Saturday, 19 September 2015 10:00

Farmers urged to plant bee-friendly

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Farm ‘bee feed’ plantations could be the driving force behind a thriving rural bee population, according to researchers and advisers from the Trees for Bees initiative.

The team from the Trees for Bees programme, which was launched by Federated Farmers in 2009, is promoting superior nutrition for bees by installing bee feed plantations on farms with carefully selected plants to serve multiple purposes.

Plantations have been installed on 15 demonstration farms throughout New Zealand, on a wide range of farms from sheep and beef to arable and vineyards.

Trees for Bees farm planting advisor Dr Angus McPherson says the results are looking extremely encouraging.

“Where we’ve planted larger grade specimens we are getting flowering in their first season, and we’re supplementing smaller grade plants with perennial and herb species to get early flowering,” says McPherson.

“We are seeing bees visiting the plants, which is great, and we will be collecting data on how hives in the area are performing,” he says.

This September is Bee Aware Month, with this year’s theme being ‘Feed the Bees’ – and McPherson says the issues around lack of bee feed are recognised globally.

During Bee Aware Month, the National Beekeepers Association is encouraging Kiwis to plant bee-friendly and help bees flourish, and the Trees for Bees team are aiming to spread that message through rural communities.

While farmers are planting for erosion control, riparian protection, shade and shelter, or animal fodder, they can help bees by selecting plants that also provide good pollen and nectar, says McPherson.

“We’ve found that on the farms on which we’ve installed bee feed plantations, not only are we getting bees visiting the bee feed plants, but we’re also seeing the other planting benefits planned for, such as shade, shelter, riparian protection and amenity,” he says.

Farm plantings generally require low maintenance bee plants such as trees and shrubs, and Trees for Bees are also looking at how bee feed can be incorporated into ground cover planting to control weeds.

“Most people wouldn’t think of an oak or a maple as a bee feed plant, but the quantity of pollen available from one of these trees is huge, so they play a very important role in keeping our bees well fed and healthy,” says McPherson.

The Trees for Bees project works with beekeepers and landowners on its demonstration farms to develop on-farm and apiary-based planting designs to ensure hives have sufficient bee feed.

“Bees are only pollinating or gathering honey for a few months in summer each year, so it’s vital that we have enough natural bee feed available to keep hives healthy and vigorous and get them through the crucial autumn and spring periods,” says McPherson.

Trees for Bees have produced plant lists and planting guides for farms, public lands, and home gardens to help support bees, which are available at www.treesforbeesnz.org.

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