Saturday, April 5, 2014

An Argument for Planting More Bee Forage in the Summer

I've been encouraging folks to really focus on planting early spring and fall plants especially for honeybees, but a new study shows honeybees need more local summer forage. They will travel up to 22 times the distance to find suitable flowers in the summer months. This makes sense in the countryside because of monoculture farming practices and the use of pesticides which kill weeds that the bees feed on, especially if there are no wild flowers around the farm. The colonies of honeybees are larger in summer months and so they can afford to send scouts further distances to feed the hive. The study also acknowledges competition with wild bees at that time of the year. Cities do tend to have blossom density during the summer, but since we are adding so many honeybee hives to our city, we need to supplement forage for native bees and honeybees to make a healthy environment for all our pollinators.

Alison Benjamen from the Guardian published an interesting quote from one of the researchers.

“There is an abundance of flowers in the spring from crocuses and dandelions to blossoming fruit trees. And in the autumn there is an abundance of flowering ivy. But it is harder for them to locate good patches of flowers in the summer because agricultural intensification means there are fewer wildflowers in the countryside for bees,” said Frances Ratnieks, professor of apiculture at Sussex University, who supervised the study.

 I was also interested in the study's findings on the seasonal sugar content in nectar:

"In June, July and August, the median and range of sugar content is low. The median sugar content is also low in March and April. However, spring sugar concentration range is wide, showing that better quality nectar is also available (and at closer distances) to foragers. Taken together, the data show that in summer compared to spring or autumn, the bees fly further to bring back nectar that is not better in quality."

Check out the study in PLOS One: Waggle Dance Difference as Integrative Indicators of Seasonal Foraging Challenges by Margaret J. Couvillon,  Roger Schürch, and Francis L. W. Ratnieks.

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