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Pollinator Forage Focus: Making Honey Bee Feeding Plans

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In the next month or so my honey bees will decide to call it a year and retreat into their hive until better weather returns. And even though I don’t have much left to do to help them get ready for winter this year, my responsibilities are far from over. You see, winter is the time to plan and get things ready for next year. And when it comes to honey bees there is always something more that you can do for them the next year.

A Focus On Forage

This is particularly true when it comes to feeding them. Now, most experienced beekeepers will agree with this and turn to look at their sugar bin. But what I first turn to is the flower garden and orchard. If those two areas are in shape over a farm or neighborhood it is possible to improve the quality and quantity of honey bee food as well as the health of all the bees in the area. This includes many of the hardworking native bees as well.

As with all design, this begins with a step-by-step process and ends with a variety of different possible solutions. Let’s take a look at the steps:

  • Inventory – what you have already planted by type and/or species. This includes trees, shrubs, and perennials that are ornamental and food producing. Also inventory annuals according to what you are used to planting.
  • Make a list of what you are already planning on your property for all the same purposes.
  • Next to each plant on the list place the bloom time and if honeybees use the flowers. If you can indicate whether they use the nectar, pollen, or both is also very useful. If you don’t know these things there are great resources online that can help you figure out what plants are beneficial, when they’re beneficial (bloom time), and how they are beneficial to honey bees (pollen, nectar, or both).
  • Step back and take a break. Go to work, rake some leaves, or fix the car and then have a great diner and some family time before you go to bed.
  • Come back to the lists in a day or so, and take a serious look at what is blooming when and mark it on a calendar with a crayon or marker. Use a light shade of blue for where you only have a few plants that provide bee food, a medium shade for OK blooming, and dark blue for when the most bee plants are blooming.
  • Take another couple of days and let your mind rest and focus on other things before you take a serious look the results.
  • When you come back to look at where the dark is, chances are you will see most of April to mid-July as being dark blue. Mid-July to mid-September will be likely to be white with patches of light blue. February to March will likely show a lot of white with some strong chunks of light blue.

Overlapping Bloom Times to Fill in Dearths

If these patterns are more or less what you are seeing, you have an area much like mine that is dryer in the late summer than the spring and the flowers follow accordingly. This means the major dearth or flower famine in the year is when it is hottest with some of the longest days. Whatever the pattern, the growing periods where there is any white are the most important to find bee feeding flowers for. Finding what flowers work best in your area is always a long study in horticulture, but a great place to start are our regional bee mixes. Each mix was created with the needs of your region in mind, and will work well as a core planting as you find new sources of plant nectar over the coming years.

I will have more about garden and bee planting through the winter, so stay tuned so we can help you make the best improvements on your property.


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