Beekeeping has become a popular hobby in recent years. Many of those involved in keeping bees do so with hopes of producing honey. Bees gather plant nectar from millions of flowers in the area of their hives. But beekeepers often want to help the bees. Choosing to include some of the best plants for honey production on your property, may stimulate the bees to produce an even larger crop.
However, if the beekeeper wants to boost honey production, a large planting of one type of flower should pose no problem. The colony will also gather from other nectar sources nearby-possibly resulting in a larger honey harvest.
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What is a Honey Plant?
In the world of beekeeping, the term honey plant does not refer to one single plant. Instead, it refers to families of blooming plants that produce nectar.
Some types of flowers produce a small amount of nectar or even none at all. Other flowers are major nectar sources that attract bees. They are very important to honey bees, and native bees benefit too.
The term Melliferous is often given to these plants. It means “yielding or producing honey”. Though in reality we know that it is not the flower that is really producing honey –our bees do that.
Best Bee Plants for Honey Production
Among the many types of blooming plants, some are renown for being producers of nectar. The members of the following plant families are common in most bee gardens.
- Fabaceae (clovers, redbud, soybean, black locust)
- Lamiaceae (mints, sage, thyme, bee balm, basil, salvia, lavender, lemon balm)
- Brassicaceae (turnip greens, broccoli, canola)
- Asteraceae (sunflowers, dandelion, cosmos, echinacea, zinnias)
- Rosaceae (apples, peaches, crabapples, blackberry)
- Boraginaceae (borage, tansy)
Clovers are Major Honey Plants
Almost all types of clovers can be good plants for honey production. With over 300 types of “Trifolium” flowers to choose from, you are sure to find one that does well in your climate.
In fact, some regions of the US grow large fields of clover in order to produce Clover Honey. Soil and weather conditions affect the harvest but White Sweet Clover and Yellow Sweet Clover can yield around 200 # of honey per acre.
Even a small-scale beekeeper can supplement bee forage by having a small patch of clover in a nearby field. And, all colonies will enjoy the blooms of white clover that appear in the lawn over Summer.
June and July can be hot and dry in my region and clover may be the only thing in bloom. This does help keep the colonies from starving but is not enough to produce a honey crop.
Bees Attracted to Soybeans
Soybeans are another major crop that is attractive to honey bees. These plants are mostly self-pollinating and do not rely on bee pollination. But, some varieties produce nectar that is high in sugar content so bees do forage in soybean fields.
Some beekeepers report harvesting soybean honey from time to time, but there is always the danger of colonies being killed due to pesticide use. Other course, this is true in any agricultural setting.
Growing Mints and Salvias for Your Bees
There are many herbal plants that help feed bees. This is a win-win for the small homestead. A great way to grow herbs for yourself and fed the bees a bit at the same time.
Mints are beneficial to bees though many of these plants should be tightly controlled or they will escape. Most salvias are well behaved and do well in a large planting or as features in your yard.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) can be grown in a small field setting. This herbal plant has been known to produce several hundred pounds of honey per acre.
Lavender is a very bee friendly plant that produces a lot of nectar for honey production. If you can find a type that grows well in your climate, you should consider planting some lavender for your colonies.
Canola Oil and Honey Production
While bees will gather nectar from crops such as turnip greens or even broccoli, canola is the winner in the Brassicaceae family.
A major nectar source, canola (also called Rapeseed) makes use of bee pollination in many regions of the world include Canada.
Providing both nectar and pollen, bee pollination of canola is a major source of income for some commercial beekeepers.
On the downside, canola honey crystallizes very quickly and can be a problem for beekeepers wanting to delay their harvest. Also, the fact that most of the canola grown in the US is genetically modified is troubling to some.
Sunflowers are not always a major plant for honey production but they can be. Grown in a commercial operation under the right growing conditions, they can have a yield from 30-100# per acre. And let’s be honest, not much is more beautiful than a field of sunflowers.
Growing sunflowers to boost your honey harvest is possible on a smaller scale too. Be sure to choose a type of sunflower that feeds bees – not all do. And having a way to keep the plants irrigated during the hot Summer can help.
Honorable Mention Plants for Honey
Even though these plants did not make the top list for honey production, they are unique and worth considering.
Both Borage (Borago officinalis) and Tansy (Phacelia tanacetifolia) are members of the Boraginaceae family. Both are very good sources of nectar for bees and may yield enough to produce a honey crop.
Borage can be grown in plots almost anywhere. Tansy is native to the Southwestern US and often grown in the desert regions of California and surrounding areas.
Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) must be included in this section of honey plants. Though it is not grown much commercially, buckwheat is still used as a cover crop in some regions.
Bees love buckwheat flowers and beekeepers sometimes grow a bit to supplement late season nectar sources. The resulting honey from a patch of buckwheat is dark and quite strong – most people leave it for the bees.
Goldenrods are a member of the genus “Solidago“. There are so many varieties of Goldenrod available for bee food. In some regions, they can be a major honey plant.
But for most areas, the importance of Goldenrod is its top place as a late season nectar plant. One of the last true food sources for most bees before Winter.
Milkweed (Apocynaceae) has over 55 different species. Some of them are so melliferous that you can shake nectar from the plant. To find the best suitable plants for your area – check the Xerces Society’s Regional Milkweed Guides.
Milkweed is very beneficial to other pollinators too – not just bees. However, some varieties can be aggressive so keep that in mind when you choose a place to plant them.
Common milkweed is known for being a little too happy in some locations. However, if you have the space to keep it contained it is a great nectar plant.
Plants to Avoid in the Landscape
If you have these plants in your landscape, please don’t rush out to dig them up. In the high majority of cases – everything is just fine. However, bees will gather food wherever they can.
In some situations nectar from azaleas, rhododendron and a few others can be toxic to bees. So don’t go ripping them out-but they are not the best ones to add to your bee garden.
Your top plants for honey production will depend to a degree on where you live. Some bloom well and produce nectar in a wide range of climate conditions. Others are specific in their growing range.
In order to produce a marketable honey crop, you need to have a very large space in bloom. However, even small plots can help your colonies produce a bit more honey this year.