In the lean months of the year, many bee keepers supplement their bees natural diet by supplying them with sugar water and pollen patties. In this post, I cover some natural alternatives that I plan to try in 2011.
Over the Winter months, bees live on stored supplies of honey and pollen. In very cold climates, or in cases where the bee keeper has harvested honey aggressively in the Fall, bees may not have enough food to survive the Winter or provide for new brood in the early Spring. It is fairly common for bee keepers to supplement natural stores with a 2 to 1 mixture of sugar to water and protein supplements.
I was fairly conservative with harvesting this Fall and it looks like the bees have survived the Winter. In a week or two, I'll open my hives for the first time this season and check to see if any supplements might be required for Spring. My hope is that I can avoid supplements altogether. This got me thinking about ways that I could provide bees with the Fall and Spring nectar and pollen sources that would reduce my need for any un-natural intervention.
I've done some research and here are some plants you can add to your garden that will help your bees. I've concentrated on those that produce in the Spring and Fall. Where possible, I've also tried to select dual purpose crops that are useful for both your bees and your garden.
Borage - this is an annual plant that is used medicinally. This plant can over-winter and provide nectar for bees in the Spring. It requires full sun.
Echium - a very showy shrub that produces large "spikes" of blue, red, lavender or pink flowers. There are about 60 species of this plant and they can be annual, biennials or perennials. Echium are mostly for temperate climates (zone 9-11) but you can find some varieties that can survive in zone 6 if you search the Internet. Echium Candicans (Pride of Madeira) is a perennial that blooms from spring through summer. Echium Wildpretii (Tower of Jewels) is a huge biennial that blooms in the late spring. Ecium Vulgare is the most common of the species, but is very prickly and most would consider it a highly invasive weed. Echiums should be planted in full sun and provide bees with both nectar and pollen.
Goldenrod - I'm going to add this perennial plant but grow it in a large pot. It's considered by many to be a weed and is very invasive. I have less than fond memories of Goldenrod since I suffered from allergies as a child. Growing it in a pot will leave me the option to remove this plant if I find my allergies kicking up again. Goldenrod blooms form mid-Summer through the Fall so it will help bees stock pile nectar for the winter.
White Clover (Melilotus alba) - If your a gardener, white clover packs a double punch; it's a green manure crop and it provides both nectar and pollen for your bees. Clover is an annual that blooms in the early Spring.
Coltsfoot - A perennial plant that provides nectar and pollen in the early Spring. Coltsfoot is a medicinal herb that has been traditionally used to make cough suppressants. Apparently, it is also smoked in Amsterdam since the Dutch government placed additonal restrictions on tobacco in 2008. (Is it me, or are the Dutch crazy?)
Hazelnut/Filbert - This perennial bush provides prolific quantities of protein rich nuts for you... and for the squirrels if you don't take precautions. In California, hazelnuts flower in mid-Winter and early Spring and are a good source of pollen for bees. Hazelnuts are not self-fertile, so you need to plant more than two varieties in your garden.