The Great Basin is a tough, healthy place for honey bees. Away from hostile mainstream US agriculture and resulting crises, organic methods produce much-appreciated local honey. But it is a region in drought, with more expected. Beekeeping survival is not a given, much less buckets of honey for sale. It all comes to naught without honey bee forage, or quite specifically, diverse native plant blossoms that are reliable from early spring to late fall. To be sure, watered ranch crops of alfalfa and clover add considerable honey, but wild native plants are the continuity and essential diversity for honey bee nutrition.
In these oft-parched lands, honey bees are keen heralds of climate change. From even small apiaries, tens of thousands of workers visit millions of blossoms, gathering nectar and pollen. Colonies report their findings in volumes of honey and in their state of well-being, and by extension, report also the condition of native pollinators and other basic life in the surrounding ecology, from communities of soil-life at the roots of plants, upward.
The tell it as it is honey bee news is not all good, pointing to problems of season and weather changes. The purpose here is understanding those problems in terms of adaptation, in terms of building resilience.
To say that increasing native habitat on a meaningful scale is difficult is to understate the art and science: many species are research projects from germination to reproduction, requiring experiment and development to determine what they need for propagation. The link to Work in Progress is about finding places to start.
Just as we humans advise ourselves to eat a wide variety of foods, long-standing wisdom says, keep honey bees in highly diverse forage. Same thing. Research ties the decline of honey bees in part to the decline of habitat. Thus to help our honey bees - plant forage. But how do we cultivate pollinator forage that is nutritionally diverse? The answer is, most of what we do, however well meant, is not, nor can it yet be, a comprehensive plan.
From nectar comes sugary carbohydrate honey and from pollens essential honey bee proteins and fats and most of their minerals and vitamins. That is their diet, that we know. What we do not know is which plants in the diverse forage are providing the fundamental balance in their diet; which pollens are providing the correct ratios of their ten essential amino acids for example. We therefore do not truly know what to plant for honey bee forage: if one amino acid, one essential pollen is missing or poor in quality, a state of malnutrition exists. We know more about what honey bees need than about how pollinator habitat fulfills the need.
An obvious first requirement is native plant seeds. A few starter seeds gathered from the wild does no harm. The intention is honey bee forage. But the forage must also produce sustaining seeds, so patches of native plants are nurtured in the manner of a living seed bank. Definitely, they are well-pollinated.
The 2016 revision of OHB looks at uncertainty by looking at climate science numbers - where they come from, what they mean and why.