Creating a Bee Field – Method 1: Plantings
Choose a site with poor soils and good sun exposure - a fallow field, ditch, wet spot, or rocky soils are great options. When planting wildflowers and shrubs consider the bloom times, ideally choosing plants that bloom from spring until fall. If the plants are non-native, be aware of their potential to self-seed and become invasive, out-competing native plants. With a little research you can figure out if the plant needs shade or full sun, if it tolerates wet soil, and what time of year it blooms. Some bunch grasses are useful in the bee field, but be aware that many wildflowers are hard to establish in well-established grass – some site preparation is necessary.
Tips for Planting Wildflower seeds
- Plant clusters of single species in 3'x3' at least to produce a solid block of color when in flower
- Periodic removal of undesirable plants during establishment is helpful
- Bees typically visit flowers purple, violet, yellow, white and blue
- Butterflies visit red flowers in addition to all of the above
- Pollinating flies typically visit white and yellow flowers
Special effort should be made to preserve very early and very late blooming plants. Early flowering plants are important for bees emerging from hibernation and late flowering plants help bumble bees in particular store up energy reserves for winter dormancy. Many trees and shrubs flower early and provide an abundant nectar source for emerging insects in the spring.
In the bee field at Whaelghinbran Farm, we choose wildflowers that bloomed throughout the year:
We also choose shrubs that produced flowers throughout the year: Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), and Wild Raisin (Viburnum cassinoides)
Here is a list of more plants that are great for pollinators and their bloom times:
Trees and Shrubs: Apple - May/June, Hawthorn - June, Linden - July, Lilac - June
Garden Plants: Crocus - April/May, Heather - April/May, Thyme - June/July, Mint - August, Chives - May/June, Lavender -July, Sage - July, Borage - July to Frost, Mondara - August/September, Winter Savory - September - October
Weeds: Red Clover - June to September (if mowed), Jewel Weed - July to October, Dandelion - May to September
Native Plants: Maple (Acer) - April/May, Chokeberry (Aronia) - May, Elderberry (Sambucus) - August, Raspberry (Rubus) - June, Blueberry (Vaccinium) - May, Black Cherry (Prunus) - June, Willow (Salix) - May, Aster (Aster) – September/October, Goldenrod (Solidago) - September/October, Swamp Loosestrif (Lysimachia terrestris) - July, Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium) - September
- Site Prep: 2 days
- Seeds/Shrubs/Planting: $450 3 days
- Shrub Fencing: $100 1 day
- Benefit: Can help add nectar sources that aren’t present, however there are cheaper alternatives.
Creating a Bee Filed – Method 2: Mowing
If you have old fields that you aren’t currently using, but would like to keep open, why not mow for bee forage and habitat. Seventy percent of North American bee species are ground nesters, so leaving bare soil is important and leaving it undisturbed during the growing season is best.
Mow in October, after the flowers are done blooming. Ideally mow the field 1/3 at a time, doing a third each year on 3 year intervals. This prevents destroying over-wintering sites all at once, while keeping woody plants out of your fallow field. Remember, all the debris on the field edge is great habitat for bees and other pollinating insects.
On your farm you can allow native and introduced plants bloom before crops, mow them during crop bloom, and then allow them to bloom after. This gives pollinators a large nectar source without letting these "weeds" go to seed.
- Site Prep: None
- Mowing: 1 day
- Benefit: Highly beneficial as you can create a much larger amount of habitat at very little cost (cost of fuel/labor for 1 day of mowing).
Creating a Bee Field – Method 3: Habitat Structures
Habitat structures are a great way to teach children and adults alike about bees and what they need to survive. Only 30% of native bees nest in cavities such as old rodent nests, in hollow stems of plants, and in logs and snags. If you can create this habitat naturally in field edges, ditches, hedgerows, and on fallow land; you are creating more habitat with better results. If this is not possible, artificial nest boxes are a good second option.
At Whaelghinbran we created a “bee condo” to show visitors what this kind of habitat looks like. Although bees will use this condo, it is best to separate the different kinds of structures – so that bees have space and diseases are not easily spread. For education purposes and some fun – this is a great option.
Cavities can be made with blocks, paper straws, or dried hallow stems. Blocks should have holes 4-6" deep and at least 3/4" apart so solitary bees can easily find their own nest. Face the structures South or South-East and protect them from the weather with a roof. Bumble bee nests should be placed on the ground, in a wooden box with a tube coming out the bottom. Put upholsters fabric inside the box for nesting material and bury the tube with woodchips or dirt so just the top of the tube is showing.
- Materials: $70
- Installation: 2 days
- Benefit: The least beneficial for the bees, but a great education opportunity and great for urban areas.
This project was supported by: