My friend, Little Bobby Hirchhorn, turned me onto some flowering plants last summer that he said my honey bees might be attracted to. First up are the willow branches that look like this:
Bobby knows a beekeeper who created a fence made from willow branches. This particular beekeeper stuck some thin wooden poles into the ground to act as fence posts. Then he tied three runs of thin natural rope between the poles. Then he took some willow branches and weaved them through the rope and stuck the branches in the ground, the rope more or less holding the branches in place. (The rope and the poles will eventually disintegrate.) This was done in the fall because apparently the branches are more likely to take root when sap isn’t flowing. That’s the opposite of what I would think, but I’ve seen the fence and it’s amazing. By the next spring, the willow branches quickly take root and grow to become entwined in each other, melding and growing into each other to create a solid living fence of willows that will continue to grow dramatically year after year.
More impressively, the willows bloom every spring into pussy willows which, apparently, honey bees love. It requires hundreds, if not thousands of willow branches to create this fence, but it seems to work. Willows grow like weeds. They grow tall. They grow strong. They provide pollen and nectar for honey bees in the spring. Branches from the willow fence can be cut off and planted to create more fence.
The roots of willow trees are also famous for getting into water pipes (willows can smell water, it seems), squishing the pipes until they break, or they grow right into the pipes and clog them. In other words, they spell disaster for underground sewage and water lines. So planting willows anywhere near a suburban house is probably bad news. I live far enough in the middle of nowhere, though, that I can plant a few willows a good distance from my house and not worry too much. So that’s what I did last summer and it looked like this:
But it didn’t work. The willow branches, which I cut off some wild willow trees I discovered on a hike one day, didn’t grow. They didn’t do anything except die. I suppose I should have waited until the fall. Or maybe they weren’t planted in the best kind of soil. I don’t know. But it’s something I’d like to try again. I’ll just do it properly next time.
Then I planted something called a Serviceberry bush or tree. The massive amount of small white flowers in this photo appealed to me:
When I lived near downtown St. John’s, I would sometimes stroll around the neighbourhood and notice my bees all over just about any kind of tree full of white flowers. That’s what I envisioned when I planted the Serviceberry tree. I don’t have any photos of it because it basically looks like a stick in the ground. It’s not dead, but I’d say it’ll take about 30 years before it looks like it does in the photo. (Update: Apparently Serviceberry is the same as the Newfoundland Chuckley Pear, which grows abundantly in the wild around here. I won’t bother buying a Serviceberry tree again.)
Next up is the Little Princess Spirea bush…
…and this one is the best of the bunch so far. It actually grew. I picked it up because I saw a neighbour with a giant bush in his front yard that was buzzing with bees whenever the flowers were in bloom. Several of my neighbours have this kind of bush and they’ve all remarked on how bees descend on it at certain times of the year. The buzz of the bees can be heard all around. Unfortunately, nobody knew the name of it, so I took a photo and narrowed it down to some version of Spirea. I eventually bought four or five them, one with white flowers, another with pink flowers and so on — and all of them grew and were packed with flowers. I haven’t seen many bees on them yet, but at the rate they’re going, I don’t think it’ll take long for them to get big and bountiful.
I also heard that honey bees like the blossoms of larch trees, or as Monty Python would say, “The Larch.” Here’s a close-up of some larch blossoms that I thought might attract honey bees:
I have yet to see anything resembling a bee on a larch tree. I’ve decided not to plant any.
I haven’t added any of the above to my Newfoundland Honey Bee Forage list yet, but I have high hopes for those spiraea bushes.
I know this isn’t the most informative post I’ve ever written, but oftentimes it’s more relaxing to take a casual approach and enjoy the exploration to see what happens. Not everything in beekeeping needs to be obsessive and significant. The insignificant diversions of beekeeping can be just as rewarding. That seems to be how I roll these days.