness has not been determined. If an attractant factor can be isolated, its use in the breeding and selection for cultivars with greater attractiveness to pollinators could become quite important.
Alfalfa produces a large amount of nectar, which is highly attractive to many species of bees, and from which honey bees produce excellent crops of high quality honey. Kropacova (1963) estimated that alfalfa produces 416 to 1,933 pounds of nectar per acre. McGregor and Todd (1952*) estimated that 54 to 238 pounds of nectar per acre were produced during a peak flowering day.
When alfalfa is cut for hay just as flowering starts, as is normally practiced, the beekeeper gets little or no alfalfa honey. If the crop is left to produce seed, the amount of nectar available to a colony depends upon the plant density, the competition from other bees, and other environmental and agronomic factors. As a general rule, one strong colony per acre of seed alfalfa should store 50 to 100 pounds honey. When the colonies are in the area at the rate of three per acre they may store little or no surplus honey.
Alfalfa is a poor source of pollen for honey bees. Usually they will collect it only when no other source is available. When honey bees have only alfalfa upon which to forage, the colony strength diminishes rapidly. Alfalfa pollen is relished by many other species of bees including the genera of Bombus, Halictus, Megachile, Melissodes, and Nomia. Numerous observers have reported that honey bees collect alfalfa pollen more freely in the Southwestern and Western States than in the Northeastern States. But whether the higher visitation rate is due to condition of the alfalfa plants, lack of pollen producing competing plants, or both conditions has never been resolved.
Tysdal (1946) estimated that 2 billion flowers per acre of alfalfa were produced in Nebraska. Lesins (1950) calculated that about 200 million flowers per acre were capable of setting pods. At five seeds per pod and 220,000 seeds per pound, this indicates a potential of 5,000 pounds of seed per acre. Pedersen et al. (1956) showed that 46.7 percent of the flowers can produce pods, indicating that a ton of seed per acre is possible.
Where I grew up no one planted alfalfa. I was always told that even where it grew the bees could not reach the nectar, the bloom being too deep. As I recall that story, bumblebees worked the alfalfa by chewing a hole in the blossom and reaching in for the nectar. This opened the bloom to honeybees who came next, so that some production did occur.
I didn't know anyone cut soy beans for hay. That is not done in this part of the country that I know of.
As I understand Alfalfa from when I was going to raise leafcutter bees for Alfalfa pollenation, the honey bees have tongues long enough to reach the nectar without actually getting into the flower and therefore could get the nectar without pollenating it. While the leaf cutter bees had to get down into the flower to get the nectar and therfore they did pollenate it. The bottom line was if you were raising alfalfa SEED honey bees were helpful in pollenation, but not nearly as good as the leaf cutter bees.
That's what I was told by the alfalfa seed growers. I don't know how true it is. I've never bothered to go into the alfalfa fields and watch. I should.
Wow, some expensive hay. Soybeans are worth a fortune,
Getting alfalfa honey is not as easy as it sounds. Usually it is cut at no more than 20% bloom, leaving only a week of foraging. It has been noticed that the bees will still forage well after the plant is cut. But foraging never the less.
Seed alfalfa is the money/honey maker. But it works the best with leafcutters in tandem. You see the leaf cutter is small and cralws right into the flowers. The alfalfa flower, when it is visited, trips the bottom pedal after it is pollinated. That trip slapps the face of the honeybee and discourages it from foraging its flowers. So whenleaf cutters are preasent, they trip the flower and the honeybee visits afterwards.
Ian you're right. Alfalfa uses a trip mechanism to deposit the pollen. Honeybees learn to avoid this so don't make great pollinators of Alfalfa - if you are raising it for seed you have to boost the density of hives to make up for this learned behaviour.
Leafcutters don't travel far so they are often combined with honeybees for pollination.
Certain clovers and hairy vetch are alternative legumes you can grow for hay and get a good honey crop. The hay quality is higher if it's cut just before bloom but if it is in your field you can wait a bit. 2nd and 3 cuttings may yield more bloom, particularly if they are too weak for the farmer to bother with.
There are also some low spreading clovers that will grow and bloom fairly continuously if you keep the field grazed or cut it down to about 5 inches several times during the season.
All of these contribute nitrogen to the pasture and when mixed with other grasses provide a high protein pasture without as much risk of bloat or toxicity that turning livestock out on staight clover or alfalfa.
Right now I am experimenting with a mix of hairy vetch, coastal bermuda, and rye grass for year round bee friendly pasture. I abhor herbicides so there is a nice mix of aster, dandelion, and assorted other befriendly forbs mixed in. I do end up doing a cutting late summer to knock back the snakeweed and bitterweed that the animals won't touch-it competes for moisture and the honey is as bitter as you can get.
As a general rule, one strong colony per acre of seed alfalfa should store 50 to 100 pounds honey. When the colonies are in the area at the rate of three per acre they may store little or no surplus honey.
Where I live we have lot of "part time" farmers. (40 hr job also) Therefore the alfalfa is often cut late. Some times when the alfalfa is in full bloom there are lot of bees and buterflies there. Other times none. I don't know why. The bees are kind of hard to find but the buterflies can be seen when going along the field. If the buterflies are there so are the honeybees.
Soy bean hay is normally grown cut and replanted with soybeans for seed crop. I was told that doing this keeps the microbes the soybeans need in the soil while giving a boost of nitrogen to the next crop. Several years ago it was real common and was even done with corn being the second crop. I know a dairy farmer that still does this every year. He round bales the soybean hay and places it in the barn. He has an unroler and mill to make his own feed. All alfalfa around here is square baled and to expensive for this purpose.
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