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Bees in the buckwheat

Here is something I would do if I could. Bees in a field of buckwheat seems too good to be true. The source of my all-time favorite honey, Fagopyrum esculentum, just doesn’t want to grow in my shady forest apiary. Believe me, I’ve tried. So I have to be content looking at a photo like this and dreaming about the molasses taste of buckwheat honey. Sigh.

Thank you, Wayne, for the photo, even if it makes me wistful.

Gillispie's-bee-yard
Beehives in a flush of buckwheat flowers. Photo and hives © Wayne Gillispie.

Comments

Kathleen
Reply

This year I planted a field of buckwheat near our hives. Saw a ton of bumblebees and other native bees, but not one honey bee. I checked in all weather, at all times of day. Never saw one. Guess ours are not partial to buckwheat. Too bad. I also think that honey is particularly tasty.

Rusty
Reply

How disappointing! I wonder why.

Aram
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They go on the buckwheat in the morning before noon. After 12 there is no nectar. They get pretty light green pollen from buckwheat.

Rusty
Reply

Yes, well, that’s what I say in the linked post: “Nectar flows from about 8 a.m. till noon and then dries up for the day, so while bees are in obvious attendance in the morning hours they are gone soon after lunch.” But Kathleen says she checked the field at all times of day, so we still don’t know why.

John
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I too have an acre of buckwheat I planted this year; that was inspired by Rusty. I can not verify the morning hours as I’m usually at work and just too lazy on the weekends. But, I did notice a visiting trend in the very late afternoons, just prior to sundown with my hives. Whether the bees like it or not, it sure is fun to just walk through the field and munch on a few seeds!

Rusty
Reply

I inspired someone to do something? That is just too cool!

Never thought of munching on the seeds . . .

Julie L
Reply

I tried to plant a patch of buckwheat in my yard, but the yard bunnies mowed it to the ground as soon as it sprouted. I plant it in my raised bed more successfully, but I guess with this large of broadcast planting, you can stay ahead of the rabbits.

Curt
Reply

The variety of buckwheat you need is called ‘mancan’ for honey bees. It’s a southern variety. I planted a late crop, which the bees really worked and it’s now going to seed.

Wayne
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9/22/14. Thank you Rusty for posting. In NE Ky, I successive sow 100 lbs of buckwheat spread out from May 15-Aug 1. A little every week in my open garden spaces (larger plots are better than small ones for bees). If soil has not been fertilized or had nitrogen-producing cover crops, then I broadcast a little 5-20-20 fertilizer before rototilling. Don’t put too much nitrogen or you might have a lot of vegetative growth instead of flowers. Buckwheat is good for the soil too and if sowed heavy enough will choke out most weeds. If I did not have to sow fall cover crops of rye, Austrian field pea and hairy vetch, I would sow up through Sep 1. Once I start seeing seeds forming around 40-45 days, I rototill it in and either sow another crop or plant vegetables.

Buckwheat does well in poor soil, likes moist better than dry soil and like Rusty found out, does not care much for shade. My bees like it from 8-12 all summer and especially in the fall. Deer and rabbits like mine too. I either sow enough for everyone or have electric fences around it. Supers off now and getting them ready for winter.

David R
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Last year I planted about 5 acres of buckwheat and had tons of pollinators including many species of butterflies but very few honey bees. This year I only planted about an acre of buckwheat with the same results. Watching honey bees feed is my favorite part of being a beekeeper so I do watch closely. One thing I noticed is that both years I planted in late May then when the buckwheat bloomed clover was still available which the bees covered up once the tulip poplars quit blooming.

I keep the clover blooming by cutting the fields on a rotational basis. Next year I plan on planting the buckwheat in late June to see if I can move its blooming stage to occur after the clover has finished which should be late July here in western Georgia….also doing some research on soil analysis and amendments if necessary. I have been planting it behind crimson clover which is worked by the bees for only a short period. The idea of rotational planting is also a very good idea.

Robbin
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A little off subject of buckwheat, but my husband and I were noticing since I’ve planted two patches of spearmint and peppermint around the area where my hives are, I didn’t have the ant problems I had last year. Also later in the summer I sprayed vinegar on ground where I had some choke weed trying to grow. I’m a rookie so you all probably already knew this. I’m going into my second year with my hives. Love this site.

mike
Reply

Hello Rusty,

I’ve grown buckwheat but last year I grew a 50×50 plot of yellow sweet clover about 20 feet from the bees. This produced a very sweet and thick as molasses honey with an exceptional aftertaste. I would recommend lime on your plot for a year before planting buckwheat.
mike

Derrick
Reply

I live in North Alabama, and I plant buckwheat as soon as my sweet corn is done. I’ll also plant right behind my field corn as well. So I have 2 separate spots and they are usually about 3 weeks apart. I sow my 1st crop of buckwheat late July early August. My bees love it. To me it seems to do better following my corn crops, and in return my corn seems to do better the following spring, because of the nutrients from the buckwheat. In the south buckwheat is a win, win for a variety of reasons. A great cover crop, great to amend the soil, great pollination for my honey bees, and besides all of this, it’s considered a super food!

Rusty
Reply

Derrick,

It almost sounds like buckwheat is making a comeback. I wonder if the number of acres planted is up.

David R
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Thank you Rusty for hosting this web page. I always look forward to your posts and this time I gleaned some really timely and geographically pertinent information from Derrick’s reply. Having grown up on the land that I farm it is my nature to tend to the soil for that is where everything starts. It is my nature to tend to my crops, my flocks, my herds and now I find tending bees a very similar passion. It is second nature to me to plant something for the bees to feed on between the spring nectar flow and sometimes sporadic fall nectar flow. I have increased my clover crops, planted buckwheat, a wonderful square-foot garden and I even have 35 lavender plants that I started from seed this past February. I currently have 7 hives with a goal of 12. I say all that to ask the question, how much does one need to plant for a hive to really make a difference in providing a useful quantity and I realize that even a small amount of diverse food for the bees is significant?

Rusty
Reply

David,

I think you knew before you wrote that yours is an unanswerable question! Nectar flow in any plant is tightly bound to the weather, including rainfall, day and nighttime temperatures, winds, hours of sun vs clouds, humidity, etc. So one season the bees might get from a quarter acre what it usually takes an acre to provide . . . and vice versa. And as you say, even a tiny patch can make a difference, especially if it blooms in an off-season nectar dearth. I think a quarter-acre can make a noticeable difference in a hive if it is a rich source, but like I said, it all depends.

Derrick
Reply

Rusty…… it very well could be. In my area mainly beekeepers grow it. I think the number of beekeepers are up (thank goodness). It mainly is commercially grown in midwest. Our hot humid afternoons wilt it a bit, but it bounces back the next morning. Thanks for everybody’s post. Love reading on this site.

gene staggs
Reply

Rusty, will 9 pounds of sweet yellow clover broadcast into a knee high sage grass field in mid September in middle Tennessee make much honey off this 5 acre field?

Rusty
Reply

Gene,

I can’t answer that, but your state extension office should be able to help.

Tyrel
Reply

Hi there. I was told that frames that held buckwheat honey could only be used for it in the future, or they would “taint” the next crop in them in both flavor and color. Do you know if thats true? Maybe its only wax drawn from buckwheat that does it?

Rusty
Reply

Tyrel,

I’ve never heard that before. It seems like the bees would remove all the extra honey when they clean the frames. And I doubt it is wax drawn while they’re collecting the nectar. After all, they are collecting it, not eating it all that much. I would ignore the whole thing. Nonsense.

brad amick
Reply

Has anyone let the seed dry on the plant, then turned it back into the ground to see if it will come back up? I planted 1 acre, in April, and it has seeded out, was thinking about harrowing it back into the soil, for a fall bloom?

Rusty
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Brad,

Buckwheat will readily reseed itself.

Mark
Reply

I am interested in seeding buckwheat and someone told me that their are different varieties and the newer common ones don’t attract honey bees. Does anyone have any info on that. I will try and find the mancan variety mentioned.

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