Part of this year’s preparation is to note what food sources our area will provide for our bees at different times of the year and what we might wish to plant for them. Bees can travel as far as six miles to find nectar but then would use up most of it on the return to the hive. “Starting and Keeping Bees in Michigan” by Mary and Roger Sutherland recommends surveying a two mile radius around the hive for nectar and pollen sources. In some areas there may be nothing in bloom during certain times of the year. The bees would then be in a position of depleting their honey stores and perhaps even requiring feeding by the beekeeper. Ideally we will eventually be able to provide a plentiful variety of blooms close to the hive during every part of the active bee season. Our property is not large enough to contain a two mile radius around the hives and it is not all covered by “bee plants” so they will certainly forage neighboring properties. But like overprotective parents we would prefer they found all they need at home, where we know we do not use pesticides.
On to the survey. Right now our spring bulbs (mainly daffodils) and forsythia have certainly been blooming, as has a red maple. An unspecified maple has just bloomed yesterday. Otherwise the surrounding trees (What are they all?) still look mostly dormant. The meadow that we know has aster and goldenrod is currently a sea of dead-looking stalks and tall grasses.
How good is this? Wikipedia regards the maples as major sources of nectar for this time of year but warns that temperatures may be too cold for bees to fly. It seems that anything blooming during this time of year would have the same disadvantage. Nectar, nectar, everywhere and not a drop to drink without freezing before making it back to the hive? This spring has certainly had its cold, windy, rainy days but a number of warm ones as well. Michigan weather is nothing if not variable. It seems prudent to provide early blooms near the hive for warm days during a cold season the bees feel like foraging.
The only mention of bees and forsythia I have found is on the Peace Bee Farm blog by Richard Underhill. Being in Akansas, his March is more reliably warm than ours in SE Michigan.
Otherwise googling turns up a few claims of the importance of spring bulbs as food for bees but that may be in areas where nothing else is blooming for the early bee rather than the particular quality of the flowers. Peace Bee Farm observes that bees are rarely attracted to daffodils although this year seems an exception.
What else can we plant for this time? The wikipedia article also recommends willow and pussywillow, which may bloom even earlier than the maples, with the same caveat about temperatures. We bought some pussywillow branches at the supermarket a while ago and a few, as is not uncommon, are rooting in the vase of water. We will see if we can successfully transplant these outdoors.
On a related note our Monarch waystation kit from Monarch Watch arrived yesterday. Most of the included seed packets are different kinds of milkweed. It is true that butterflies are off-topic but it’s our blog and we can topic-drift if we want to.
Besides all the milkweed in the summer will be appealing to bees as well.