We all have childhood memories of the first time we noticed honey bees. Perhaps it was seeing them working a patch of white clover on a warm spring day. Maybe, it was on those first dandelions of early spring. Possibly, that first memory was of an apple tree in full bloom and the buzz of hundreds of bees working the flowers.
These first memories often form our view of where bees are to be found and where they make their honey. For the most part, those views are entirely in our human perspective on the world.
Bees though, are not so limited by gravity. Their world is both higher and broader than the view formed by our first discoveries of them. Our perception is reinforced by our normal interaction with bees. We see them often working the clover on the lawn, the flower bed by the house, even the fruit trees in the yard. We do not see them working the flowers in the treetops. Nor is it easy to realize those little bees traveling miles to find that patch of clover.
The truth is, large mature trees are an important food source for our bees, a food source important enough to affect the overall strength and health of a beehive.
Honeybees begin their year on those first warm spring days, seeking the pollen of wind pollinated trees such as, Willow, Elm, and Red Maple. This pollen flow is the rich food that initiates brood production by the queen. These sources of pollen are earlier even than the earliest of spring flowers on the ground. They often begin to bloom before the snow is gone.
Spring, Glorious Spring, is a time of plenty for the bees. There are flowers everywhere. The diversity of food sources produces the flood of energy that strengthens the hive and allows them to store the excess as honey. Even during this time of bounty, the bees continue to forage for pollen on those innocuous wind pollinated flowers of Oak and Hickory. These pollens help to feed the brood providing the thousands of workers to harvest the flood of nectar, nectar from such diverse sources as clovers and other spring wildflowers as well as Black Locust and Tulip Poplar trees. All of these can produce tremendous honey flows.
Spring fades to summer and summer heat with infrequent rains reduce the clover to a shadow of its spring glory. The grass grows and the trees fill out to shade out the spring flowers. This leaves lots of bees looking for something to do. Without flowers to work the hive responds by reducing bee numbers to conserve resources.
Catalpa blooms in late spring and early summer covering itself in large nectar filled blooms. This striking majestic tree is a real show stopper.
Linden, also known as Basswood, flowers heavily in late June and early July sending bees into a nectar gathering frenzy. This is a large tree with tremendous numbers of flowers.
July begins with Sourwood which opens a portion of its flowers every day extending the bloom into August. In areas with enough Sourwood trees a sustained honey flow is possible.
Even in areas with only a few of the summer blooming trees, bees are able to maintain hive strength without depleting their spring honey stores.
Evodia, also known as Korean BeeBee Tree, begins to bloom in July and continues through August and sporadically until October. The BeeBee tree is very attractive to bees and a real honey producer as well. This tree is relatively unknown in the US, but has been used in Europe for many years. There beekeepers sometimes plant them in the bee yard to provide shade for the hives and flowers besides.
In southern parts of the country July begins the Vitex season. Vitex blooms almost continuously till frost. It can be trained as a large shrub or as a small tree. The lacy foliage is very attractive as well.
As summer cools to fall, the fall flower season begins. Goldenrods and Asters, Wingstems and many others fill the hives with the last of the seasons honey and pollen. This season rounds out a year of productive work.
Without trees as a summer food source, Honeybee health is dependent on only two of the three active seasons. Without that summer food, bee numbers drop, and fall honey production is diminished, the strength of the hive is weakened.
Honeybees are tremendous foragers, finding their food sources in an area of several square miles. They do their best work though, with concentrated food sources. Trees provide such a source. An acre of trees can produce many pounds of honey and hives filled with healthy happy bees.
Only a few of the important Trees For Bees have been mentioned here. The role of trees in honeybee health cannot be underestimated. Trees provide a bridge of flowers between spring and fall. This bridge is the pathway available to everyone who wishes to strengthen and improve the health of our cherished honeybees.