OF BEES, TREES, AND LOGS–MEET JAMES

Hello bee friends: Susan here, introducing our good bee friend James. James attended our recent log hive workshop and went crazy–in a good way! James has a vision of a highway of bee trees, and log hives. Is this a match made in Bee Heaven, or what?! Please feel free to join James in his mission, or contact him with questions and ideas: jmslandreth@gmail.com.

“Hi everyone! My name is James. I’m a former intern of Jacqueline’s who will soon by moving back to the area. I have a few years of experience doing agroforestry under my belt now and am hoping to make a return into natural beekeeping. Over the last couple of years I’ve learned a lot about drought tolerant, Pacific Northwest based agroforestry. I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I’ve seen a lot of evidence that trees and shrubs are a really great way to grow bee forage efficiently in terms of water and labor…

Two hundred years ago western Washington was covered in a diversity of native plants. Trees, shrubs, vines, and groundcovers bloomed and fed pollinators of all kinds. After white settlers moved in organic agriculture covered a lot of the land (this was still before pesticides and industrial fertilizers). Fields of corn, vegetables, buckwheat, and fruit and nut trees replaced some of these native plants, and still generally provided food for bees. Most people had a garden, including herbs, and most had a small orchard containing both fruit and nuts.

Fast forward to today, a new stage in land management, and most “wild” land is actually managed timber (a monocrop of Douglas fir, with the understory sprayed with poison to reduce competition). Most cleared land is either lawn or managed cow pasture. This landscape is obviously degraded and incapable of supporting as many pollinators, and so our goals as preservation beekeepers should be restoring a landscape which blooms.

Bee gardens can make a contribution to the diversity of forage available for pollinators, but trees can be more efficient longer term in terms of water and labor for those with access to the space to plant them.

I don’t have direct experience with each and every one of these, but I have read about them or have friends who grow them, and plan to experiment in the future. Information and people’s experiences often contradict, so I’ve done my best to make sure the information below is as accurate as possible.

TREES  (AND SHRUBS!) FOR BEES:

  • Mock orange
  • Currants
  • Chaste tree (blooms over a long time; seeds and leaves reportedly used as a spice)
  • Gooseberries
  • Serviceberries (very drought tolerant, beautiful blossoms, edible fruit)
  • Aronia berries (very healthy juice and antioxidant content)
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Goumi berry (drought tolerant, nitrogen fixer, delicious berries for people or birds whoever gets there first!)
  • Autumn Olive (same as goumi, fruits in the fall, invasive in other regions but hasn’t been a problem in the Pacific Northwest)
  • Silverberry (blooms in fall in most places, very beneficial for this reason)
  • Some types of English ivy (somewhat aggressive spreader but very good for bees due to its fall bloom)

Trees:

  • Hazelnut trees: wind pollinated but worked by bees. Important source of forage for in late winter and early spring
  • Chestnuts: also wind pollinated, but reputed in Europe for making delicious honey. Midsummer bloom here in Washington
  • Fruit trees: These generally bloom March, April, and May, with some even blooming into June (persimmon and medlar, depending on location). See below for more details on fruit trees that do well here.
  • Empress trees: fast growing, reputedly a nitrogen fixer, beautiful edible blossoms, brittle wood that is good for crafting but should not be grown next to a house
  • Littleleaf and American Linden: very excellent summer forage for bees. Blossoms and leaves both edible, at least on the littleleaf linden. Note: Do not plant silver leafed linden as it is toxic to bumblebees
  • Goldenchain: nitrogen fixer, beautiful small tree with hanging yellow blossoms
  • Silk Mimosa: excellent for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, long bloom time and reportedly a nitrogen. Said to aggressively self seed in disturbed soils.
  • Honey Locust: Similar to black locust in some ways. Possibly a nitrogen fixer (scientists are currently arguing about this). Beautiful blossoms, makes excellent wood for smoking food, and creates sweet pods that are edible and good livestock feed.
  • Black locust: Native to the midwest and parts of the east coast. Nitrogen fixing, excellent for firewood, can be cut to the ground in winter and will re-sprout aggressively. Beautiful fragrant flowers. Spreads by seed and root suckers, though friends who have grown it here have not found it to be unmanageable.
  • Sorrel tree: Also called sourwood. Native to the eastern US, but can be grown here. Blooms in late summer or early fall depending on location (and on who you’re asking). Excellent honey tree.
  • Lilac trees
  • Maple (especially vine maple): Bloom in spring, make excellent forage early in the season
  • Pussywillow: Can be an important source of pollen early in the season, good for helping bees to feed brood and build up their numbers`
  • Tuliptree: Very beautiful flowers, said to be a variety of or related to the poplar tree
  • Black tupelo (sour gum)
  • Sweetgum
  • Certain types of dogwood
  • Catalpa
  • Sumac (good for butterflies too)
  • American witchhazel: Supposedly very good for bees and also fall blooming

Planting a variety of these trees so that pollination is spread over a long period is good. Late summer and fall bee forage seem especially limited, so choices like silverberry, English ivy, Sorrel tree (sourwood), and American witchhazel all seem like good picks.

Some places you can buy some of these trees:

  • Raintree Nursery (located in Morton, WA)
  • Burnt Ridge Nursery (Located in Onalaska, WA)
  • One Green World (located in Portland, Oregon)
  • Arborday.org
  • Lael’s Moon Garden (Rochester, WA)
  • Etsy (yes, there are lots of good tree growers who ship on Etsy! Just read reviews carefully)

Islands of Light

When I first got into natural beekeeping, one of my teachers and friends Susan (our very own!) told me that she really thought we have a chance at saving the bees. She described our efforts as holding these pools of natural, feral genetics in our bee yards so that one day these pools could be drawn upon to reseed our region.

When I visualize Susan’s words, I picture a nighttime map of the Pacific Northwest. Each preservation beekeeper is a pinprick of light on that map, almost overwhelmed by the surrounding darkness. But then, in my mind, the lights grow stronger and become more numerous, and suddenly they begin to spread! More and more, they start to link. Once bonded they burn brighter and spread more quickly, until eventually, the light covers everything.

Let’s come back to reality now. I believe this dream is within our grasp, and here’s why I think so.

We recently learned a lot about hollow logs from Matt Somerville. In addition to learning how to make them, we also found out that bees in hollow log hives have high survival rates and are able to look after themselves. This has been Jacqueline’s experience as well. Matt has experimented by putting these hives up in the countryside in England, and to his surprise, 48 out of 52 of them filled with swarms without any human intervention. This has me thinking: What if we tried to do the same?

I think that preservation beekeeping takes a few different forms, but for many of us, a longer term strategy for helping bees survive these tough times has not yet taken shape. As a community, we beekeep as a shattered mosaic: Some backyard hives here, a community of natural beekeepers there. We do our best and find success where we can, but while we are able to network and build off of each other as humans, our bees aren’t able to interact and, importantly, breed with one another across these distances. But it is possible to connect these islands of good, feral bee genetics. With low-maintenance, bee friendly hives we can not only establish more viable colonies, but link them. This would create a strong, viable breeding population of feral bees across our region. At a responsible density this shouldn’t impact native pollinators negatively. We don’t have to limit ourselves to log hives, either. Modified langstroth, top bar, Warré, and skep hives could also harbor these strong bees.

I plan on making more log hives starting now. I am going to put them up not only on my property, but on the properties of friends nearby. I have a friend two miles away who has property (and a fabulous orchard), and a friend a mile and a half beyond her. I am going to start with those and try to fill in the areas in between. I also hope to get some log hives up near Jacqueline and Camas (AKA Susanville) to build on the good bee genetics that they’ve already established.

Trees are also in the mix. I’ll be starting bee-friendly tree seedlings as part of this linked good bee road, and am happy to share, as they get going. If anyone is interested in helping me out, becoming part of this bee network or learning more, please feel free to reach out.”

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