Cover crops for bees

Buzz'n Billy

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A GREAT way for beekeepers and gardeners in general to help build bees is through cover cropping. When the field or garden is done for the year it's a great time to plant with the bees in mind as well as help build soil for next year's plantings. A couple cover crops that are easy to work with and bees love:

CLOVER: Dutch White, Crimson Clovers. Red clovers do not provide bees with a good nectar source. Clovers are great nitrogen fixers and can also be planted into lawns to help alleviate fertilizer usage.

BUCKWHEAT: Very easy to plant and grow. Bees work blossoms in morning as seen here:
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Seed is very easy to collect and replant (or can be eaten). Depending on where you live you may be able to get two buckwheat plantings in one year.

HAIRY VETCH: Good nitrogen fixer for the soil. Very pretty blooms that the bees love.

MUSTARD: Let the mustard get nice and big with those wonderful yellow blooms. Chop and work the mustard into the soil to help with nematode control.

DAIKON RADISH: Being used as cover crop these days, but is also a nice primary planting for the light radish flavor when planted in winter. The extra big root goes deep into the soil helping with compaction. Tops also provide good fodder source for cattle. Let daikon go to seed and bees will work the light lavender blooms in the early season.

Broccoli: Okay, not a "cover" crop. A wonderful winter planting for the garden that if left to go to bloom, the bees will hammer and provide more seed than you can ever use. Many of the brassicas are good bee fodder.
 

Happy Chooks

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Great information - I would not have thought about broccoli. We have tons of clover here, and the bees love it.

I plan on planting rosemary. It blooms here when everything else is finished. I'm also planting Lavendar - I love the smell of it, and the bees love it too.
 

Robbin

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I'd like to add sweet clover, it biennial which means it grows the first year, flowers the second. Yellow and white sweet clover are probably the number one crops for bees. Produces lots of honey. Grows to about 4 feet tall the second year with about 20 blooms per branch. I use sweet clovers in my main field and then use dutch clover where I don't want stuff as tall as sweet clover is the second year. Dutch clover is very short and very attractive.
 

Bossroo

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Buzz'n Billy ... As for mustard... It may be fine and dandy for the bees, BUT it is one of the worst plant invaders of pastures as well as grain crop fields. The " earth friendly " hand and / or mechanical recommended methods for weed control only spreads the plant until the entire fields are covered with it and that field becomes useless for crop production. Invading plants know no boundaries and continue their invasion of neighboring fields. Same goes for star thistle as well as a death sentence to horses. The best method is chemical warfare which takes years of constant spot treatment after an initial all out iradication application. :eek: Yea, I as well as my neighbors had the MISS ---PLEASURE as well as MANY $$$$$$ s with dealing with these PEST WEEDS for years. :somad
 

Happy Chooks

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I hate star thistle.

I have had orange blossom honey, and you can distinctly taste (and smell) the orange in it.
 

babsbag

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Mustard can also cause Iodine deficiency in goats if it is in their hay or browse. I agree that the bees like it though.

I have heard of Star thistle being hayed when young, good source of feed and the goats love it. That being said, I kill it on site on my land. The surrounding area has plenty and the bees rely on it heavily.

Another one that is supposed to be good is Nijer seed but I haven't tried it. I would like to grow it for the birds too, that stuff is expensive.
http://nigerthistle.com/growniger.html
 

Baymule

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It's always a good idea to look up invasives in your state. What grows within boundaries in one state can take over the world in another state.

As far as planting thistles on purpose--not happening!
 

babsbag

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@Baymule, if you are thinking that Niger seed is a thistle, it isn't. I know it is always called thistle seed but it isn't really one. Now if you are talking Star Thistle...I think we ALL know and hate that plant. No planting needed, it does it on it own.

This is from the website that sells the Niger seeds in US. The site has some really interesting information on it.

Vegetable Growers: Grow niger as a second crop, after bee pollinated crops, such as curcubits. Niger is a high value crop, is very attractive to honeybees and possibly increases yields on following crops.
... Since niger yields are low, it cannot compete with wheat, corn or other crops as the primary crop. However, it may make a very good second crop, especially if there is also a need for bee pasture. In India and Ethiopia it is also used as a green manure crop and corn has shown higher yields following niger.

The Niger plant and Niger-seed .. is NOT in any way associated to the 'thistle' plant or seed!


I have been wanting to try some seed, just never get around to do it.
 

Buzz'n Billy

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@Bossroo if it doesn't work for you, don't plant it.

We currently are "backyard" beekeeping and not planning on sending the mustard running rampant through our neighborhood. It's a perfectly acceptable crop. Many vineyards use it large scale as a cover crop as well.


(my apologies @babsbag )
 
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Baymule

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@babsbag I was talking about star thistle. Thistle seed is included in some birdseed mixes. So if you have a wild bird feeder, better read the bag seed ingredients!
 
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