The early spring season is a very difficult time for bees and beekeepers. When the temperatures start warming the bees begin increasing activity, rearing brood, and flying on warm sunny days. This is a tricky time for bees because there is not much available to feed the growing population. Many beekeepers feed sugar-syrup or candy, to supplement the bees’ food source.
Trees are often overlooked as a food source for bees and other pollinators. Sure people think about apple trees and other fruiting trees that exhibit showy displays of fragrant flowers, but there are a number of other trees with blossoms that offer bees nectar or pollen–and sometimes both–before even the dandelion blooms signals that the foraging season is on in full-force.
In Maine, the willows are among the first trees to flower, best known as “Pussy Willow”. They produce a modest amount of nectar, but are also valuable as an early pollen source, and are native to Maine.
Maples are another early flowering tree, though most folks may not recognize the red clusters as a flower. The delicate clusters are unique and offer both pollen and nectar well in advance of the dandelion bloom.
Typically the locust trees will come into blossom directly before the big dandelion bloom, serving as a herald of the explosion of spring fauna reproduction about to occur. Locust trees have a gorgeous series of cascading flowers that honeybees love.
Once the dandelion bloom is underway beekeepers breathe a sigh of relief. The foraging season rolls out before them, but trees will continue to play a part in the honey-crop with the flowering of various fruit trees like the apples, the wild cherry trees, dogwood and the Amelanchier species.
Alders, dogwoods, basswood, and chestnut trees all offer food for pollinators as well.
For more information about potential food sources for pollinators check out these recommended resources:
Understanding Native Bees, the Great Pollinators: Enhancing their habitat in Maine – Publication from the University of Maine, scroll down to view charts of pollinator plants and the type of food source each offers.
Pollinator Conservation Resources for the NorthEast Region – A list of great resources from the Xerces Society.
NorthEast Plants for Native Bees – PDF from the Xerces Society.
Black Locust the Herald of Honey – A great post from the Boorinakis Harper Ranch blog-site.
Black Willow is Good for Pollinators – Plant profile from Pollinators.info.