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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Keith Fielder on Nectar Bearing Trees of Georgia

I love it when Keith Fielder comes to talk to our bee club. He is the 2009 Beekeeper of the Year in Georgia and a Master Beekeeper (there are only 12 Master Beekeepers in Georgia). He is passionate about keeping bees and has strong opinions about what beekeepers need to be up on to be good beekeepers.

This month at Metro Atlanta, he talked about nectar bearing plants. Knowing about the nectar bearing plants in your area helps a beekeeper be informed about where to place their hives so that the bees have maximum benefit of the nectar. Knowing the bloom cycle of plants helps the beekeeper know when to super and when to remove your supers.

His talk was so interesting that I wanted to share his main points with you.

People around Atlanta talk about privet honey as a bad honey, but Keith said that privet makes a good honey in the S Georgia region. This may have to do with temperatures as it affects the privet bloom.

The tulip poplar whose blooming period signifies the nectar flow in Atlanta is found in every county in Georgia and is one of our best nectar providers for the bees. However our nectar flow in Georgia is heralded by the bloom of the red maple. Red maple, which is often found in urban areas, is already starting to bloom in Atlanta. Red maples are often near the tulip poplars. It blooms in late January and definitely in February.

Another important early nectar bearing plant is the dandelion. When he said that, I thought of the many lawns in Atlanta where the goal is to keep the dandelion at bay. A sad thought that the bees are then deprived of dandelion nectar. Luckily my house backs up to woods and this means that there are uncut dandelions behind me. Keith said that the nectar from the dandelion helps with spring build up by providing nectar and pollen as the bees are getting started in the early spring.

Another nectar bearing plant in Georgia is the Canola - it's a rape seed, but the name was changed because of the negative connotations of the word "rape." I didn't know that Canola stood for Canada Oil Low Acid???? While we do grow canola in Georgia, actually 91% of the canola crop is grown in North Dakota. In Georgia, canola blooms in late February or early March and yields a light honey.

Much of the honey in the Atlanta area is informed by both tulip poplar, which generally blooms from April until the end of May, and blackberry which blooms during the same period. Other helpful nectar bearing plants which bloom about the same time are the clovers. White clover is a tremendous source of nectar but the red clover requires a proboscis longer than the bee's and isn't really a source for our bees at all. White clover is another plant that people often hasten to cut out of their yards.

I was surprised to hear him say that tupelo (or Ogeechee tupelo, swamp tupelo, and white tupelo) is actually found all over Georgia. I thought that tupelo was only in the Georgia area that borders Florida. I'm going to be on the watch for these trees around here this year...the black tupelo is the one that is found all over Georgia.

He also talked about holly--which has a light nectar and is great for comb honey; cliftonia (the buckwheat tree), gallberry (a relative of holly). I liked it that he talked about smooth sumac as a source of rich, dark honey. Over Christmas, I saw sumac berries on the trail in Franklin, NC that runs along the Little Tennessee River.

He also covered sourwood, which is in N Georgia in late July at elevations from 1500 - 3000 feet. Made me want to take beehives up to my mountain place which is at that elevation and has sourwood trees all over the three acres.

Cotton honey, which is not a honey I've ever tasted, Keith talked about as one would a fine wine. He said the taste of cotton honey is very complex and that you taste one thing at the beginning and that it "finishes" a different way. His enthusiasm for this honey was remarkable.

Several interesting points he made:
  • Some beekeepers mark their frames to know when the honey is capped and to be able to remove the frame at that point, knowing that they can say, "This is XXXX honey."
  • It takes a lot of anything to impact the taste of honey - so if you have a little anise hyssop as I do in my garden, there's hardly enough to change the honey flavor (although my daughter swears she can taste the anise flavor in my honey)
  • Jasmine and lantana can poison bees. Honey from mountain laurel can poison beekeepers.
I can't wait to hear him again this weekend when he presents at the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Short Course at the Botanical Garden in Atlanta.


  1. Thanks for that interesting post Linda, I always like to hear about plants and trees that are blooming. My bees get pollen from early flowering Red Maple in around Aug, the honey I harvest before Xmas is always dark and strong flavoured, compared to later harvests.

    I agree with you about dandelions, I leave as many as I can growing around my section and always tell other beekeepers and my night class students to let some of their section grow wild with all the `weeds` possible - for the bees - I do get some funny looks and comments. Why is it that most people want to mow their lawns as close as possible with narry a daisy in sight ?

  2. selam türkiyede böyle cicek görmedim siz ve arılarınız bizen daha sanslı galiba basarılar

  3. I am getting ready to set up my first bee hives this spring. I was so excited to find Linda's Website and instruction for beginners, and plan to follow her recommendations for initial purchase of equipment. I have 9 acres which is 80% wooded, plus I have a small hobby vineyard, and I have a lot of flowering trees, apple trees, red maples, and tons of tulip poplars. I am planning on putting the bees in a meadow that is currently grass that we keep mowed. I am planning on planting a wildflower garden in that grass meadow. I'm considering purchasing a Wildflower seed mix that is honey bee friendly. Has anyone planted a wildflower meadow specifically for bees? I will use American Meadows company as I have bought wildflower mixtures from them previously with great success.


  4. I'm not a beekeeper, but I LOVE honey! Mostly Tupelo and Sourwood, but I love tasting all varieties. As a general rule, I usually have 4 or 5 different ones in my house at any given time and never Sue bee. I'm not what most would concider a "sweet eater" but I admit to quite often passing one of my jars only to walk back with spoon in hand. I've wondered about maybe having a hive or two, but not sure of if it's a realistic hobby for me or not. Either way, I'm going to continue enjoying honeys of all kinds. I've seen the benefits of eating it, plus the enjoyment of the different flavors.


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