Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee. Part 2

There are several sounds that a beekeeper loves to hear and one that they do not. The sound that beekeepers do not like to hear is the busy buzzing of honey bee wings telling the beekeeper, ‘Goodbye, alas we shall see you no more.” That’s right, it’s the sound of a swarm.

Fortunately, today we are talking about the sounds that beekeepers do like, which is when the blossoms are buzzing happily with the sound of their honey bees.

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honey bee foraging on blackberry
This honey bee on Blackberry Blossom is a very happy bee! Having beehives this year made for an excellent blackberry crop. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Honey bee forage

More specifically, I’m talking about the sounds of honey bees buzzing on flowers, something I love and could listen to for hours! Today I’m going to cover five wildflowers that most people consider to be ‘weeds’ and some that you may have never heard of, until now!

Let’s be clear, if there are plants growing in areas of your property that you use a lot, like from the back door to the shed in the backyard, this is known as Zone 1, and those areas should be kept landscaped and tidy. But the outlying areas where you may visit less than a few times each month if at all, those areas are perfect for allowing honey bee forage to grow freely. Today, let’s start with a well-known wildflower; Goldenrod!

Just as in my previous blog post, ‘Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee. Part 1,” I will be referring to my very most favorite book on the subject, American Honey Plants by Frank C. Pellett. It will be referred to as AHP.

Ragweed is often the culprit for allergies.
When people have allergies in summer they blame the Goldenrod because they do not notice the real culprit: Ragweed. Notice the very inconspicuous blossoms. They face downwards and are difficult to spot. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Goldenrod

There are several species of Goldenrod, some species yield more nectar for the honey bee than others do, but they each rely on hot weather in order to produce an abundance of nectar. And when I say hot, I am talking about the upper 70’s and well into the 80 degree temperatures which equates to 26 degrees Celsius and hotter. On this type of day, you can see honey bees hopping from one cluster of flowers and on to the next. The bees will continue to work Goldenrod until the first hard frost kills them but there is definitely a peak time when they’re bringing in so much that you can smell it curing in the apiary in the early evenings. It is sort of a stinky smell, but I love it. You could say that it stinks really good.

Honey bee foraging on goldenrod
I call this, “Bee booty on Goldenrod.” Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Benefit to Honey bees

AHP has a lot to say when it comes to Goldenrod; it devotes seven pages on the subject. Apparently of the eighty species of Goldenrod that exist, there’s only three or four of those in North America and it’s widely distributed. In my area of North Central Georgia, it offers something for my beehives to forage on after a month-long honey dearth, during which I must feed. AHP mentions that one species of this plant, “…hairy goldenrod as the latest to blossom [is]…the most valuable as a honey plant…While in bloom the bees work it very diligently and the honey is stored rapidly.” Plus, Goldenrod produces tons of pollen.

Benefit to us

Most people would probably say that there are NO benefits of Goldenrod. And I am going to venture a guess that they say that with their allergies in mind. But did you know that Goldenrod usually ‘takes the rap’ for what is most likely causing your allergies? And that certain something happens to bloom at the very same time! It’s called Ragweed, go figure. Goldenrod does indeed offer incredible health benefits for people. Here is a beautiful website explaining its benefits. Read on

!

honey bee foraging on goldenrod
Goldenrod is unique in that one plant can have thousands of individual blossoms. No wonder it’s a favorite! Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Aster

Goldenrod and Aster go hand-in-hand. In my area, Aster blooms shortly after Goldenrod has begun and it continues producing nectar till the frost kills it off. In late summer, my property bushes out with Snow Aster and with a species of Purple Aster. I love it! There are concerns over nectar gathered from Aster being unfit for winter stores but it’s so mixed up with a dozen other things that my bees collect that it’s not a concern to me.

honey bee foraging on frost aster
Plants like this Frost Aster grow everywhere on my Georgia property. The honey bees will forage this from morning till night.
Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Benefit to Honey bees

It’s amazing that there are over 200 recognized species of Aster in the U.S, according to AHP. “Every American beekeeper may be sure that his bees are within reach of at least one species of aster…Some species produce nectar much more abundantly than others.” Here is the referral I made earlier about Aster honey being questionable for winter stores, “Much has been written concerning the danger of aster honey for winter stores…Not only does aster honey contain gums which are indigestible to the bees, but the plants bloom so late that the honey may not be properly ripened.” This is one reason I like to supplement their feed with sugar syrup with my homemade Nosema treatment mixed in. Healthy guts equal healthy bees.

Benefit to us

The only beneficial use I have practiced using Aster for is its aromatherapy, meaning that I like to smell them. But here is a great source to learn more about the many uses of this miracle plant.

honey bee foraging on purple aster
This species of Purple Aster is one of my favorites to watch as honey bees bounce from one to another. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Boneset

With Boneset, there are several species of this that fall under the same identification of Eupatorium. It’s a sciency name. On my property I know of at least three Eupatoriums. They include: Late Boneset, Joe-Pye Weed, and of course ‘regular’ Boneset. These are not in very large numbers on my property but I have seen these in incredibly large and thick stands in wet soils. Consulting AHP, it’s the ‘regular’ Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) that produces significant yields of nectar for honey bees.

honey bee foraging on late boneset
This is the Late Boneset, and popular with the ladies! Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Benefit to Honey bees

AHP says that, “All the bonesets are autumn bloomers, and the honey is usually mixed with that of heartsease, asters, goldenrod, Spanish needle…An Illinois beekeeper reports Eupatorium serotinum to be one of the best honey plants he knows.” This plant is generally found in wetter places which means it is easier for property owners to simply let it remain for the honey bees instead of cutting it down.

Benefit to us

When it comes to health benefits of plants, Boneset was named very astutely. It’s ability to help quickly set broken bones is said to be so effective that it is cautioned to be certain that the broken bone is properly set before applying Boneset. Here’s another great resource for learning more.

honey bee foraging on joe-pye weed
Butterflies and honey bees alike swarm to this, Joe-Pye Weed. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Kudzu

Here’s a zinger! Kudzu? Really? I had to throw this one in because it’s so unusual and that means it’s also unique. Last year while driving up to Springer Mountain Georgia, with the windows down, my wife and I passed an area that smelled quite lovely. It smelled like grape candy. Sourwood was the only thing blooming at that time as far as I knew. On our way back down the mountain we smelled it again in the same place. So I pulled over and went hunting. Right away I found what it was; Kudzu! What a beautiful blossom yet inconspicuous from the highway. I could not see the blooms until I was standing underneath looking up. From the road, the leaves block the view of the flowers.

kudzu is a forage for honey bees
Kudzu in all its glory! I have’nt photographed a honey bee foraging it…YET!
Photo by Joanthan Hargus©

Benefit to Honey bees

Unfortunately, AHP has absolutely nothing to say about this spreading vine. It was written in the 20’s and my guess is that Kudzu was not as invasive then as it is now. But I have found a few sources that have very interesting information when it comes to honey bees and Kudzu. One of them even speak of purple honey.

Benefit to us

I’ve heard parts of this plant are edible. I’ve heard that Kudzu is an invasive species. If it is edible and it is also invasive, and the honey bees forage it, it sounds good tome! Here’s some information from WellandGood about some ways to use Kudzu. VerywellHealth has some similar good things to say about it.

kudzu is a honey bee forage
As the blossoms age, they begin to fall to the ground, which is a clear giveaway that it’s blooming. If you ever see the ground covered in purple then look up.
Photo by Jonathan Hargus

Blackberry

We cannot and should not leave out Blackberry. Last year my beehives made a quaint six gallons of pure Blackberry honey. In fact, it was even more popular than my Millet Honeydew and sold out very quickly. Don’t tell anyone but I saved a sample of it and labeled it, ‘Secret Blackberry Honey, Spring 2019.’ In my area, Blackberry starts to bloom and overlaps with the beginning of Tulip Poplar, our biggest honey flow.

blackberry honey for sale in my honey stand
I was so excited when my Blackberry Honey was ready to put in my honey stand! Everyone gave really good feedback about the flavor. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Benefit to Honey bees

The most obvious benefit is the widespread diversity of blackberry. I feel especially happy because of what AHP says about Blackberry, “The blackberry is especially well known in the Southeastern States, where it thrives in fence corners and moist woodland borders. In north Georgia (YAY!) it is one of the principal sources of surplus honey.” It’s also a great source of pollen which happens to be grey-ish in color.

Benefit to us

The greatest benefit is the blackberries of course! The first summer that my wife and I stayed on our property in Georgia, we stayed in our brand new tipi. It was awesome! We had just bought a dutch oven too. So as blackberries began to ripen, we picked a bowl full and made a homemade Blackberry Cobbler in our Dutch oven; a very versatile piece of camping cookware. It was delicious and I think it tasted even better having cooked it over a fire. Here are some different ways that you can use blackberries and I also have some of their health benefits for you as well.

honey bee foraging on blackberry
This is a very unique color of honey bee. You can already see baby blackberries on the older blossoms in the background. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Understanding

As humans, it’s amazing how much better we get along in life when we understand something or someone. Learning more about the plants that grow around you is the very first step in ‘Saving the bees.’ When we lack the understanding of what plants are and the incredibly important role they play for honey bees, a.k.a. their food source, it’s easy to jump on board the spray wagon and kill everything in sight. You know it’s true.

my honey stand based upon the honor system
This is my custom-made Honey Stand. I planted four different types of flowers to attract my honey bees. Can’t remember what they’re called. Ironic, huh? Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

You’re already on your way to contributing to saving the bees simply by reading this blog. What was your favorite wildflower from today’s post? Perhaps you have a favorite wildflower at home, I would love to know what it is! Have you ever seen honey bees foraging from it? Please, let me know in the comments below. I really enjoy hearing from each of you. Thank you so much for joining me today.

If you’re interested in learning more about American Honey Plants, then I highly recommend this book by Frank C. Pellett. Also, if you’re interested in learning more about identifying wildflowers then I recommend this Peterson Field Guide to Wildflowers as a great beginner book. Until next time remember,

~Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee.~

Jonathan Hargus/Beekeeper Extraordinaire

2 Thoughts

  1. There are so many wildflowers that honey bees work…it’s difficult for me to pick a favorite. But I think the one I am the most excited about when it begins to bloom is probably Clematis, a wildflower I mentioned in another post. But my favorite from today’s post is Blackberry because of its potential for making honey. What’s yours??

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