published February 2015

As the Worm Turns: Honeybee forage flowers

by Leigh Mills

I didn’t grow many flowers during my early gardening years.  If it wasn’t food, I wasn’t growing it.  After we got our first colony of honeybees, I started growing lots of flowers because I realized they were food . . . for the bees!  During the next few years I noticed which flowers the honeybees frequented and which ones they didn’t and started adding more honeybee-friendly varieties into the garden.  I also realized that having the flowers also attracted pollinators to my vegetable flowers, thereby increasing my vegetable and fruit harvests. 

Internet research provided websites that listed honeybee forage plants with the amount of pollen and/or nectar (listed below).  One website listed the “Top 5 Honeybee Favorites” and two of them can be “noxious” or invasive:  Goldenrod and Tansy.  Motherwort is another great honeybee plant, but it easily spreads.  Be mindful of these different characteristics when choosing forage plants. 

There is a wide selection of plants that support honeybees.  The photos show a handful of popular honeybee flowers at our homestead and here are a few more that could grow in our area:

Fruit trees are a good source of early pollen and nectar.  The ornamental varieties are best avoided since they don’t give the same kind of nutrition needed—do some research to see what kinds are best for the bees and your garden.

Milkweed is another awesome plant that feeds butterflies and bees (but beware—it can be toxic to grazing animals -Ed.).  It grows wild in our area and is easy to cultivate in home gardens.

Clover is an excellent, reliable source of food for honeybees.  There are several varieties of clover.  Yellow and White Sweet Clover honey is flavorful, abundant, and popular.  It also makes a great cover crop.

Melissa, or Lemon Balm, is a medicinal herb containing lots of nectar which the bees transform into a delicate honey.

There are many internet sources to help you research honeybee forage plants.  Here are the ones I used for this article:

For the Love of Bees – www.fortheloveofbees.com/planting-for-bees

Wikipedia – http://bit.ly/1Cvh8RQ

The Melissa Garden – http://bit.ly/1BkgTF9

USDA National Agroforestry Center – http://1.usa.gov/1uxQotr

This spring and summer, add or increase the amount of pollinator plants in your yard, garden, field or farm and help strengthen the honeybee populations.

Leigh Mills has lived and gardened in the San Luis Valley since 2002 and written the “As the Worm Turns” column since 2010.  If you enjoy reading her monthly, visit her website, TheInfiniteBee.com, to view color photos and read journal entries about how Leigh cultivates life with Adventures, Homestead Skills, and Life Practices.