Duffy Meadows Research & Consulting was started in order to research honey bee health and to improve rare plant breeding. So one year after it’s inception….where are the honey bees?
Funny things happen when your business revolves around nature….human goals have to be adjusted, reassessed, and kept fluid. We have a complete ten year timeline mapped for DMRC, and at the end of year one, we completed every task on our list (way to go humans!) Unfortunately, mother nature did not act as we expected. She is not concerned with timelines, borders, or “rules.”
Bee plans have been pushed back. To be fair, honey bees were not expected in 2017. We have a lot to build before they arrive, but they were slotted for spring of 2018, and that is no longer happening.
It is still part of the long term plan, but the timing has been deferred. Grant proposals (though written and ready to go!) will not be submitted this year. The hives and cage will not be built this winter. Why?
There isn’t enough food.
Right on time – we planted 10.6 acres of native prairie – the end of May 2017. It was a nice wet spring and the timing should have been perfect for native seeds to sink in and start growing. But then June happened. And July. These were hot dry months. Super hot. Established trees across our state desiccated and became “stressed.” So our prairie seeds did what smart prairie seeds do: they stayed dormant.
We spent the summer battling horseweed and crab grass infestations – mowing and mowing and mowing some more. We made phone calls, searched for answers, and stressed over thousands of dollars worth of seeds that were not growing. What will happen next? I don’t know, and it’s scary.
Ideally, the seeds will recognize the cold winter and emerge with the spring rains – filling the prairie with flowering forbs and grasses. But it will be a year 1 prairie again since they did not germinate this year.
A quick aside on prairie formation
Prairies grow slowly. There is an old adage that says, “the first year they sleep, the second they creep, and the third they leap.” I have found this to be true with all plants. We missed our first “sleep year,” so we are back in sleep again. The second year will be pretty full and growing, but without flower heads. The third year should be a really good start to a full flower-filled prairie.
There are many problems with this situation:
- Annual weeds will return and continue to grow.
- Erosion will continue without established cover.
- There are no flowers to feed pollinators and other wildlife.
Other beekeepers have advised me to bring the bees anyway, but I think they are being short sighted. For one, I have canvassed our entire 40 acre parcel and know what is available for food. We have a fairly good spring pollen supply, and a marginal fall source. We have an absolute summer dearth.
Yes, bees can fly up to 5 miles to obtain forage. That is not the optimal scenario. It wastes energy and exposes them to pollutants that will disrupt and interfere with our research. Yes, the prairie may send up some flowers next summer – but it’s not a good gamble.
Our goal is to have the right habitat that encourages the bees to flourish and obtain all their needs within our borders. Will the bees stay in our borders? They don’t have to – but they should. Ultimately, we will have ample pollen/nectar/resin/water sources within our borders for all seasons – all without pesticides/herbicides/fertilizers.
With that in mind, when will we expect to bring the bees?
- When the prairie is established – at least 20 of the 43 species planted are showing up – growing enough that they should be productive the following spring.
- When the pollinating hedge plants have doubled in size and propagation of additional plants is able to begin.
In order to successfully raise bees, we have restored 10.6 acres from rye fields into a diverse native prairie (43 species of grasses and forbs – flowering in all seasons.)
We have also brought in a variety of specimen species to begin growing pollinator hedges. This means, we bought 2-3 of each plant (most are rare/wild plants with specific season/pollen advantages for pollinators) and are now growing them to be propagated into more plants as they mature. Buying plants (especially rare breeds) is expensive, and sometimes unproductive (we’ve already discovered on of our purchased plants is the wrong variety!)
We are starting with a handful of plants and will multiply them as the time comes (remember: sleep, creep, leap!) as we determine which plants perform the best in our climate.
What is planned for the future? More trees, herbs, fruit trees, and expansion of the pollinator hedges.
What has been planted so far and why?
65 Balsam fir and Colorado blue spruce – windbreak and resin source
25 Autumn blaze maple – spring pollen source and microclimate adjustment
2 Goumi shrubs – spring pollen/nectar
1 Goji shrub – all season pollen/nectar
2 Beach plums – spring pollen/nectar
5 Nanking cherry – spring pollen/nectar
5 American Plum – spring pollen/nectar
5 American Cranberry – summer pollen/nectar
5 Pin cherry Trees – spring pollen/nectar
5 Service berry trees – spring pollen/nectar
2 service berry shrubs – spring pollen/nectar
7 honeyberry shrubs – spring pollen nectar
4 Shasta daisies – summer pollen/nectar
4 Comfrey (2 varieties)- summer pollen/nectar
1 liatris – summer pollen/nectar
2 salvia- summer pollen/nectar
3 Bellflower plants – summer pollen/nectar
garlic/onion chives – spring/summer pollen/nectar
oregano/thyme – summer/fall pollen/nectar
3 Staghorn sumac – summer pollen/nectar
3 Mulberry seedlings – spring/summer pollen/nectar
1 hackberry seedling summer pollen/nectar
2 French Pussy Willows – early spring pollen/nectar
3 Silver Willows – early spring pollen/nectar
Egyptian walking onions
MN strain redbud trees
Black Walnut trees
What is to be planted in the future?
2-3 Hackberry trees – pheasant food source and summer pollen/nectar
3-5 River Birch – early spring pollen/nectar
2 Crabapples – spring/summer pollen/nectar
Fruit Trees – cherry/plum/pear/apple – summer pollen/nectar
Raspberries -summer pollen/nectar
Various herbs – pollen/nectar
Blueberries – spring pollen/nectar
Strawberries – spring pollen/nectar
Goji – barbarnum variety – summer pollen/nectar
Illinois Mulberry – summer pollen/nectar
Forsythia – spring pollen/nectar
3 Chestnut Trees – summer pollen/nectar
Bristly Locust – spring pollen/nectar
Multiplication of the goumi, beach plum, nanking cherry, pussy willow, and flowering herbs/shrubs.
We have a lot to build/grow before the bees can confidently forage our area. In the year we have owned the land, I have encountered a handful of bumblebees and one honey bee. They are not currently active in our area.
Wondering what is growing at the research farm?
Current plant inventory
Burr Oak trees- hundreds – okay for fall honeydew but not a good winter food storage
Red Pine – 100+ – good resin source
Tamarack trees – 50+ – possible pollen/resin
Black Alder shrubs -100+ – spring pollen
Hazelnut shrubs – 100+ – spring pollen
Northern red oak – 10s – fall honeydew – not a good storage food
Aspen trees – 50+ – spring pollen
Willow shrubs – 10s – spring pollen
Cattails – emergency pollen
Goldenrod – fall pollen
Round headed clover – summer nectar
Asters -fall nectar/pollen
Smooth sumac – summer pollen/nectar
Black cherry – a few – spring pollen/nectar
Wild rice/arrowhead root/sedges/ferns/marsh marigolds/smartweed – unknown
Hoary puccoon/milkweed/wild phlox – spring pollen/nectar
Siberian Elm – early spring pollen
2 American Plum shrubs – spring pollen/nectar
Winterberry – 30+ – summer pollen/nectar?
Buckthorn/poison sumac/poison ivy – unknown