Foraging Thoughts

I’ve been at the honey producing game pretty much since the turn of the century and I’m learning that the old time experts are right – this is a lousy place to make honey. At least much of it.

John Lovell writes in his 1926 Honey Plants of North America talking about Maine that “There are no good locations along the coast.”

Duly noted.

The Washington County Beekeepers had Matt Scott speak to the group about bee forage. He reminded us that many of the small primarily dairy farms that existed in Washington and Hancock Counties in the 1920s and 30s are gone – along with their clover and other bee pasture.

So a bad location gets worse. But maybe it is time to order some of the random thoughts in my head and to do something to make the foraging better.

Washington County is home to a great deal of “wild” blueberry production. To my way of thinking there is not much wild about most commercial blueberry production locally except that the plants appear of their own accord. Much wild blueberry land is or has been leveled and cleared of rocks in order to allow for increased mechanization. What that has also accomplished is the reduction of habitat for native pollinators and the creation of areas where the blueberry crop is easy to manage with agricultural chemicals. {not to mention that flowering weeds and other foraging options for bees and native pollinators are eliminated}

Some of those agricultural chemicals are highly toxic to bees and my challenge then becomes how to keep my bees from flying the 2-3 miles that honey bees will fly to forage on potentially treated blueberry land.

While honey production is currently my hobby I’d like to figure out a way to make some money at it. And having bees visit commercial blueberry fields at random times during the year for forage does not make for healthy bees.

So my challenge is to create forage options on land I own that will in essence keep my bees home. Is it possible? I’m not entirely certain but I see my choice as giving up on keeping bees or trying – so try I will – but there is no way I will be able to compete with Supermarket honey prices.

So what I am doing? I have planted several Linden Trees that should start flowering this coming year. There are over 30 Apple Trees (mostly wild, some planted by me) here. I have fields that I am attempting to keep open by mowing where I have scattered clover and vetch seed and I mostly wait until the Goldenrod is killed by frost before the annual mowing. My own patch of blueberries (somewhere between 5 and 10 acres) is un-managed except for mowing and as a result of the lack of management is home to an increasing number of wild roses and goldenrod (and native pollinators!). Harvesting is limited to what we pick ourselves. Also planted are Tulip and Peach trees and a vegetable garden with squash, pumpkins and some sunflowers.

On the docket for this coming spring are plantings of common milkweed, Joe Pye weed and heather. I am considering a planting of an acre or so of buckwheat – if I can figure out how to do it – and what to use the resultant buckwheat for.

As I plant all this “stuff” I need to be aware of what ag chemicals are used to treat bee maladies. I’ve given up treating prophylacticly for AFB – which so far I’ve gotten away with. I have some hives that get no treatments at all – while others get treated for Varroa mites using various “soft” chemicals. It is my hope to one day get away from all bee treatments.

I release this musing to the Internet in hopes that I’ll get serious feedback. I do not like using any ag chemicals – and go so far as to not even use lime on my garden. There are times when especially the Apple trees could make use of fertilizer and sprays to combat diseases and pests – but I haven’t gone down that road (yet.) Then there are the woods (roughly 75% of my property) and electric fence lines where conventional practices often call for herbicides – again, I haven’t gone there, yet.

Organic? I’m not certified and while I’m a MOFGA member I’m troubled by some of the approved pesticides and other chemicals. But I’m certainly there in spirit. My watchword is instead “sustainable.”