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

2013 Annual Report for 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

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


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. An important stressor on honeybees in Vermont is the lack of food available to them throughout the summer.    The goal of this project is to increase the acreage of flowering clovers that provide sustained nectar flows during this critical summer period. In 2013, two farms collaborated in establishing field trials to test the feasibility of including white and/or alsike clover in their hay fields. The first trial was planted on May 10 in Weybridge, VT over seeding white clover into a predominately grass hay field using different seeding rates and methods. We saw a slight increase in white clover seedling populations but flower head counts later in the season were similar across treatments probably due to existing plants already in the field. Another on-farm strip trial was planted in late May in Bridport, VT comparing straight alfalfa to alfalfa mixed with one of two different white clover varieties or with alsike clover. This trial was repeated with a small plot, replicated trial at the University of Vermont farm in small plots. Due to the time to get established, little data was collected in 2013. We will be collecting data on flowering dates and bee activity at all sites in 2014. A website was developed, http://pss.uvm.edu/vtcrops/?Page=research/SARE_Enhancing_Clover_Nectar.html, to post updates on the project as well as any outreach materials developed from the project. An update of the project will be presented at the Vermont Beekeepers Association Farm Show meeting in January 2014.

Objectives/Performance Targets

The first 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. On April 10, 2013, two field trials were implemented. The first was a strip trial at the Duclos-Thompson Farm, a diversified livestock farm, in Weybridge, VT.  This trial was set up in a field that has been in hay for well over five years that is adjacent to a bee yard managed by Champlain Apiaries. The soil type is Vergennes clay, moderately well-drained. The dominate forage species is a mixture of common forage grasses (orchardgrass, bluegrass, timothy),red and white clover and some weeds particularly smooth bedstraw. Treatments were the same as outlined in the proposal including a no-treatment control plus four different seeding scenarios using Dutch white clover: two seeding rates, 2 vs. 4 lbs./a using two methods of seeding, no-till planted with a Haybuster 107C drill. Strips were 50 feet wide and 150 feet long. Due to the size of the strips and field, there were only two replications of each treatment arranged in a randomized block design.  

A second trial for Objective 1 was seeded into an existing grass hay trial located at the Horticultural Research farm at The University of Vermont. Since we did not have access to a no-till drill, we seeded two rates of Dutch white clover, 2 vs. 4 lb/a, compared to a non-planted control in narrow strips using a Carter small plot forage seeder. These were seeded along the edges of each grass plot that was part of an existing study. The soil type is a Deerfield fine sandy loan which has a drainage classification of well-drained. Visual observations were made throughout the 2013 growing season there was no evidence of white clover germination. We conclude that the site was too dry and not conducive for this type of overseeding. We plan to observe the seeded strips in 2014 before making any final conclusions.

Our second 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. Our hypothesis is that early maturing legumes such as medium white clover and/or alsike clover will bloom before the alfalfa is ready to cut. To test this hypothesis, we implemented two trials in 2013. The first one is a strip trial planted at the Huestis farm in Bridport, VT. The site is a Vergennes moderately well, drained clay. Mr. Art Huestis has managed this site for over 40 years successfully growing alfalfa for his dairy herd. The study includes seven treatments replicated four times two seeding rates of three clovers. Each plot is 30 by 180 feet. Mr. Huestis planted the whole area on May 3 with a single seeding rate of alfalfa at 10 lb/a. Clover treatments were then broadcast planted within each respective plot using a hand spinner spreader. The clovers included ‘Pinnacle’ and ‘Crusade” white clover and ‘common’ alsike clover seeded at two rates, 2 lbs vs 4 lbs. There is also a non-clover control consisting of alfalfa only. After planting the site, we had a month of record rain which kept the site saturated with water; therefore, we were not sure if the site would be successful or not. Due to the inclement weather, there was only one cutting made in early August. An assessment of the stand early September showed that the percentage of alfalfa in the stands ranged from 47 to 55 percent in the clover mixture plots and 71% in the alfalfa-only control plots. The clovers ranged from 21 to 41% of their respective stands depending on clover variety and seeding rate. The alfalfa-only control had about 10% clover reflecting what was in the soil seedbank prior to planting.

As part of Objective 2, a second small plot study was seeded August 22 at the UVM Horticultural Research Farm with similar treatments as those at the Huestis farm. Besides the same treatments as at Heustis farm, it also includes a mixture of alfalfa with all three clovers combined seeded at two different seeding rates. The combination of a dry August and the site being well drained, the stand has been slow to establish. No data has been collected.  

For Objective 3, a website was developed and posted to provide updates on the research and demonstrations. The URL is: http://pss.uvm.edu/vtcrops/?Page=research/SARE_Enhancing_Clover_Nectar.html



March 2013

  • Project partners met and reviewed procedures and assessed the field trial sites. Each site was sampled for a soil test.
  • White clover treatments will be seeded for Study 1. The PI will seed treatments 2 and 3 and the farmer partners will plant treatments 4 and 5.

April 2013

  • Dutch white clover treatments were seeded for Study 1 by the PI and Tom Duclos. Lime and fertilizer was not needed at the Duclos.
  • Study 1 at the UVM Hort farm was seeded.
  • Honeybee colonies were place at each farm site by Champlain Valley Apiaries.

 May 2013

  • Study 2 was be planted at the Huestis Farm and the UVM Hort farm. At the Huestis farm, Art Huestis planted the strips with the assistance of the PI. At the UVM site, the PI planted the study. However, due to record rains, the site at the UVM farm was tilled in and replanted in August.
  • Visual observations and seedling counts for Study 1 were made at the Duclos and UVM site.

June to Sept 2013

  • Due to record rain, the plots at the Heustis site was very slow to establish and no counts could be made until after the first cut which did not occur until early August. There was no bloom until late September, but a measure of percent cover was made in early September.
  • Study 2 at the UVM farm was reseeded in August.
  • The PI and research assistant, Tim Kelly, collected data on clover flower counts at the Duclos site approximately once every three weeks from July through September. and bee activity measurements as well as collecting forage yields and preparing forage samples for testing.
  • Champlain Valley Apiaries maintained bee colonies to assure active, healthy hives.

 Nov/Dec 2013

  • Data was analyzed.
  • Website was developed and posted


Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

In Study 1 at the Duclos study site, measurements in the first year included white clover seedling counts made a month after seeding, and white clover flower head counts in July, August and September. Based on seedling counts taken within a month after planting and adjusting for the germination of clover in the control plots (assumedly from the soil seedbank), about three to eight percent of the seed had germinated. Since there was already white clover in the field, it was too difficult to determine how successful the seedlings were in becoming established plants. Based on clover head counts taken in July, August and September, there was no significant difference between the control strips and the seeded strips. Since white clover spreads by stolons, it is less likely that flower heads were directly affected by plant populations from the seeded treatment but rather from the spread of both existing and new white clover plants. The first year was also used to develop methodology for assessing bee visits. Clover bloom and bee visits will be monitored in 2014.

The Huestis study and the UVM study for Objective 2 appeared in good condition at the end of the 2013 season and will be monitored for clover bloom, bee visits, yield and quality in 2014.


Charles Mraz

Champlain Valley Apiaries
PO Box 127
Middlebury, VT 05753-0127
Office Phone: 8023887724
Website: www.champlainvalleyhoney.com
Tom Duclos

Farm Owner/Manager
Duclos and Thompson Farm
Duclos and Thompson Farm
Weybridge, VT 05753
Office Phone: 8025452230
Art Huestis

Dairy Farmer
Huestis Farm
3566 Basin Harbor Road
Bridport, VT 05734
Office Phone: 8027582489