Can a Coniferous Forest Support Honey Bees?

Ask the Expert About Raising Honey Bees in a Forest

Can a Coniferous Forest Support Honey Bees?

Jonny asks:  

I have a large remote property in Magnetawan, Ontario. It consists of forests, ponds, lily pads etc. Is there enough pollen in a primarily coniferous forest for the bees? 

Rusty replies:  

Forests generally do not support bees very well, especially not coniferous forests. Honey bees like to be near sunny areas with many flowering plants that can provide various pollen and nectar sources. Although many coniferous trees shed ample pollen, they don’t often have much nectar, which is crucial for honey bees. In addition, coniferous pollen isn’t as nutritious for honey bees as the pollen from flowering plants. 

That said, it depends on how the forest is structured. If you have many streams that are bordered by deciduous trees and flowering plants, you can support more bees. If you have open areas such as logging roads or logged tracts, these too can support many flowering plants. Even recently replanted forest tracts do well because it takes many years before the young trees out-compete the wildflowers that grow in these areas. 

I live adjacent to a Douglas-fir forest, and I often see my bees on the edges of it, but not deep within it. Sparse areas where enough sun filters through the trees that berries and flowering understory thrive is where I find the most bees. 

If flowering species surround your ponds, you may be able to have bees, but the open areas must be large enough to support them. Remember, it takes approximately two million flowers to produce a pound of honey, so many flowers must be available. I’ve read that honey bees will forage on different types of water lilies but, again, the amount you have is important. 

Every plot of land is different. You can always try a colony or two and see what happens, or you can ask a local beekeeping club or your provincial agricultural office about the likelihood of success in your area. 

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