What’s Most Important for Natural Beekeeping

In his seminal book “Keeping Bees with a Smile”, its author Lazutin lists 3 main ingredients for successful beekeeping, listed in order of their importance:
(1) Nectar & pollen resources
(2) Using locally adapted bees
(3) The design of the hive and beekeeping system

Despite the fact that there’s much debate among bee experts about various hive designs and beekeeping principles, Lazutin admits that this is the least important of the 3 factors for successful beekeeping.  

What’s most important by far for success and productivity of a bee colony according to Lazutin is assuring THE RIGHT HABITAT for the bees, i.e.:
– Having the right plants and trees close to the apiary that would provide good sources of nectar and pollen
– Having the right landscape and micro-climate
– Having access to water

As the effective flight for foraging honeybees is 1-2 miles, it’s very important to have good clean sources of nectar and pollen within 1-2 miles of the apiary.
Lazutin states that even a weak bee colony, regardless of hive design would prosper in an area with rich nectar and pollen, while the strongest bees would still fail in a nectar/pollen -poor region.

So what kind of habitat for the bees do we have here at ForestBeehive apiary?
We are in Central Maine on the shores of a fairly secluded forest lake bordering a state park and we are far away from traffic and even farther away from any agro-industrial sources of pesticides and pollution.  

We are on the edge of a few thousand acres of pristine mixed forest with northern pines and red maples and alder trees and wild cherries and blackberry bushes. The forest provides our honeybees with rich sources of nectar, pollen and propolis.

Within less than a mile from our hives, we have hundreds of acres of meadows with a good variety of wild plants: daisies, wild lupines, dandelions, yarrows, goldenrods, common milkweed, etc.

Here you can mostly see flowering blue-eyed grass and daisies and our 2-year old German Shepherd.  
And here within 300 yards of the hives are some wild lupines and you may also spot a swarm trap on a tree.

Our apiary is within a 100 feet of our house and in this area we have also planted quite a few long-flowering perennials and some annuals that are among top ten for the bees and also least favored by the deer.

We source our plants from local LongFellow Greenhouses and they don’t use any pesticides. A couple of times, while deciding on which plant to buy at their greenhouses, we were guided by their honeybees foraging on the plants right there and then.

Among the plants currently in full bloom as of June 12:

Here is our bees’ #1 favorite plant meadow sage (Salvia nemorosa) . A couple of our meadow sage plants are excessively cultivated – they have bigger and more colorful flowers but the bees visit them far less. For the bees, bigger is not better. It’s the wilder, the better. Flower over-cultivation is just a show-off for the gardeners.

Our bees’ #2 current favorite: catmint (Nepeta cataria)
Our bees’ #3 current favorite: pincushion flower (Leucospermum proteacea)

As a tribute to the author of “Keeping Bees with a Smile”, we have planted a lot of his favorite long-flowering annual flower for the bees: “lacey phacelia” Phacelia tanacetifolia that is just starting to bloom but has not yet been noticed by our bees.

Our bee balm plants (monarda didyma) from the mint family will bloom soon.

Another top-ten annual self-seeding plant for the bees that will bloom soon is borage ‘borago officinalis”’ – an edible plant with cucumber-like taste and good for salads, etc.

You may notice that at least some of the plants that we are planting here for the bees are not exactly those that would be considered indigenous to
North Eastern US but we also have to keep in mind that the honeybees are not indigenous either: they were first brought by settlers to the US from Northern Europe only in 1700s.

So just like most of us here, the honeybees are also not indigenous and thus their preferred sources of nectar & pollen are also not exactly indigenous to the North Eastern US.

The beekepers only have to make sure to avoid plants that are listed as invasive and that might spread beyond the borders of their bee gardens.