Beneficial Clover is Blooming

By Ol’ Drone

Well, the dandelions have finished their heavy bloom and now there is another “weed” that the pure grass zealots are trying to eliminate from their ”pristine grass only” lawns. The beekeeper looks at these two early spring flowers in a different way.

Dandelions provided the first important nectar and pollen nutrients for spring start up in the hive. Now several types of clover are in bloom and it is the most important honey plant, amounting to about 30% of the honey sold in the US.  Considered by most consumers to be the premium grade table honey, clover is light in color, mild in flavor, and preferred for cooking as well as the popular sweetener for tea. Recent publicity that dark honey is ”more healthful” has changed the opinion of many customers as there are now more requests for the dark honey. Clover hay is used as a forage crop in many areas and like alfalfa, it is rich in protein. The ideal soil condition is a “sweet soil” meaning alkaline rather than acid.

Clover comes in all sizes and many colors—mainly white, pink, and red. The lowest growing includes the White Dutch type, often used in lawns, and the slightly taller alsike type that has a slight tint of pink.  Honeybees make good use of both of these low clovers. The bright red blossoms of the red clover are displayed a foot above the ground and you may see honeybees visiting them. Unfortunately for the honeybee, their tongue is too short to reach the sweet nectar and so they cannot make honey from this plant. Some races of honeybees have longer tongues and may reach a little nectar. Also some honeybees cut a hole in the side of the blossom to reach the sweet stuff but they cannot make much honey from the red clover.

Like the red clover, there is another native variety that grows 3-4 feet in height and is commonly seen in the poor soils along roadsides. This is called the sweet clover.  In the Midwest, sweet clover is grown as a cultivated crop, and considered an important honey nectar crop. The blossom on sweet clover is different from the low growing types as the tiny flowers form a small spike several inches long held high above the plant instead of the spherical arrangement as in the low clovers. Clover is a type of legume and all legumes have the ability to “fix nitrogen,” meaning they enrich the soil wherever they grow. The growing of clover in your lawn gives your soil free nitrogen fertilizer and helps make your lawn greener. Growing clover also helps the honeybees to make a honey crop.

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