The following was an excerpt from an article in “Hill Lands: Proceedings of an International Symposium held in Morgantown, West Virginia, USA Oct 3-9, 1976.
My father (Patrick N. Angel) was the lead author in this research.
Honey Production on Reclaimed Strip Mine Soil:
Patrick N. Angel and C. M. Christensen (Madison Community College and University of Kentucky, Madisonville, Kentucky, USA)
Currently an estimated 405000 ha (one million acres) of land has been disturbed by strip mining in the Appalachian region (Grim and Flynn, 1975). Many of the plants being used to stabilize these lands represent a potential nectar source for the production of honey and bees wax.
No formal research has been conducted to measure the honey productivity potential of reclaimed strip mine spoil. However, several progressive beekeepers have recognized and have begun to utilize these nectar sources (Floyd County Times, 1976).
Approximately 88775160 kg of honey were produced in the United States in 1975 and sold at an average wholesale price of about one dollar per kg. However, an additional 18160000 kg of honey were imported. Illustrating the existence of a market for increased honey production (Honey Production, January 20, 1976). This increase in production can very possibly come from utilizing the nectar sources on strip mine spoil.
A study on potential honey production on strip mine spoil was initiated in the spring of 1976 with the following main objectives: (1) to determine the number of kg of honey produced from nectar sources grown on strip mine spoil; and (2) to identify hive management techniques that may be unique on strip mine spoil.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
On May 10, 1976, 40 newly established colonies of honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) were placed on reclaimed strip mine spoil on the Vouge Mine owned by Peabody Coal Company in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky (37.20 N 87.30 W).
The plant cover in this area was seeded in 1974. The following vegetative species were present when the colonies were located on the reclaimed area: alfalfa, (Medicago sativa L.); white dutch clover, (Trifolium repens L>); yellow sweetclover, (Melilotus officinalis); birdsfoot trefoil, (Lotus corniculatus L.); red clover, (Trifolium pretense L.); sericea lespedeza, (Lespedeza cuneata) and tall fescue, (Festuca arundinacea Schreb). The following tree species were within 750 meters of the apiary: black locust, (Robinia pseudoacacia); eastern cottonwood, (Populus deltoids); yellow-poplar, (Liriodendron tulipifera); green ash, (Fraxinus pennsylvanica); sweetgum, (Liquidambar styracifula) and autumn olive, (Elaeagnus umbellate). In addition, many volunteer wild-flowers were observed on the site. The spoil reaction of the area ranged from pH 5.8 to 6.0. Visual estimatedion of the percentage of ground cover ranged from approximately 70% to 100%.
The colonies were located in the middle of the 769.50 ha (1900 acres) of reclaimed spoil on gentle slope with a southeast aspect. No shade was provided for the colonies; water was available from a large impoundment about 75 m from the bee yard. The mean pH of the water was 7.5. The hives were mounted on railroad ties which were brought to the site. The vegetation in front of the hive entrances was kept clipped. Each colony was examined and manipulated at regular intervals to insure proper hive management. Colony strength was variable due to a high mortality rate during shipment.
RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS
Honey was removed and extracted from 13 of the 40 colonies on July 17, 1976. A total of 119 shallow super frames were removed which yielded 249.0 kg of extracted honey. This represents an average of 19.1 kg of honey produced per productive colony with a range of 3.8 to 38.5 kg per colony. Honey was harvested only from those hives that had a surplus of honey (those that had full frames of sealed comb in the first shallow super above the brood chamber). All but two of the remaining 27 colonies there were not harvested on July 17, 1976, had completely filled their brood chambers with nectar, pollen and brood, and had started drawing out comb in the first shallow super. The two remaining had only partially filled their brood chambers.
Level of Productivity
Strip mine spoil revegetated with a high percentage of nectar-producing plants has a high honey productivity potential. In 1975, the average production per colony in the United States was 21.4 kg of honey (Honey Production, January 16, 1976). Honey production in this study was only 2.3 kg less per productive hive than this figure. This yield is significant for two reasons: (1) the honey was removed at mid-season and much more can be expected to be produced by the end of the summer. and (2) colonies were newly established. The high honey production can be attributed to a better seasonal distribution of nectar flows from the high concentrations of alfalfa and yellow sweetclover on the revegetated spoil. On more acid spoil, these findings are not likely to be repeated.
A better utilization of honey-producing potential of reclaimed strip mine spoil would have several beneficial side effects. Increased honey production would provide more jobs and another source of income for many people. Naturally, commercial honey producers could most efficiently tap this resource because of their experience and more efficient equipment. However, the resource could also serve as an income source for amateur and part-time beekeepers, handicapped persons, and for retirees who approach beekeeping as a hobby.
Another obvious advantage to managing honey bee colonies on strip mine spoil is plant pollination. While gathering nectar, the bees also pollinate the flowers, thus increasing seed set. Where strip mine vegetation is not utilized for gazing or for forage, this increased seed set could result in a thickening of the stand and more rapid achievement of the percentage of vegetative ground cover required by reclamation laws.
HIVE MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES
For the most part, honey bee colony management on spoil material would parallel management techniques utilized on undisturbed land. However, several unique situations may be encountered on strip mines which require four special management techniques: security, shade, water, and crop management practices that would maximize honey flow.
Unfortunately, security is a universal problem on large mine sites. To minimize vandalism or theft, the hives should be located in an area that is naturally hidden from view from access roads, water impoundments, etc. Examples of good hiding places would be in natural drains or behind swales, in tall grass, or in a grove of trees on the periphery of mined area. Road access to the apiary should be controlled by a strong gate. The mine superintendent should be advised of the hives and asked to keep an eye on them.
Shade sources may have to be built for the bee colonies since most spoil material has no source of shade. If the temperature inside the hive is over 34 C, the worker bees will spend their time collecting water and fanning the hive in order to cool it (Root, 1974). A simple lath structure mounted on posts over the hives would suffice as a shade source.
The apiary must be placed near a fresh, pure water source. Acid mine drainage which is frequently found on strip mine sites could prove detrimental to the colonies. If no suitable water source is present within one-half mile, it must be provided. It is best to provide water that does not stand in a container with a still surface but rather drips from a container onto a sloping board or through where it can be collected by the bees as it flows along (Dadant and Sons, 1975).
Crop Management Practices
Utilization of crop management practices that will extend the annual honey flow is needed to maximize honey production. These practices might include mowing reclaimed areas to promote regrowth of the grasses and legumes. Mowing would also shatter seed pods which would, in effect, result in reseeding.
Currently, the authors estimate that each ha of reclaimed strip mine spoil will support two to four colonies of bees. When pollination is the only objective, more may be required depending upon the vegetation needing pollination.
Alfalfa has become a very important legume on less acid spoil materials. About four or five colonies per one-half ha are frequently used for this crop, although experiments show that much more seed can be produced if more colonies are used. It is interesting to note that little nectar is produced by alfalfa flowers in June or July on the first cutting: it is from the second and third cuttings, in late July, August, and early September, that most nectar is produced. Alfalfa honey is light in color and mild in flavor (Dadant and Sons, 1975).
White, crimson, and alsike clovers are by far America’s most important honey plants and are widely planted on spoil material. They start to flower sometime between mid or late June and continue to yield nectar through about the first of August. It is recommended that one to two colonies be used per one-half ha for red clover (depending on the number of bumblebees in the area) and one to three colonies per one-half ha for the other clovers (Dadant and Sons, 1975).
White and yellow sweet clover have also been seeded on spoil material, and bees are necessary for the pollination of both. Like the other clovers, they flower in mid to late June and require one or more colonies per one-half ha (Dadant and Sons, 1975).
Only one colony per one-half ha has been recommended for perennial lespedeza but no recommendations have been made for the use of insect pollinators on the annual types (Dadant and Sons, 1975).
Both hairvetch and crownvetch can benefit greatly from honeybee pollination. Seed production is increased by using one colony per one-half ha (Dadant and Sons, 1975).
Buckwheat is frequently planted on spoil. It may be sown at anytime up to the first week of July and produces nectar usually in about six weeks. However, the flowers secrete nectar only in the morning, toward noon the flow lessens, and ceases entirely during the afternoon; but flow begins again vigorously the next morning. Pure buckwheat honey is coal black and commands a high price. One colony per one-half ha is recommended (Dadant and Sons, 1975).
Black locust trees are known as the “King Tree Species” on spoil material and are also very important honey plants. The locust flowers occur in dense clusters in April, May, and early June, before the hives have had a chance to build up to maximum strength. The honey is water white, with a mild flavor. Some beekeepers have been known to place fresh supers in the hive just as the locust comes into bloom and remove them at the end of the flowering season (Root, 1974).
The yellow poplar or tulip tree is also widely planted on spoil material. It blooms in late April, May and early June. The honey obtained is bright amber when new but becomes redder and very thick with age (Lovell, 1974).
Strip mining is an enormous industry in the United States. Since many of the plants being used to stabilize reclaimed lands represent a potential nectar source, honey production could well become a new end-land use and an important spinoff of coal production.
The authors wish to express their appreciation to the Institute on Mines and Minerals Research of the University of Kentucky for financial support of the study. Special thanks are also due to Jim Powell of Peabody Coal Company for providing the experimental area and resources and to Ben Wolcott of the Kentucky Reclamation Association and the members of the Reclamation Technologists of America at Madisonville Community College who volunteered many long and hard hours of labor.
Interview with Elmore C. Grim, Surface Mining Specialist, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Cincinnati, and Thomas P. Flynn, Jr., Administrative Assistant, Division of the Environment, U.S. Bureau of Mines, Washington (July 22, 1976).
Honey production. 1976 Bull. Kentucky Crop and Livestock News Release Reporting Ser.
Honey production. 1976. Bull. USDA, Statistical Reporting serv., Crop Reporting Board, No. HNY 1-1-76
Locust (Robinia Pseudo-Acacia). 1974. The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture. A.I. Root County, Medina, Ohio.
Lovell, J.H. 1974. Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera). The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture. A.I. Root County, Medina, Ohio.
Strip mine honey production; May be new industry base. 1975. Floyd County Times.
Temperature. 1974. The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture. A.I. Root County, Medina, Ohio.
The hive and the honey bee. 1975. (rev. ed.) Hamilton, Ill.; Dadant and Sons.