Comb Honey Corner

February 2015

by Ray Nabors

Comb honey like all honey production requires Angiosperms, which are flowering plants. For the most part these flowering plants will be dicotyledonous ones. I do plant things that will provide nectar and pollen for bees. You may think your property does not have enough area for plants to make much difference. You will have much more space than you think on a ½ acre or even ¼ acre lawn space. Even though horizontal space may be limited, vertical space is much less limited. Trees make ideal honey plants. However, for whatever you plant there is more than one consideration. Many trees make dark honey. A few make light colored honey. Numerous annual and biennial plants make light colored honey in large quantities. Time of bloom is also important. A mix of early and late blooms will extend the honey flow.

If you have bees in an apiary near your residence, the plants in and around the apiary are most important. Bees will work plants that are close rather than travel farther for distant plants. Some plants produce much more nectar than others. That will also have much bearing on how far bees are willing to go. Bees have a very good sense of economics. They will go farther for high quantity nectar plants, passing by plants that are closer with lower nectar production. They are able to determine what plants provide the most nectar for the distance travelled. Bees also make such a determination about the amount of available pollen for the distance travelled. Bees will also go to the closest water source. I recommend using a water source in the apiary. A 5 gallon chicken water jug will easily service 20 colonies. A 2.5 gallon one will take care of 10. Fill the water container, the lid will keep bees out of deep water. Put 1” - 2” gravel in the bottom tray to keep bees from drowning. Bees need water, give them clean water.

Trees for bees start with maple in this area. All species of maple provide nectar and pollen early in the spring. Plant two or three of the same species and they pollinate producing seeds for more. I prefer Acer rubrum the red maple because the growth is fast and they are precocious. The maple honey is never harvested here. The quantity is not enough for harvest, but the tree is so early, it will provide much needed nectar and pollen for spring build up. Another plant that I use for spring build up is dandelion. Most folks try to kill this plant out of a lawn, but here it has free territory. Bees get both nectar and pollen early from dandelion which will continue to bloom after Maple has subsided. Dandelion nectar is dark and strong of flavor, but the bees need it early for buildup. Red buds come in after maples. They have nectar and pollen. The nectar seems to make the bees have much additional bowel activity.

Various fruit trees produce ample nectar and pollen for bees to build up in spring. These trees have a good quality honey, but not good quantity. They also provide pollen. Apple and Pear are about the same as far as bees are concerned. Do not expect a crop of honey though they need bees for pollination. If you do not want the fruit, consider ornamental crabapples and pears. Many varieties make small fruit consumed by birds. Stone fruits are also good producers including peaches, plums, and cherries. Many varieties are made for flowering and do not produce fruit. Trees in the rose family, including all the above, that produce fruit will require frequent applications of chemical protection products to keep out insects and diseases or you will not get any fruit worth eating. That dilemma can be solved by making such applications at or just after sundown. Use products that are soaked in or gone within the night to protect the bees the next day. Ornamental fruit trees do not require sprays. Fruit trees bloom after maples and dandelions.

By now you must wonder, what if I want trees that produce large quantities of honey. We will start with Tulip Poplar, Liriodendron tulipfera, a plant with many blooms full of much nectar. This is the most copious source of nectar I know of. I must confess a liking for this molasses flavored honey. It is dark and strong. Those who did not grow up where this tree was a major source of honey may not like it. Basswood trees, Tilia sp, make a light colored mild honey preferred by many people. One species is native to North America, the others are from Eurasia. All are good nectar sources making ample honey. Another source of light honey is black locust trees, Robinia pseudoacacia. This honey is not only light in color, but sought after wherever it is produced. The black locust will not produce every year unfortunately. When it does produce, it makes a full super or more of superior honey. Bees visit many other trees, but the ones listed produce either large enough quantities of nectar to produce honey or produce early when bees need honey and pollen to build the colony. The trees listed are widely adapted. There are local trees that produce in many areas of the country, but are limited in geographic distribution and will not grow in all areas.

Some of the best nectar sources come from