Planting Pussy Willows for My Bees

catkin

 

 

 

There is an organization in south Berkshire County, MA called Project Native www.http://projectnative.org/ that promotes the use of native plants for landscaping and wildlife food sources, rather than bringing in plants from other areas that can become problematic. About 5 or 6 years ago our bee club sponsored a talk by one of the women from project native  at our local library and she brought a variety of plants to sell.

As the honey bee queen starts ramping up egg laying in early spring pollen is needed for food. I knew that pussy willows were a good early food source for bees, so I bought one plant, put it in the backyard and watched it over the next two years. It grew, but didn’t produce any catkins, which are what we want for the bees. That fall I called Project Native to see if maybe there was a mix-up and I got something else by mistake. The woman explained that it takes a few years before the plants start producing, so I decided to stick it out one more spring. When spring came, I watched excitedly as the buds began to open and the pussy willows appeared. Once they were fully open and turned yellow with pollen  the bees were all over them. I was very happy.

In November 2012, my friend Shira was at the house and we were outside. We decided to do some pruning on the willow since it was getting taller than I wanted it to be. We really did a lot of trimming and I was going to toss the branches in the brush pile.  Shira suggested we save a few and put them in water, so we kept about a dozen and put them in a bucket of water in the kitchen to see what would happen. In a couple of weeks roots started to grow. rooted willow whips

You can see how well the roots have grown in the water. Most of these  whips will be planted near the existing one, which is in a naturally wet area of the yard. My hope is to create more of a brushy area and keep them trimmed so they don’t grow too tall. catkin with pollen

These open catkins are a real joy to have inside in the cold, snowy winter months. Soon we will transfer the whips to pots of dirt and wait for spring to plant them outdoors. Eventually the bees will have an abundance of early spring food and there will be plenty of whips to share.

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About Beekeeping in the Berkshires

Here at Berkshire Farms Apiary we've been keeping bees and making honey since 2005, with hives in most of the surrounding towns. We also make pure beeswax candles, lip balm, and hand salve, as well as give presentations. As secretary of the Northern Berkshire Beekeepers Association, I am very active in the local beekeeping community.
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