My daughter and son-in-law are taking a bee keeping class. They plan on keeping the bees on our property, which is plenty large enough for a few hives. I have volunteered to provide the flowers, being the gardener. I'd like to do a mixed flower garden but I know some flowers make better honey than others so maybe I should be thinking along the lines of planting a crop in one of our pastures. Any thoughts on plants / crops to put in for the bees?
As a general guide, most of the pasture legumes make pretty good honey. Many are perennial, needing to be seeded just once for several years production. Will you be keeping livestock in the pasture? You will probably want to customize a blend for the animals, simply including whichever legumes are appropriate. Alfalfa makes an almost mint-like honey, many clovers and vetches are good for honey, but not all are OK for livestock. Some plants will tolerate grazing and still produce enough flowers for the bees, as long as the pasture is not over grazed; hungry animals can denude an area until there is nothing growing.
Pollen sources are important, too, even if you are not going to harvest the pollen. The bees need it as a protein source. Many plants in the daisy family are rich in pollen.
As a general rule, honeybees have small tongues, so cannot reach deep tubular flowers. Research flowers, and if it says hummingbirds or butterflies like it, then it might not be the best for honeybees.
Honeybees see blues and into the ultraviolet quite well. This does not rule out red, orange or yellow flowers, though. Many clovers have yellow flowers, and bees visit them quite willingly.
Will it be irrigated pasture? Are there erosion control problems? You might consult with a hydroseeding operation, or a seed wholesaler to get the right blend in a bulk quantity.
There is an odd little legume that grows as a weed in some pastures. Our bees made a really mild honey from it, though it was deep red in color. The plant is one of the Lotus, probably Lotus corniculatus. Grows fairly flat with yellow flowers in a cluster that stands up above the plant.
If you want to establish the pasture as a year round nectar and pollen source, then research which flowers bloom at what time, and is it moisture dependent (back to: Will you be irrigating the pasture?) Many flowers will bloom for a much longer time if they are irrigated. In our warmer zones bees can fly all year round. This can be good or bad. In the winter it is often warm enough for them to fly but not as many flowers in bloom, so they eat more honey than they bring in while searching. If your area is like that you might focus on winter blooming flowers in the pasture.
On the other hand, many areas of CA are so dry from about July through October that very few plants are in bloom then. If that is what it is like in your area, and you can irrigate the pasture, then you might best spend your money and time concentrating on late summer flowers.
Will you be mowing or harvesting the pasture for hay? This can create a dearth of nectar until the plants regrow. Are there alternate sources such as a hedgerow or ditch row where the bees can find enough to eat in between crops?
Remember that honeybees can very willingly fly a quarter mile for food, and can range up to a couple of miles. Look into your surrounding area and see what sources are already available, then customize the pasture to compliment what is already available.
Honeybees need water, but tend not to drink from sources that are too near the hives. If you can arrange a reliable water supply on the opposite side of the pasture to where you keep the hives that can stop the bees from being a nuisance to the neighbors. A stock trough with some floating wood works pretty well.
That gives me a lot to think about.
We don't have livestock so that's not an issue. I have two areas that could be planted in "bee" plants, both have a spigot in range. I have one of the Nelson traveler sprinklers I can use, especially in summer. We're in the country, lots of live oak and scrub in that quarter mile radius so not a lot of help there, although there are blooming natives on the scrub side of the canyon. My daughter said she has a list of good "bee" plants so I think I'll just start looking them up so I can make a good decision on what to plant. Clover may be the best bet, although since it is strictly for the bees I might be able to do something more interesting, like 3 different color flowering plants. You drive by the pasture on your way to the house so pretty would be a plus.
Thanks for the "water" idea, I have a little stock tank pond in my backyard and on hot days there are lots of bees. I think I'll put another one in away from the house so it doesn't get too exciting, especially if I want to have a barbeque, LOL.
Thanks for all the info.