I’m going to take a break from the organizational bent I’ve been on, and toss out some thoughts on feeding bees, that, like you, need to eat every day, all year long. Now I’m not talking about feeding sugar water in the spring or fall, or protein of some sort – man made or bee collected - at the same time… no, I’m talking about providing the raw material for your honey bee colony…honey and pollen.
Mostly, we think that the bees know best and will find what they need, when they need it, and when it’s available. That’s mostly true. Most years, most places. But in all honesty it’s a crap shoot on honey crops. Drought, rain, farming practices, that new mall, herbicides, removing fence rows, late freezes, early freezes…all these can, and routinely do mess up a honey flow, and a honey crop.
You can take the attitude that it’s in God’s hands, and that’s how it should be, or you can take measure of the local conditions and move your bees to a better spot, or you can babysit those colonies with sugar syrup and protein patties so they have something to eat. Those are been pretty much the three choices beekeepers have. Unless you reconsider.
Yes, you can provide for your bees to overcome every one of these nutritional inconveniences. Here’s how.
If you had complete control over what grows on, say a five acre plot, you could support as many as 20 colonies just on that land. It takes an acre of land, constantly in bloom, to support a colony for a season. One acre, one colony. Unless. Yes, unless there’s more blooming on that acre than a single crop. Consider for instance a fence row crop of early maples and willows blooming, followed by dandelions, then a stand of locust trees at the far end of the lot blooming followed by apple and other fruit trees on another fence row, followed by tulip poplars, then a cover crop of clover comes into bloom at the same time as a big crop of honeysuckle then sumac all kick in. These are followed by more clovers, holly, cotoneasters, Bee Bee trees, another clover…well, you see the plan here. On a single acre, with careful planning, there will always be two, three even more things blooming at once…that one colony one acre suddenly becomes three or four colonies one acre for the whole season.
Look at it this way. That acre isn’t a single dimension…flat. It has ground cover, shrubs and trees, all blooming at once, or all blooming some time during the season, thus providing more than a single crop at the same time…more flowers, more bees supported. So, no matter what happens during the season, some crops will bloom, some will deal with the rain, the drought, the cold and the heat. Your bees will always have something to eat. Something real to eat.
But…what if you don’t have those five acres? Guerrilla gardening takes over. You can be planting your bee food on land that doesn’t have a plan…roadside ditches, away from the herbicide treatments, fence rows, vacant lots in cities and towns, vacant fields in the county side…where ever things are growing, but aren’t being planted…you drive by a hundred likely places every day on the way to work.
You’ve heard of seed bombs…seeds you want to plant mixed with soil and clay into marble sized projectiles, then spread all over where ever you want those seeds to grow. You can buy for very, very cheap two or three year old tree or shrub seedlings for a buck or less. These can be stuck in fence rows, back lots, vacant lots, where ever a spot just yells to have a plant. After about five years, only 25 percent of them will still be around…rabbits, deer, lawn mowers and land owners take their toll…but 25 percent will make it to bloom stage…that come to about $4.00 a tree…incredibly inexpensive investment in you bees for the rest of your beekeeping career. You can plant them anywhere within a mile or so of where your bees are, so you’ll never have to move your bees to overcome weather’s hardships…farmer’s poisons or that new mall down the road. Plant a bee garden this year, but make it a garden to roar about.
For much, much more on this subject, see the new book Better Beekeeping, by Kim Flottum, Editor, Bee Culture Magazine.