Friday, September 18, 2009

Alfalfa in Bloom

Honey bees are of utmost importance in the production of our food. One third of mankind’s diet is dependent upon insect pollinators. Without pollination, these food plants would not produce fruit and seed. Not only do the honey bees and native pollinators help produce our food, they also help produce food for wildlife and farm animals. Alfalfa, considered the world’s most important forage crop for animals, is grown in the Mid-South as a high-quality feed for horses and cattle. The alfalfa plant may be harvested up to five times per year for high-protein hay. Between cuttings of the hay, the alfalfa may bloom and attract honey bees.

Alfalfa is a perennial plant in the important family of bee plants, the legumes. From alfalfa, the bees collect both nectar and pollen. There is one problem that the honey bees encounter in working alfalfa flowers, though. The structure of the alfalfa blossom hides the nectar and pollen from the foraging bee until the flower is physically tripped by a bee. To access the alfalfa pollen and nectar, the bee must press its head against the flower petal until the flower’s male and female parts are exposed. In this process, the flower slaps the bee directly in the face. Understandably, many nectar-gathering honey bees dislike the tripping mechanism of alfalfa. They soon learn to insert their tongues between the petals to remove nectar without tripping the flower. These bees, as a result, don’t pollinate the alfalfa. Pollen-gathering honeybees are effective pollinators, however; because they must trip the flower’s mechanism. Click on today’s photo to see a honey bee negotiating an alfalfa flower. Alfalfa honey is clear to light amber in color with a pleasant, minty flavor. Alfalfa honey has a heavy body and weighs 12 to 13 pounds per gallon while other honeys rarely exceed 12 pounds per gallon.
--Richard

3 comments:

  1. Great Blog!! Alfalfa is really good for health. Your thought processing is wonderful. The way you tell the thing is awesome.
    herbalhills

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  2. We have a field of alfalfa just a few yards from us, but when I looked today, a warm sunny day, there was not a honey bee to be seen. (We have four hives nearby).
    What is the explanation for this? I don't think there are better nectar sources at the moment, as the sweet chestnut has finished, but I found this odd.

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  3. Mr. Fox,
    Honey bees seek nectar sources that provide the greatest amount of food at the highest quality. Bees will fly past one field of flowers in bloom to forage in another field producing nectar with a higher concentration of sugars. An example of this behavior can be seen where apples and pears are in bloom in the same area. The bees will forage in the apples because apple nectar has a greater concentration of sugar than pear nectar.
    --Richard

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