Pollinator Forage Development

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2011: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:
Heather Harrell
For the Love of Bees
Les Crowder
For the Love of Bees

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bees


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, animal protection and health, housing
  • Crop Production: windbreaks
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, hedgerows
  • Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture, permaculture

    Proposal summary:

    Honeybees and other pollinator species are under increasing pressure from chemical pollutants, shrinking habitats and erratic weather patterns. There is a clear need to develop conservation techniques to preserve their continued presence in our agricultural and wild land areas. Current research is focused on the potential causes of collapsing populations, but finding the causes may or may not provide a pathway to remediation. Our focus is to develop proactive conservation methods which can be implemented in the near future to help our pollinators stay healthy. The goal of our project is to begin the process of identifying forage species which provide food and habitat for pollinators while serving as windbreaks, livestock forage and nitrogen-fixing cover crops. This will enable beekeepers and interested agricultural landowners with the knowledge to develop their lands in support of these diminishing populations.

    We have received grant funding from the NRCS in New Mexico to put in pollination hedges, but at this time there is no viable list of plant species for the NRCS to pull from. We would like to use our land as a demonstration site for a diverse layering of plant species which provide forage over extended periods of time and which bloom in seasonal succession. We are already a certified organic farm and produce a wide variety of crops for sale at market and have begun experimentation with honeybee forage species for our area. We keep twenty to forty hives present on our farm during the year and are making ongoing observations about which forage species are most interesting and beneficial to bees. One of the undesignated results of this process has also been to observe which species that native pollinators such as wasps, bumble bees, sephid flies and butterflies particularly enjoy.

    As beekeepers and educators, we are continuously meeting people who would like to help the bees. Although we encourage organic beekeeping through teaching classes on our farm and lecturing at the Organic Farm Conference, we understand that many people do not have the inclination to become beekeepers. This list of forage species would serve as a broad resource for master gardeners, land and homeowners, as well as farmers and ranchers who would like to help these at-risk populations. As organizations like NRCS and the Xerces Society continue to do their outreach, this list will provide them with an important tool in the development of pollinator "friendly" zones where healthy species can be planted and chemical spraying will be prohibited. We are already extremely active in the promotion and development of community awareness around these issues and can see the difference that education and outreach can make. We are also currently working on a book that will detail how to manage bees organically within a topbar hive system. This book project is being funded by the McCune Foundation in Santa Fe, NM and will include information on how to plant for bees.

    There is little hope that our whole agricultural system will turn on a dime to address the needs of pollinators. Beekeepers are struggling with the almond producers to find some common ground, as illness floods hive populations as a result of chemical inputs such as fungicides laced with pesticides. Even with the combined interest of seeing the almond harvest come to fruition each year, they are unable to stop the flow of chemicals and bee die-offs. We have seen vast yards of dead beehives in California and have witnessed first-hand the inability of beekeepers and almond producers to see eye-to-eye. Price wars and wary skepticism seem to rule the landscape. Our hope lies with the development of organically-managed areas of land that are planted with a diversity of crops so that pollinator species can be supported outside the dominant agricultural paradigm. There is not a lot of time to waste, as bees continue to die at alarming rates.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    In the first year of the project we will plant out a diversity of annual, biennial and perennial species as windbreaks, cover crops and edible crops. We will observe the bloom times and nectar yields of the annual plants in the first year. We will note the preference of various pollinator species, as well as overlapping or competing bloom times.

    In the second year, we will observe and make notations on the perennial or biennial plants which come into bloom, again with an eye to developing a plant list which will include a continuous bloom cycle. We will also continue to experiment with new annual plantings in the second year.

    In the third year, we hope to see some further results from perennial plantings, although we understand that this project may include some longer-term research, as some trees may take longer than three years to bloom. Annuals will continue to be planted.

    At the end of each year, we will have compiled data that will help us create a comprehensive plant list. The list will include useful plants for cover crops, windbreaks and market crops, all of which also contribute forage for pollinators.

    During these three years, we will teach and conduct classes on-site to show beekeepers and interested visitors how the pollinators are responding to the various plantings. We will also develop our website to include photos and descriptions of particularly useful species that we recommend.

    At the end of the three years, we hope to publish a booklet on plant species for pollinator forage that includes details on bloom time, nectar yields, usefulness as windbreaks, covers or edible crops and observations on which pollinator species respond most to each plant species.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.