One of the first signs of spring on a honey farm is a particular buzz in the air. After spending all winter cooped up indoors with several thousand family members, the worker bee understandably has a serious case of spring fever.
As beekeepers, we’ve tried hard to garden with this spring fever in mind. These girls are as desperate for a bite of fresh pollen and nectar as I am to eat my first spring greens. When we go outside they are so eager that they inspect anything that moves for potential food. As we walk the property, they hover over us and circle our activities with great interest. We feel it’s our job to ensure that our acreage offers many of their earliest food crops. Of course, we are located just off the Big Darby Creek Watershed, so there’s a wide variety of early wildflowers and trees beyond what we provide.
Bees will reliably fly to forage for 2 miles in any direction from their hive. We find that they shift their direction each day with what is blooming. Very early on, one of the first flowers to bloom is the skunk cabbage. We’re pretty sure that there are some of these plants along the creek because the bees can be seen bringing back pollen when the cold in the air tells us that no flower should be out.
To ensure that the bees have plenty of food after a long winter’s hibernation, gardeners need to focus on plants that provide either both pollen and nectar or specimens that provide both individually. Some provide one or the other, but the bees will require both to get energy and begin feeding a new population of workers. Of course, on our farm, we don’t wait to see if they have enough to collect in the way of nectar. We are feeding our bees from the first 50-degree day. If they can fly, we make sure they have honey to take into their hives. The end of the winter is the riskiest part of being a bee. Usually they have eaten down most of what they stored for winter. It is vital that the weather turn and food sources become available.
If you are in the Midwest and would like to help with spring food supplies for the bees, there are a number of candidates. Here is a good list including when they bloom:
- Alder (Alnus incana) Feb.-Apr.
- Cherry (Prunus spp) Apr.-May
- Chickweed (Stellaria media) Apr.-July
- Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
- Corneliancherry Dogwood (Cornus mas) Mar.-Apr.
- Crabapple (Malus spp) Mar.-Jun.
- Crocus (Crocus vernus) Apr.
- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) Apr.-May
- Elm (Ulmus americana) Feb.-Apr
- Gill-Over-The-Ground (Nepeta glechoma) Apr.-July
- Hawthorn (Corylus americana) Apr.-May
- Maple (Acer spp) Feb.-Apr.
- Mustard (Brassica arvenisi) Apr.-May
- Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra) Apr.-May
- Pussy Willow (Salix discolor) Mar.-Apr.
- Red Bud (Cercis canadensis) Apr.-May
- Sassafrass (sassafras officinale) Apr.-May
- Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) Apr.-May
- Walnut (Juglans spp) Apr.-May
- White Ash (Fraxinus americana) Apr.-May
- Willow (Salix spp) Feb.-Apr.
Find more beekeeping info on HobbyFarms.com:
- Month-by-month Beekeeping
- Video: 5 Signs of a Healthy Hive
- How to Help a Honey-bound Hive
- Infographic: The Buzz on Honey Bees