Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Planting Time in the Delta

It’s planting time in the Arkansas Delta. Cotton, soybeans, rice, grain sorghum (milo), and corn are planted in large tracts. For the honey bee, the rice, grain sorghum, and corn don’t provide food. They are grasses, which are wind pollinated. The cotton and soybeans, however, are flowering plants; and they provide ample forage for the honey bees. They are the greatest nectar sources in the Delta. From these major Delta row crops the honey bees produce mild-flavored, light amber colored honey. For success in producing a crop of honey from cotton and soybeans, the beekeeper must encourage the bees to produce large populations of foraging workers prior to bloom time. If the bee population is not large enough at the start of the flower blooms, the bee colonies will grow through the relatively short bloom time without producing any surplus of honey that can be harvested. Our most productive hives will be full of bees at this time of the year. We try to maintain hives with approximately 60 thousand bees. Only healthy colonies with productive queens reach this effective population.

In the photo, you can see a farmer planting his grain crop near one of our bee yards. It will not be long before the seeds have emerged and the plants have grown to the point that they are blooming and attracting honey bees. This is a good example of the practice of no-till agriculture. Seed is planted directly into the stubble of winter wheat that was harvested the previous day. The ground is not plowed. Weeds are controlled by the use of the wheat straw mulch. Not disturbing the soil helps prevent weed growth. Weeds that do emerge are controlled by chemical herbicides. Click on the photo above for a close-up view of no-till planting. You can see that this field has a pollinator-friendly margin of foliage. Native bees can thrive in this margin.

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