Bee Pastures Supplement Hive Nutrition and Enhance Honey Production

Bee Balm Compressed
Bee Balm (purple flower) and Partridge Pea (yellow flower in background) are two of the many types of plants to consider planting in a Bee Pasture. Bee Pastures can help increase the abundance and health of honey bees and native pollinators. Photo by Judy Ludlow

Introduction and Background

I am willing to bet that a great percentage of people in the US rarely give honeybees and other pollinators a second thought as to their importance to our nation’s food supply. I am also willing to bet that an even smaller percentage consider honey bees a type of livestock! According to the recently released UF/IFAS publication Minimizing Honey Bee Exposure to Pesticides, however,

The western honey bee is conceivably the most important pollinator in Florida and American agricultural landscapes. The honey bee is credited with approximately 85% of the pollinating activity necessary to supply about one-quarter to one-third of the nation’s food supply. Over 50 major crops in the United States and at least 13 in Florida either depend on honey bees for pollination or produce more abundantly when honey bees are plentiful. Rental of honey bee colonies for pollination purposes is a highly demanded service and a viable component of commercial beekeeping and agriculture. Bee colonies are moved extensively across the country for use in multiple crops every year. There are also over 3,000 registered beekeepers in Florida, managing a total of more than 400,000 honey bee colonies and producing between 10–20 million pounds of honey annually.

Additionally, in 2014, the President of the United States signed a n official Memorandum entitled: Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators which outlines specific steps needed to increase and improve pollinator habitat. These steps are geared towards protecting and restoring populations of not only honey bees, but native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies all of which are vital to our nation’s economy, food production, and environmental health.

Once thought of as a minor industry, limited to a few major producers, the beekeeping industry is growing by leaps and bounds in Florida. David Westervelt, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Bureau of Plant and Apiary Inspection Assistant Chief, recently stated that his office registers an average of 15-20 new beekeepers each week. Additionally, the recent USDA Honey Production Report stated 2014 was a good year for US beekeepers with both record high prices and also an increase in total production.

Yet, even with this growth in the beekeeping industry, the national “herd” of beehives is still almost half of what it was in 1970. Today, beekeepers face many challenges from a myriad of pests, diseases, and environmental threats against which they must constantly manage to keep from losing their hives.

Bee Pasture Considerations

Whether or not you are a beekeeper, you can help increase the abundance and health of honey bees and native pollinators by creating nectar and pollen rich bee pastures. These pastures can be filled with annual plants, which grow from seed each year, perennial plants, which return and spread on their own each year, various flowering shrubs and trees, or any mixture of above. You can also manage existing natural areas and woodlands by employing recommended prescribed fire regimes, non-native invasive plant control, and other practices to encourage a diversity of native pollinator plants.

The ideal bee pasture is one in which flowers are blooming as continuously as possible throughout the year. Research shows bees thrive best in open sunny pastures that are as large as possible, with a diversity of plants types. While flowering shrubs along woodland edges are well used by bees, a bee pasture that is allowed to become dominated by trees and shade will become less attractive to bees. A dedicated, open, sunny pasture having nectar and pollen plant diversity is best.

Just as with any field you intend to plant, the first step is to collect a soil sample for analysis of existing nutrients and pH levels. (For more information on soil samples read the article Soil Test First!) Know your objectives and research the types of plants to use, as well as the costs of planting, purchasing seed, cultivating, weed management, and fertilizing.

Pollinator Plant Types

There are many plants that provide nutritious nectar and pollen for north Florida’s pollinators. Some examples of plants which are good pollinator food sources are maple trees, redbuds, poplars, gallberries, blackberries, palmettos, swamp ti-ti, partridge pea, mint, thistles, goldenrod, asters, tickseeds, sunflowers, squash, melons, and clovers. If you purchase a bee pasture blend from a seed company, make sure it is suited for growing in north Florida and does not contain noxious, invasive, weedy plant species. The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council maintains a listing of documented invasive plants here: List of Invasive Plant Species.

Summary and Resources

The business, biology, and botany of pollination is fascinating and also critical to sustainable and diverse food production in Florida and the United States. Consider turning your fallow agricultural lands or backyards into productive bee pasture and reap a sweet harvest.

For more information on this topic and beekeeping please see the resources below:

Florida’s Climate and Its Beekeeping

Pollination: Establishing a Bee Pasture

Pollination: Plants for Year-round Bee Forage

Beekeeping in the Panhandle

New Steps to Protect Pollinators, Critical Contributors to Our Nation’s Economy

Presidential Memorandum- Signing for Pollinators

Ayers and Harman Honey Bee Forage Map



Posted: April 10, 2015

Category: Agriculture
Tags: Bee Pasture, Beekeeping, Forages; Livestock, Panhandle Agriculture, Pasture


Kurt Yourkovik
August 1, 2021

Is it recommended to use gopher bombs if there are many mounds in the yard scattered about 6 acres. Some of the mounds have not been touched in a week or two, but we have found fresh mounds here or there. We think there are at least quite a few gophers down there. Our yard had been converted to a residential yard with at least 6 acres being freshly cut with a zero turn lawn mower. We think there is a “New York Subway system” underneath and think by placing those gopher bombs in various locations might be the effective way of eliminating the gophers due not knowing how long they have been burrowing in our yard and whether they have a “set up” tunnel system there. The drawback is if this recommendation works, we would know if it contains them due to not knowing if they are dead underground, only if there appears new mounds afterwards. Please advise.

Peter Shaw
May 5, 2021

What are the symptoms of poison from coral adasia And is there an antidote.

Jim Succop
March 20, 2021

Just read article in 3/20/2021 Gainesville Sun. Could our organizations benefit from a dialog on financial topics? I have been the treasurer for the local chapter of SCORE, and we held workshops on Quickbooks and Wave Accounting prior to Covid. We have capable mentors, and SCORE counseling is free.

Joseph Havian
November 3, 2020

We live in Lakeland, FL and share a small pond, about 3/4 acre, with a neighbor. We just moved to this home a little less than a year ago. Several months ago I set up an aeration system in the pond and, according to what I have read, have only been running it during the night time hours. It has been working great. From my insights, I am thinking that the running of the bubblers at night only during the warmer summer months helps to keep the pond temperature levels a little lower. In consideration of the above, wouldn't it be more beneficial to run the bubblers in the daylight hours during the winter months to help keep the overall water temperature a little warmer, circulating the cooler water at the bottom towards the top so the sun hits it, thus warming the overall pond slightly? I recognize that this probably will not cause huge swings in the water temperature but, would think that it could help by a few degrees.

Frank Wilson
April 13, 2015

Thanks Judy for the informative information in your Bee Pasture article. Do you know if the state would help by planting bee friendly grasses etc along the roads and retaining "fenced in drainage" areas you see all along the roads? Thanks Frank Wilson Beekeeper

Darryl Palmer
January 21, 2014

Cathy, You can print or order posters, banners, light pole banners, cutouts, etc. from the UF/IFAS Extension toolkit: The toolkit also includes timelines, quizzes, messaging, videos, Smith-Lever act wording, logos, links to other resources and many, many other features that can help with your exhibit. It's the official source of Florida's Centennial materials. Please feel free to use them and pass the word. Thanks, Darryl

Judy Ludlow

January 17, 2014

Thanks Dan!!!

Judy Ludlow

January 17, 2014

Hi Cathy, thanks for your comment! We don't have a poster at this time. Feel free to copy this WordPress Post and use as you wish. The Martin County Extension service has access to the materials which include downloadable posters, flyers, etc... I'm sure you already know everyone at the office, but here's their site info just in case. I hope your fair goes very well. Judy

Dan Culbert
January 17, 2014

Cathy Contact me for some ideas!

Cathy McCartney
January 13, 2014

I would love to do a small exhibit at our county fair in Feb. highlighting our local agents. Do you have a poster that I may use that has the above info on it? Cathy McCartney Martin County Fair, Stuart Fl Ag Ed chair

Doug Mayo
August 25, 2013

CORE is for everyone. The other CEU provided is for natural area wildlife management

August 23, 2013

What liscense categories can the C.E.U's be applied towards?

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