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Author Topic: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?  (Read 828 times)

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Offline eastcoastbeek

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trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« on: September 23, 2017, 09:05:38 pm »
Hey Folks,

I'm a commercial beekeeper thinking "out of the box" to try and keep my bees alive.  There are some legume cover crops that I could plant in young stands that might help foresters and bees both.  A mix of clovers, vetches and tansy can fix nitrogen and help control weeds for you while saving me the cost of artificial bee food.  Bees are healthier on natural foods and when we truck bees to honey flows some diseased bees drift into the wrong hives and spread viruses. 

Would the amount of nitrogen fixation significantly help your pine?  I'm guessing there may only be 50 lbs/acre until the legumes are shaded out but there are other good benefits with cover crops.  And it would be free to you.  Would a cover crop interfere with your perennial weed control?  How many years before the canopy shaded out the flowers? Do you use systemic neonic insecticides?

Twenty years ago bees made 200+ pounds of honey per colony, today they make 50 lbs.  They are on life support.  I think donating my seed and time to a young forest will be cheaper than my cost of food supplements.  I'm guessing that 3-4 acres of pine would be required to support each hive, I need to do some experimental plantings to get realistic numbers.       

Would this interest any foresters?  I don't know much about pine management practices and don't even know if I'm asking you the right questions.  But I'd sure appreciate your help.  I live in Virginia and overwinter bees in Florida so anywhere near the I-95 corridor would be in my bee travels.

Thanks again for any help you can give.
Dave


Offline Ianab

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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2017, 02:16:33 am »
Not sure about the Pine, but Tree Lucerne is probably the species you are talking about, and it's sometimes used locally as a "nurse crop", to help re-establish native forest. You plant it, but leave (or clear) gaps for the target trees. The long term trees, that often can't be planted in an exposed or full sun location, grow well in the shelter provided by the fast growing lucerne, then eventually overtop at as it matures and starts to die off 10-20 years down the track.

Now pine locally us usually planted dense so that it closes the canopy over quickly, then it's pruned and thinned to waste over the next 10 years. 

But I can't see any reason your idea wont work with pine trees. Make sure you clearings for the pines are big enough to allow them plenty of light. Eventually the lucerne is going to get shaded and smothered by the larger pines, but you should get maybe 10 years of bee food before that happens, and better formed pine trees as they grow up through the nurse crop, and so shed their lower branches sooner.

If you have a good cover of Lucerne, then your other weeds should be less of a problem.

So I don't think the idea is crazy.  Not worth the effort if you only want to grow pine trees, but throw in the bee keeping and that changes things.
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Offline eastcoastbeek

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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2017, 01:36:26 pm »
Thank you, Ianab.  I had not heard of that plant so I looked it up, it appears to be native to your area but not to the United States, which would probably make it an invasive here. 

I don't know of any small trees used as cover crops in the States, usually the cover crops add nitrogen or biomass for mulch and weed supression.  Nectar production usually isn't a priority for cover crop because most plant farmers aren't specialized beekeepers.

But thanks for letting me know that a small leguminous tree is used for this purpose on your side of the world.


Offline DDW_OR

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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2017, 02:19:09 pm »
........Twenty years ago bees made 200+ pounds of honey per colony, today they make 50 lbs.  They are on life support.  ........
where there as many beehives per acre back then as there is now?
where bees moved as much back then as they are now?

last year from 4 hives i got over 27 quarts from a total of 18 frames.

this year one of the lids blew off during a heavy rain storm = hive drowned.
another one was very weak and died.
the remaining two are doing great.

PM me is you want to talk bees.
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Offline DDW_OR

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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2017, 02:20:49 pm »
Hey Folks,

I'm a commercial beekeeper thinking "out of the box" to try and keep my bees alive.  There are some legume cover crops that I could plant in young stands that might help foresters and bees both.  A mix of clovers, vetches and tansy can fix nitrogen and help control weeds for you while saving me the cost of artificial bee food.  Bees are healthier on natural foods and when we truck bees to honey flows some diseased bees drift into the wrong hives and spread viruses........

good idea.
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Offline Savannahdan

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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2017, 04:09:58 pm »
I'd love to be involved in this type thing if I had the property.  I have flowers growing around my house and have noticed the lower count of bees this year as compared to last year and I have more flowers blooming this year.  We do have spraying for mosquitoes but I'm not sure if it is the selective chemical.
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Offline TKehl

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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #6 on: September 25, 2017, 01:40:12 pm »
Black Locust is one to look into.  Early season flowers, native, Nitrogen fixer, and rot resistant. 
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Offline eastcoastbeek

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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #7 on: September 25, 2017, 04:50:10 pm »
........Twenty years ago bees made 200+ pounds of honey per colony, today they make 50 lbs.  They are on life support.  ........
where there as many beehives per acre back then as there is now?
where bees moved as much back then as they are now?
I've seen stats showing the drop from 4.8 million hives in the U.S. after 1945, declining to 2.5 million hives today.  While that doesn't specifically compare today and 20 years ago, the long downward trend is well documented. Bees have always been moved for pollination, but fruit and vegetable industries have changed dramatically.  I remember reading that blueberries now produce something like fifty times more fruit per acre than 40 years ago, and I believe other fruits have undergone a similar revolution.  With blueberries and apples, for example, orchard water is recirculated, so systemic insecticide levels keep building higher until they are present in everything the bees touch (pollen, nectar, water that cools the hive).  Neonics affect bee's sense of direction and they can't find their way back to the hive.

I'd be happy to talk bees anytime.

Offline eastcoastbeek

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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #8 on: September 25, 2017, 04:53:41 pm »
Black Locust is one to look into.  Early season flowers, native, Nitrogen fixer, and rot resistant.

Beekeepers LOVE black locust, but I think it competes for too much sunlight to sit well with foresters.  I need to plant you a ground cover that works for you, and cutting black locust after a few years seems a lot more expensive than just letting the taller pines shade out the short ground covers for free.

Offline Don P

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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #9 on: September 25, 2017, 07:01:24 pm »
understory medicinals that flower at the times you are moving through? that would provide another crop as well.

Offline eastcoastbeek

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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #10 on: September 25, 2017, 10:44:15 pm »
Black Locust is one to look into.  Early season flowers, native, Nitrogen fixer, and rot resistant.
I replied about black locust earlier but didn't give the full answer it deserved because I was in a hurry to pick up my kids.  Although locust is nearly a perfect bee tree, I see two issues that would keep it from being interplanted among pine.  First, it probably grows faster than pine so it would need to be mechanically removed, and this expense would almost certainly be higher than the value of added nitrogen.  Locust used to have commercial value as fence posts, but those days are long gone so it would cost a forester more money than it returned.

Second, locust blooms for 2 weeks in June, when Mother Nature has already flooded the market with nectar.  The pollinators can't keep up with all the food supply during May and June.  More blossoms in June don't really help bees.  The cover crop mix I suggest blooms July through October when there are few sources of nectar for the bees. 

Timing is everything in the bee world.

Offline eastcoastbeek

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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #11 on: September 25, 2017, 11:22:55 pm »
understory medicinals that flower at the times you are moving through? that would provide another crop as well.

That's a great idea because many medicinals are great bee flowers.  Rosemary, Borage, lemon balm, thyme, bee balm and others don't just produce lots of nectar but help bees shed mites naturally. 

However medicinal seeds aren't cheap and they don't fix nitrogen for faster pine growth.  Most are in the range of $50-200/lb and seed at 10-20 lbs per acre.  In contrast, common cover crops like clovers, tansy, buckwheat and vetches are in the $2-3/lb price range and are sown at 5-10 lbs/acre.  That's a big difference when I'm donating the seed.

I could grow patches of medicinals for seed and drop the cost, but I'd need a couple of years to ramp up.

And finally, I wouldn't be moving through with my bees.  The wild nectar flow of May/June is available nearly everywhere, and if a cover crop blooms until October, I would leave my bees in the area May-October, until I move them to Georgia or Florida for the winter.

Thanks for the medicinals suggestion.  They are great bee flowers, but I think legumes would give a higher return to the forester.  And for this to work I need to show it increases profit for the forester.

Dave

Offline LeeB

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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #12 on: September 26, 2017, 01:28:05 am »
I see you have mentioned vetches several times. Personally I find vetch to be a plague. It will overtake a pasture and crowd out good grass. I've heard it's good for livestock but I have yet to see my cows are equine eat any of it. I have been told that goats will eat. Might be good for ground cover in a reforestation area but I wouldn't want it to spread.
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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #13 on: September 26, 2017, 01:37:30 am »
Just did a little bit of searching about vetch. What we have is hairy vetch and the seed is toxic to cattle.
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Offline eastcoastbeek

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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #14 on: September 26, 2017, 07:54:06 am »
I see you have mentioned vetches several times. Personally I find vetch to be a plague. It will overtake a pasture and crowd out good grass. I've heard it's good for livestock but I have yet to see my cows are equine eat any of it. I have been told that goats will eat. Might be good for ground cover in a reforestation area but I wouldn't want it to spread.

I've also read of that issue with hairy vetch.  There's a fine line between a plant that grows strongly enough to fertilize the trees but that doesn't grow so strongly to become  invasive. 

But I think even if a vigorous legume gets enough sun to establish in a young forest it probably won't be an issue for long.  I think after 4-5 years the cover crops will be gone and I'll need to find a new tract for bee forage.  Flowers may come back after thinnings, but probably only for a year or two until they are shaded out again.   

It is easy for me to custom change the seed mix to address the issues of forest owners.  Cover crops grow differently in different regions anyway. 


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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #15 on: September 26, 2017, 01:18:36 pm »
Whatever you plant, please be sure it's not an invasive species.  As an example, Crown vetch was recommended for erosion control by the Virginia DOT for a number of years.  Now it is recognized as being very invasive. I always double check the seed mixes I use for meadow establishment against the VA Invasive Plant Species List.
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Offline eastcoastbeek

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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #16 on: September 27, 2017, 11:31:18 pm »
Whatever you plant, please be sure it's not an invasive species.  As an example, Crown vetch was recommended for erosion control by the Virginia DOT for a number of years.  Now it is recognized as being very invasive. I always double check the seed mixes I use for meadow establishment against the VA Invasive Plant Species List.

I don't want to give the impression that I'm going to plant invasive species.  That would be immoral and possibly disastrous for the environment.  Consider what honeysuckle and kudzu have done to parts of the country.

But for foresters to grow faster pine, legumes as cover crops are a good option.  Nearly every cover crop and clover in U.S. agriculture is an alien plant.  They came from other parts of the world and were widely planted for 100 years before we discovered cheap artificial fertilizers in the early 1900's.  Clovers are everywhere, just like dandelions.

Nothing is more invasive than the dandelion, which came over on the Mayflower.  Because it's been here for 500 years, the "invasion" is over -- we lost and the dandelion won.  That's not necessarily a bad thing.  We list it as invasive because we don't like it in our lawns, but not because it doesn't provide lots of food for wildlife.  Another example is the European earthworm.  They have displaced native American worms and changed our forests in ways both better and worse, but we're not getting rid of our worms and dandelions any time soon.

 Having said all that, planting invasives is a bad practice for everyone.  There are plenty of good cover crops that aren't invasive.



Offline Wudman

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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #17 on: September 28, 2017, 04:28:03 pm »
Forester chiming in here......I think you have a couple of options.  The I-95 corridor south of Virginia traverses the coastal plain.  A lot of the intensive forestry operations use a bedding plow to raise the seedlings above the seasonal water table.  To lower up front costs some operators have increased their spacing between rows and increased planting density within rows.  This will result in increased time for the area between rows to become overtopped.  You may be able to utilize this space for 7 or 8 years in a wide row spacing versus 4 or 5 in conventional planting.  Utilizing legumes may provide some nitrogen benefit, but it will also promote recreational opportunities with hunting (most land is leased for hunting purposes - legumes may add value to the hunt club (hunting opportunity) and landowner (lease rates).
I think the stronger opportunity is post thin.  There are equipment corridors, loading decks, and roads that can be utilized for your purpose.  I routinely "daylight" roads during operations.  We will alter thinning densities adjacent to roads and remove all timber on road edges to allow sunlight to the road surface.  We also did this for years in support of bob white quail habitat.  Your legumes would fit well in this scenario.  If you are willing to maintain these strips, a lot of folks would probably work with you in perpetuity.  Other opportunities are power line easements.  A high voltage transmission line occupies significant area.  One down side.....here in Southern Virginia, you will have to account for the bear population.  One on my neighbor tends bees and he has a major issue with bears.

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Offline eastcoastbeek

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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #18 on: September 28, 2017, 10:52:48 pm »
Wudman,

That is valuable input.  I didn't know about the wider row spacings.  In that case the flower crops will definitely pay back the planting cost.  I figured I needed at least 2-3 years of flowers to recoup the planting cost but 7-8 years would be great. 

Many cover crops are annuals that reseed themselves, some require annual or biannual reseeding.  I'd be happy to perpetually maintain open spaces and power lines to keep enough flowers in bloom for the bees and for game.  Many flower seeds and root balls remain viable in the soil for 10-20 years, just waiting for new openings in the canopy, so post thin is a good option for me too.  It's no problem for me to have a full yard for a few years, then drop to a maintenance number of hives until thinning reopens the canopy.  I would track the number of hives times the weight of honey produced to get a feel for how many hives a parcel can support over time.  Because bees only travel 2-3 miles, every parcel is unique.

There are also many good "wet footed" bee flowers for wide planted forests with seasonal water tables.  All the members of the wort family (motherwort, figwort, spiderwort...) have high nectar production and grow in wet soils.  So do some mints, bee balm, marsh hedge nettle, swamp sunflower, swamp aster, swamp milkweed, etc.  Most of these are also expensive seeds, so I would need to harvest my own seed stock.

I guessed that cover crops would bring more game but didn't know how much.  I need to research which cover crops are best at that.  It doesn't even need to be a bee flower, I could alternate rows.

Bears roam through much the mid-Atlantic and the Southeast.  I put an electric fence around every yard with 1.5-2 joules worth of current which has worked for me so far, knock on wood.  Or wud, in your case.

Thanks to everyone for the continued input.

 

Offline eastcoastbeek

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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #19 on: October 06, 2017, 10:07:47 am »
I've been doing some more research and I can add canola to the list of cover crops.  It isn't a legume but is great for attracting game after some hard frosts.  Here is something I found on a hunting forum:

"canola: In late fall after the first deep freeze of the year, a chemical reaction occurs where all the starch in the plant turns to sugar, making canola candy to the wildlife.
Canola contains both high oil content as well as high protein content.
It contains about 40% oil and 23% protein."

Canola is great for bees too. In a recent study bees were fed pollen with deficient levels of fatty acids.  When they were offered new pollen choices with good Omega ratios they fed exclusively on the good pollen.  So bees have a way of knowing good Omega ratios from bad ones.  While I don't know if canola pollen has high Omega 3s like the seed, it is well known among beekeepers that bees love canola flowers.

In much of the southeast U.S. canola is a cool season crop in place of winter wheat.  I don't know if spring planted canola will survive summer heat.  It is a major summer crop in Canada (in fact, canola is an acronym for "CANada Oil, Low Acid) But at $1/lb for seed and only 4 pounds of seed per acre, it is worthwhile for me to plant canola as a cover crop and foresters can hopefully get more money out of their hunting leases.  Canola only blooms for about a month, so I will probably need to stagger plantings. 

Does this make sense to others?






Offline eastcoastbeek

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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #20 on: October 13, 2017, 09:35:04 am »
OK, so after some more research there are some other good cover crops that deer love as well as the bees. Most of the brassicas have a good bloom and are good deer forage.  In particular, some of the turnips also create deep air columns in the soil break up hardpan and increase water absorption.  I remember from researching earthworms that these air tunnels are surrounded with aerobic bacteria which are more beneficial to soil than anerobic bacteria. 

A lot of the clovers also fit the three big requirements.  They are good deer forage, they bloom at the right times for bees, and the seeds are inexpensive.  Alsike, dutch white, red and sweet clovers fit these requirements.  Sweet clovers are a bit tall for very young stands.

My understanding is that many timber parcels are owned by insurance companies.  So I will start contacting TIMOs and asking if they are willing to work with me if I can show that cover crops will increase their return on investment through nitrogen fixation and increased game forage and tilth.

Thanks to all who have contributed to this thread, by no means is the subject closed. Please continue to offer more advice.

Offline eastcoastbeek

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Re: trees and bees, can it pay to plant cover crops in young forests?
« Reply #21 on: November 15, 2017, 09:05:22 pm »
Another thought.  Seeding cover crops between rows of pine will be rough work, with all the downed logs, branches and everything.  It would be easier to broadcast seed on the entire parcel just before the pine gets planted.  Then I could get around the brush easier.