Clover is considered a weed in your lawn but it is an amazing plant to have around for your honeybees! Purposeful planting of clover is an inexpensive and effective way for backyard beekeepers and apiaries to maintain land and support their honeybee colony needs in the process. With that being said, there are many varieties of clover so let’s take a look at what your bees want and how you can provide it for them.
As soon as I decided to plant clover for the honeybee colonies at Gypsy Shoals Farm apiary, I got super excited because I envisioned our acreage covered in a sea of beautiful red clover blossoms- then my beautiful bubble was burst.
According to research, honeybees will pollinate and visit red clover but it is not their preference. This is due to the crimson clover’s shape and the honeybee’s inability to reach the nectar with her proboscis (tongue). If you are investing in the planting of clover to support your honeybees and extend the nectar flow time frame, it is wiser to choose a variety of white clover for your seeding purposes.
Sweet clover (aka white clover) is a legume and it does best in well-drained soil, blooming from Spring and forward for several months, depending on the variety. Yellow clover (Melilotus officinalis) begins blooming approximately 2 weeks before white clover, so mixing the two varieties will add longevity to your nectar flow.
Best Clover Varieties for Honey Bees
Sweet clover is the nectar producing rock star of the clover family. Sweet clover is further divided into two subcategories: biennial and annual clover. Although clover is not a perennial, it will self-seed naturally as it dies off and sheds seeds to the ground or blown on the wind for rejuvenation of the crop. The success level of this natural process will depend on the soil conditions and weed competition on the ground. Biannual over seeding will be required to keep the density of the plants over successive years.
- Two types: white blossom (Melilotus alba) and yellow blossom (Melilotus officinalis)
- Planting biennial clover: Although it can be planted in the Fall, it is best to do so in the Spring. A seed bed should be prepared and any competing weeds eradicated. As a general rule, broadcast spread approximately 15 lbs. per acre on a prepared seedbed and 25% more if you are attempting to seed clover in an area with existing weeds that will be competing with the clover for resources, sunlight and ground space.
- Upper South: Late February
- Deep South: Year Round
- North: Mid March – Early May
- Never mow biennial sweet clover below 6 inches tall. Doing so will prematurely kill off the clover stand.
- The annual species of sweet clover (Hubam) begins blooming in late Summer, when planted in the Spring and will continue to produce flowers until the first frost.
- Adding the annual variety of sweet clover will significantly support your honeybees in the Fall as they are preparing their stores for the Winter.
- Sow Hubam sweet clover at the same rates (15 pounds/acre) as you do for the biennial varieties.
- Only sow annual sweet clover after all danger of frost is over.
Sweet clover is a very easy, effective and relatively inexpensive way to maintain your property while supporting your honeybee colonies at the same time. Sweet clover is insect and disease resistant, but does require well-drained soil for best results. In the United States, the clover family contributes more to honey production than any other plant group because of its’ proficiency in nature as well as the light and sweet flavor notes they bring to the honey produced by the hive.
Gypsy Shoals Farm recommends that you incorporate all three varieties into your planting plans to offer a variety and extend the length of the nectar flow for your hives. Yearly seeding of sweet clover will guarantee that your bee hives have plenty of nectar resources available to the colony.
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