Bees work the honeycombs in hives at the home of Peter Ostrowski of the Colonial Beekeepers Association. (Courtesy of Peter Ostrowski, Daily Press)
By Pete Ostrowski, Colonial Beekeepers Association
One of the major problems honey bees are having these days is finding enough nutrition to stay healthy.
It may be hard to believe that an insect needs a balanced diet but it is true, especially for honey bees. Honey bees put up pollen (protein) and nectar (carbohydrates) for winter stores. Fall often provides a nectar and pollen flow that will allow the bees to hopefully finish filling their pantry in preparation for the winter.
Honey bees do not hibernate but rather, cluster into a tight ball. The outer bees are an insulating layer and the inner bees vibrate their wing muscles, similar to our shivering, to create heat. This requires a lot of energy that is supplemented by the pollen and honey reserves that the bees accumulated in the fall.
Some of the fall foliage that provides great amounts of nectar and pollen for the bees are Goldenrod and Asters. These perennial flowers often grow wild along unmowed areas and in vacant lots and fields. Before hooking up the bush hog, restringing the weed eater or pumping up the Roundup, think about the bees and other pollinators that are looking for this resource to survive. Letting the fencerow overgrow until November gives everyone a break.
Goldenrod is often confused with ragweed and gets cut down with a vengeance by those with allergies. These are two very different plants, one being very beneficial to pollinators.
"Goldenrod has pretty golden flowers and heavy pollen that does not fly around very much. Bees and birds love it," says Master Gardener Donna Katsuranis in an examiner.com article on allergies. "Ragweed, however, sends its pollen into the wind to reproduce, where it causes many more problems for allergy sufferers."
Now is a good time to consider what you might be planting next year to help out our pollinators. Pollinator conservation can go beyond passive habitat preservation to active habitat improvement by installing permanent pollinator pastures.
Pollinator pasture is a permanent planting of flowering annuals or perennials designed to attract honey bees, bumble bees, butterflies and other pollinators over many weeks or months. The goal is improved bee nutrition to encourage high bee numbers, either by attracting them to the area, increasing the number nesting in the area, or by increasing their reproductive output.
The long-term payoff of perennial pastures may be good, especially since non-honey bees tend to nest near where they were reared the previous year. Bigger is better but every little bit can help, even that 4x4 plot you don't know what to do with in your back yard.
The Colonial Beekeepers website, colonialbeekeepers.com, offers files to view and/or download with lists of annual and perennial plants that are beneficial to honey bees and other pollinators, along with nectar and pollen bloom times.
So next year you can proudly proclaim, my lawn mower isn't broken, I'm raising these weeds.
Ostrowski is a long time beekeeper from Gloucester and a member of the Colonial Beekeepers Association. For more information, go to colonialbeekeepers.com.