Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bee flowers on parade! The Locust tree reigns!

The previous post spoke on the progression and parade of flowers that appear for bees to visit in the mid-Atlantic US area in the spring and early summer months.  I've included photos for you to identify them.  As you go through these flowers, think about whether the honey bee uses this flower for pollen or nectar.  A general theme is earlier appearing flowers are pollen resources (note Maple and Dandelion below.)  The queen uses the pollen as protein to stimulate yolk production of her eggs.  Later appearing flowers maay be about either pollen or nectar or both.  The flower's shape and anthers (pollen stalks) or nectaries (nectar reservoirs) may hint at this.  Then, there are some flowers that are not really suitable for either pollen or nectar as resources for honey bees.  Those are listed at the bottom as non- significant bee flowers.

The following are what I term "bee flowers" with the month in which they typically appear, if weather, temperature and rainfall all cooperate in the mid Atlantic where I and my bees reside.

Red and Sugar Maples-end of January/beginning of February


and Dandelions-end of February/beginning of March and throughout summer

Pears, and the stone fruits-Plums, Cherries, Peaches-March/beginning of April

Yellow mustard-April

Crab Apples and Hawthornes-beginning of April


Autumn Olive and Holly bushes-end of April/May

And, a drum roll please.........the flowers we beekeepers live for around here! Because these have the nectar that makes the best tasting honey in the mid-Atlantic (in my and my customer's) opinions!

Honey and Black Locust trees-May and early June 

These trees grow wild on river banks and forest edges here.  But, they are increasingly domesticated and grow in perimeter landscaping of new town homes.  They are fast growing trees and attractive.  The blossoms hang down in clusters like white grapes.  They are very fragrant, and are likely the "fresh clean flower" scent you associate with spring.  If you look high in the trees where the sun hits first, you will see more developed flowers than down low below.  So, you see an opening progression from top to bottom of the tree.  And, with this comes the various bee and wasp visitors.  The locusts now blooming in my neighborhood are full of bumble bees, carpenter bees, honey bees, mason bees, sweat bees, leaf cutter bees, and paper wasps of several species.  They are all buzzing happily within the flowers and non-chalantly "bumping" into one another.  In fact, they are somewhat drunk with their happy finds.  I was able to gently rub the abdomen of a very contented bumble bee.  She was so intoxicated, she could not move or did not notice.

Locust honey makes for a very light in color, almost white or clear honey.  It has a lighter taste than the more familiar store bought clover varietals.  My customers love to put it in their morning teas and coffees.  It also thus demands a higher price than clover!  So, beekeepers, get those honey supers on your hives! The nectar flow is on and honey is in the making!  And, it's the good stuff!

Other flowers soon to bloom that also contribute to the ongoing nectar flow through June here:

Roses (and related Rosacea-Wild Blackberries, Wild Raspberries)-May/June
Wild and Domesticated Strawberries-May/June
Other wildflowers-summer months-Torch lilies, Coneflowers, etc.

Break in nectar flow in July and August-normally a hot drought month

Fall nectar flow-Asters and Goldenrod-September until the first frost in October or November.

The following are not considered significant bee flowers:

Pansies, Daffodils, Violets, Tulips, Forsythia, Forget me nots, Magnolias, Bleeding hearts, Lily of the valleys, Dogwoods, Redbuds, Lilacs, Irises

Special Cases:
Rhododendrons and Azaleas-more on these interesting flowers to come in a future post.

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