PEI

Bee buffet: P.E.I. researcher looking for crops to feed the bees

Bees on Prince Edward Island may soon have more fields filled with plants that produce pollen, thanks to a researcher who is trying to create something called a bee pasture.

'We're going to measure how much honey the bees create when they're basically full fed'

Beekeeper John Burhoe checks out the hive at the Harrington Research Station next to the bee pasture. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Bees on Prince Edward Island may soon have more fields filled with plants that produce pollen, thanks to a researcher who is trying to create something called a bee pasture.

"To look at crops that would possibly create significant food sources for bees, from that we get the term bee pasture," explained Roger Henry, research technician with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, at the Harrington Research Station.

"Basically a pasture of crops or crops that we grow that will provide food for bees."

Researcher Roger Henry walks through some of the crops he has planted to provide pollen for bees. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

'Bee desert'

P.E.I. fields currently come up short on food for pollinators.

"The main cash crop system on P.E.I. consists of potatoes and cereals and soybeans and those crops aren't great fodder for bees," said Henry.

"The soybean and the cereals have virtually no pollen in them."

Potatoes have blossoms, says Henry, but not enough to satisfy the bee population.

"There's not much potato flower, some varieties hardly blossom at all," he said.

"In a sense, you've kind of created a bee desert, if you will, just from the fact that the crops you're growing aren't food sources for bees."

Roger Henry has also planted several kinds of clover in the bee pasture. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Cover crops

Henry has been fielding lots of questions from farmers looking for fresh ideas for cover crops.

"The idea is why don't we try to include some crops in these cover cropping systems that are bee friendly crops that are pollen sources for bees," he said.

Some of his suggestions include most of the clovers, though not red clover, as well as alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil, chicory and phacelia.

Some of the plants are already part of the crop rotation for other purposes.

"The buckwheat and mustard that they're growing for wireworm control are excellent pollen sources as well for bees," said Henry.

"We're basically going to measure how much honey the bees create when they're basically full fed, they're on a buffet, a smorgasbord if you will of whatever they want, whenever they want to come and get it."

Phacelia is one of the plants that Roger Henry has planted in the bee pasture. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

More honey

On P.E.I., bees are used mainly for pollination, primarily for the blueberry industry, says Henry, and honey production per hive is quite low.

"We're hoping with this to show that we can produce significant amounts of honey with not a lot of acreage of land," he said.

Beekeeper John Burhoe is working on the project. He's excited at the prospect of more P.E.I. fields providing tasty treats for Island bees.

"It has always been a dream of mine where we could have blossom, really from the end of May right through to the end of October," said Burhoe.

Beekeeper John Burhoe is using a flow hive at Harrington, which has trays of clear honey receptacles which will help them to track where the bees are getting the pollen. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Monitoring honey 

As part of the research, Burhoe has set up something called a flow hive, right next to the bee pasture.

It is set on top of a scale so they can weigh the hive as the bees produce more honey.

There are also special clear honey receptacles to help track where the bees are finding their pollen.

"You can see a distinct line where the original nectar source ended and the next new blossom nectar comes in," said Burhoe.

Burhoe predicts more bee pastures on P.E.I. could eventually triple or even quadruple the current provincial average of 40 to 50 pounds of honey produced per hive.

The bee pasture will be open to the public as part of the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada open house in Harrington in August.

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