Beekeepers enjoy finding ways to provide additional food for their hives. There are several different options, but one plant is especially useful. Planting small plots of buckwheat for bees gives them another source of nectar and pollen. Increased foraging opportunities in late Summer, can reduce the need to feed in Fall.
Benefits of Planting Buckwheat for Your Bees
Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) is a pseudo-cereal crop. It is not a true grain. But, the seed can be hulled (they are called groats) and cooked like cereal or made into flour. You’ve heard of buckwheat flour, right?
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Even though it can be a cash crop, it is not widely produced in the United States. Today, buckwheat is used primarily as a cover crop. Fields of buckwheat protects the soil from erosion during the time when it is bare.
Do Bees Like Buckwheat?
Though frost tender, the plant is a fairly dependable honey plant – even though it only produces nectar in the morning. Foraging workers harvest nectar early in the day and then switch to other sources during the afternoon.
Buckwheat fills a special need for beekeepers who live in regions with a late Summer nectar dearth. It is a fast grower that flowers only 30 days from planting.
Is Buckwheat Good for Other Pollinators?
There are many reasons to include a small patch of buckwheat if you have the space. This fast-growing plant provides nectar and pollen for many insect species.
You will find honey bees, bumble bees, butterflies, moths and many native bees visiting your buckwheat flowers.
After frost, the dead plants can be left to cover the ground during the winter. This provides a place for beneficial pollinators such as bumble bee queens to overwinter.
Characteristics of Buckwheat Honey
While easy to grow, plants produce the most nectar under good growing conditions. A large field of buckwheat flowers can result in a honey crop.
Be prepared that buckwheat honey is a bit different than the normal golden honey bears you see in the grocery.
This nectar results in a very dark colored honey that has a strong odor. Some people compare it to molasses.
While not the favorite of all honey connoisseurs, the honey bees seem to find it quite tasty. And the unique flavor appeals to some consumers. It is rich in antioxidants and is commonly used in honey cold recipes.
Buckwheat honey tends to crystallize faster than some varieties so keep that in mind when choosing how to store your honey jars.
Growing a Plot of Buckwheat for Honey Bees
Whether you have acres of space of just a small backyard plot, growing buckwheat is very easy. It is not bothered by many pests or diseases and forms a dense patch that crowds out weeds.
It will grow almost anywhere and even tolerates some shade. Flowers appear within a month of planting. Buckwheat goes to seed about 10 weeks after planting.
I mow mine plot before seeds form to control the number of seeds that will come up later. Some gardeners mow it and till in the green matter.
Because it only produces nectar early in the day, some beekeepers integrate sunflowers into the buckwheat fields. This gives the honey bees an all-day buffet.
Whether or not your bees will forage on your buckwheat plot depends on what else is available. If the scout bees find a better nectar source, they will visit it instead.
How to Plant Buckwheat Seeds
Buckwheat seeds can often be found for sale at a local feed store. Hunters often use it in food plots for deer. You can also order it online. If you have any left over, store it in the freezer and use it next year.
I prefer to plant my bee buckwheat plot after the main honey flow. This prevents dark honey from being included in my harvest. You may plant 6 weeks before last frost for late fall nectar.
Very little tilling is necessary to germinate their smooth dark seeds. I don’t even bother clearing out all the Bermuda grass. Though of course, if you have the time and energy I can sure that proper tilling would be beneficial.
After exposing some soil, scatter the seeds across the surface and then drag a leaf rake across the area. For a small area, I would then wet the seed to get them off to a good start. Within 7 -8 days, you should see seedlings.
Buckwheat is a really fast-growing source of food for bees. The plants reach knee-high level quickly and before long you see flower buds. There may seem to be a lot of grass in my plot but it is okay.
I rarely water the buckwheat after that first day. Even a small amount of rain will keep things moving along. This is a low maintenance crop.
Then, just a few weeks later – as if by magic – you will here a buzz in the buckwheat patch. Once you arrive, you see many different types of insects enjoying the feast.
The plant will provide food for several weeks or until the first frost. You can choose to leave them in place or till them in the soil .
Of course, not everyone has the space to plant a large field of this plant and produce honey. However, if you have a little space or even a few large containers, consider planting buckwheat for bees in your backyard. It is a very enjoyable experience to watch the busy insects at work.