Project Description

Content by: Liz Huxter and Cooperators: Deane Farms, Kettle River Farms and Morbella Farms

Introduction

The Boundary area of BC presently has little honey bee forage in late summer. The area is typically hot and arid in late July and August. In the past we have experienced the benefits of large areas of white or “diffuse” knapweed which supplied the bees with plenty of nutritious pollen and nectar. This gave the honey bees plentiful late season forage so the colonies could build large populations of healthy young bees to winter successfully.

Proposed Project

To partner with Boundary farmers and ranchers to enhance late season bee forage.

Chose plants valuable to farmer’s needs as well as honey bees.

Buckwheat:

Bee benefits – nutritious pollen and good nectar source.

Farmer benefits:

  • Fast growing
  • Easy to grow
  • Suppresses weeds
  • Easily tilled under
  • Increases soil phosphorus levels available to following crop.

Sunflowers:

Bee Benefits:

  • Copious pollen
  • Sunflower pollen has medicinal properties for honey bees. Sunflower pollen has been shown to reduce Nosema levels.

Farmer Benefits:

  • Used as a winter feed, high oil content good for cattle in cold weather
  • Grown with corn helps to prevent lodging

Methods

Buckwheat:

  • Three sources of seed: two organic: Fieldstone Organics, Armstrong BC and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. Mansfield, MO. And Rilkoff’s Store, Grand Forks, BC.
  • Variable Planting times; end of May (Kettle Valley Queens), mid June (Deane’s Farms), late June (Morbetta Farms) and July (Kettle River Farms and Kettle Valley Queens)
  • Irrigated once a week or according to need.
  • No fertilizers
  • Preparation of fields by tilling only (no herbicide use)
  • 50#s of seed per acre
  • Drill seeded approximately 8 acres
  • Observed flowering periods, bee activity and hive intake of pollen and nectar.

Sunflowers:

Sunflowers were planted in smaller amounts by Morbetta Farms.

  • No seeding experience/ equipment in the west side of the Grand Forks valley for large acreages
  • Partnering ranchers did not have time to plant.
Map of Buckwheat Fields and Bee Sites in West Grand Forks

Results

Bee Forage:

Timing of plantings:

  • Late May Plantings: Forage available for the longest time, late June to the end of August, but bees only foraged in early mornings in in the early flowering period, possibly due to other more attractive nectar sources
  • Mid June Plantings: Forage available from mid July to early September. Bees most attracted in August and early morning.
  • July Plantings: Flowering from August to first frost. Saw many more bee visits during the day.

Nectar and pollen:

  • Buckwheat honey is a dark honey. We observed darker honey in our hives near the buckwheat fields.
  • The balance between the number of hives and the acreages planted to buckwheat was weighted heavily in the colonies favor. Possibly we would have seen a greater increase of honey if a different variety of buckwheat had been grown, one bred for honey production.
  • We observed a green pollen in the hives not usually seen, possibly buckwheat pollen.
  • In some locations drones were reared later in the season.

Growers Observations:

  • Suppression of weeds: All the growers were very satisfied with buckwheat’s ability to suppress weeds in previously worked fields. The weeds germinated but the fast growing buckwheat shaded them out.
  • They  found it easy to grow and fast to germinate.
  • In one of our plantings in a field not worked previous to tilling for the buckwheat, I found in the heavy clay soil areas of the field, the buckwheat did not suppress morning glory or quack grass.(See photo below)
  • Plantings grew  to variable  heights. The buckwheat grew 1.3m tall or better in most locations. Variability in height farmers suggested was due to soil  differences.
  • Best weed suppression occurred where seeding was extra thick (>50# per acre).

Positive Spinoff  Results:

  • Farmers, who had never grown buckwheat before, have decided to grow buckwheat again next year enhancing bee forage.
  • The field day opened lines of communication between a larger group of local farmers and ranchers, and landowners interested in enhancing bee forage acreages and cover crops. Field day participants suggested trialing  other bee forage enhancing cover crops possibly better suited to the Boundary arid climate.

Conclusions

The acreages planted in buckwheat gave local colonies greater forage for both pollen and nectar in a time of dearth late in the summer. In some colonies drones were reared later in the season possibly affording queen rearing later into the season. Due to buckwheat’s nature to have shallow and small roots it is probably not the most ideal species to encourage farmers to grow to enhance bee forage in our arid climate.

This project illustrated to local farmers buckwheat has high potential as a cover crop since they found it suppresses weeds, is easy to grow and easy to till back into the soil.

This project stimulated valuable exchanges of ideas and opened lines of communication between local growers and beekeepers.

BeeScene Winter 2019/20 Article: