Enhancing honey production with clover: Innovative methods to use white and alsike clover in Vermont hay fields

Project Overview

ONE13-175
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,848.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Dr. Sid Bosworth
University of Vermont

Annual Reports

Information Products

Commodities

  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bees
  • Animal Products: dairy

Practices

  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Education and Training: extension, on-farm/ranch research
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems

    Proposal abstract:

    A decline in honeybee populations in Vermont over the past few decades has been attributed to many factors including mites, disease and a loss of nectar and pollen resources. The Vermont Beekeepers Association believes that an important stressor on honeybees in Vermont is the lack of food available to them throughout the summer. One reason is that over the years, dairy farmers have increased their intensity of hay crop cutting practices in order to maximize feed quality resulting in no to very little bloom from legume hay crops such as alfalfa or clover. The goal of this project is to increase the acreage of flowering clovers that provide sustained nectar flows during this critical summer period. Field studies will be conducted over a two year period on two farms. The first study objective is to test the feasibility of improving nectar flow for honeybees by introducing Dutch white clover into grass hay cropping systems and assess its impact on flower production and foraging honeybees. The second study objective is to test the feasibility of improving nectar flow by growing mixtures of various early maturing legumes with alfalfa managed for hay and assess its impact on flower production, honeybee activity, forage yield and forage quality. Results will be disseminated through several means including the development of a pamphlet and website, presentations by the partners at various extension meetings and the VT Beekeepers annual meeting, development of a You Tube video and a webinar through eOrganic and UVM Extension.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 1 – A strip trial experiment will be conducted on the two farm sites to test if Dutch white clover (DWC) can be used to enhance nectar flow in a grass haylage system. Prior to seeding, the each site will be sampled for soil analysis to determine soil pH and nutrient content. Lime and fertilizer will be applied accordingly. Each experiment will be set up as a completely randomized block design with four replications. Seeding treatments will be in late March and include: 1) Control (existing hay field); 2 DWC frost seeded (late March) at 2 lbs. per acre; 3) DWC frost seeded at 4 lbs. per acre; 4) DWC seeded with a no-till drill at 2 lbs. per acre; and 5) DWC seeded with a no-till drill at 4 lbs. per acre

    Each plot will be a strip 20 to 25 feet wide (depending on the equipment size of each farm) by 100 feet long. The seed in treatments 2 and 3 will be broadcast using a shoulder mounted spinner spreader. The no-till drill used for Treatments 4 and 5 will be provided by the UVM Middlebury Extension Office. The cooperating farmer will provide a tractor and conduct the seeding.

    One month after seeding, all the plots at each site will be assessed for seedling populations by measuring clover seedling counts from 10 one square meter quadrat randomly placed per plot. At least two honeybee colonies will be placed at one end of each experimental site.

    Each site will be monitored for flower production and bee activity for each cutting for two seasons. Three days after the each harvest, the farmer cooperator will walk the plot area and make visual observations for flower development and record the dates of their observations on a prepared data sheet. Once the clovers are in bloom, the project assistant and PI will collect clover head counts from 10 randomly placed 1 M quadrats across each plot. Bee activity will be monitored recording timed visual observations of accepted inflorescences across the study site (7). They will repeat this procedure two to three days later. The farmer cooperator will continue to make observations on the persistence of clover heads every two to three days until none are seen or there is no bee activity. This whole procedure will be repeated after every harvest throughout the two years.

    Objective 2 – A field trial will be conducted at two locations to test if intermediate white clover and/or alsike clover can be grown and used in mixture with alfalfa to enhance nectar flow in a alfalfa managed hay. Prior to seeding the treatments, the field sites will be sampled for soil analysis to determine soil pH and nutrient content. Lime and fertilizer will be applied accordingly. The fields will be prepared by conventional tillage methods.

    Each experiment will be set up as a completely randomized block design with four replications. Treatments will include the following: 1) Alfalfa alone (15 lbs per acre); 2) Alsike Low (12 lbs alfalfa and 3 lbs alsike); 3) Alsike High (10 lbs alfalfa and 6 lbs. alsike); 4) WC Low (12 lbs alfalfa and 3 lbs white clover); 5) WC High (10 lbs alfalfa and 6 lbs. white clover).

    Each plot will be a strip 10 feet wide by at least 50 feet long. The farm partner will provide and operate a tractor for pulling the drill. The second location for this study will be at a field used by the UVM Miller Dairy farm. The plots will be smaller (10 by 25 feet) and a walk behind Carter small plot seeder will be used to plant the plots.

    One month after seeding, plots will be assessed for alfalfa and clover seedling counts from four one-meter square quadrat randomly placed per plot. Two honeybee colonies will be placed at one end of each experimental site.

    Each site will be monitored for flower production and bee activity as described in Objective 1. In addition, yield and quality will be measured for each treatment at each cutting over the two year period (one to two cuts in the seeding year and 3 to 4 cuts in the next year). At the Heustis farm, 10 quadrat samples will be collected across each strip plot just before the field is to be cut. Each quadrat cutting will be placed in a marked cloth bag and dried in a forced air drier set at 50oC. After weighing each individual subsample from a given plot, they will be merged, ground in a 2 mm Wiley mill, and sent to Dairy One Lab in Ithaca, NY to determine crude protein, ADF, NDF and relative feed value. Samples from an additional five quadrats will be collected from each plot and used to separate alfalfa from clover. Separated samples will be dried, weighed and used to determine percent clover in each mixture for each cutting. At the UVM location, a Carter small plot harvester will be used to harvest the plots for determining yield. The harvester will cut a three foot section across the length of each plot and the material will be weighed for fresh weight. From the cut material, a sample taken from three hand grabs will be used to determine dry content and will then be ground and used to determine CP, ADF, NDF and RFV as described above. To determine percent clover in each plot, hand clippings will be taken from five spots adjacent to the cut sections but within the same treatment plots. These will be merged and used to separate alfalfa from clovers.

    For all studies, an analysis of variance will be used to test for significance amongst treatments and a Tukey method will be used for means separation (P< 0.05). The means of the treatments will be used to develop a cost benefit analysis using current seed and implement costs and forage values.

    The following are means of disseminating our study and findings:

    • A project website will be developed and maintained by the PI. It will be updated on a regular basis. A link to it will be made from the Vermont Beekeepers Association (VBA) site as well as UVM Extension.

    • An informational pamphlet for farmers and land owners will be produced that would describe the problem and suggest recommendations based on project findings. This will be provided at various meetings such as the VBA annual meeting, the Vermont Grazing Conference and various UVM Extension crops meetings. It will also be posted on the project website.

    • Presentations on the project will be given by Mr. Mraz and/or Dr. Bosworth at the Vermont Beekeepers Association annual meeting, the Vermont Grazing Conference, the New England Ag Service Providers annual training, and various UVM Extension dairy and crops meetings.

    • An “Across The Fence” fifteen minute television program (WCAX, Burlington, VT) will be produced and aired in 2014 describing the issues, the project and solutions.

    • A ten minute video will be produced by the student assistant in 2014 and posted on You Tube.

    • A webinar will be produced for eOrganic and UVM Extension.

    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.