June is a month of the year which brings uncertainty for many a beekeeper, for those in rural areas in particular. June is the beginning of the summer season when the spring flowering plants and trees shed their blooms having been pollinated and now begin to form seeds but the main flow of summer flowering blooms has yet to begin. Beekeepers refer to this period of change as the June Gap.
At this time of year Honey bee colonies are approaching their peak in worker population in readiness for the summer flow, Queens are laying at a prolific rate and colonies have many larva to feed. A reduction in incoming nectar and pollen as the spring flowers cease but the summer flowers are yet to peak can leave large colonies struggling to feed themselves or fill supers with surplus honey for the beekeeper.
The June Gap is often felt the most in rural areas dominated by intensive agriculture. The plentiful hawthorn blooms of hedgerows, hedgerow trees and gluts of autumn sown Oil Seed Rape are largely over throughout most of the British Ilse’s by June but the summer wild flowers are not yet at their peak and the Heather bloom is still many weeks away.
Cotoneaster shrubs in bloom - Great for bees
In urban areas the June Gap is rarely felt because our towns and cities contain an abundance of exotic plants which bloom throughout June filling the gap in forage availability.
In urban parks and gardens Privet hedges are coming into bloom. Beekeepers loath Privet because its nectar produces a bitter tasting honey that is unpalatable to most but for the bees Privet can help see them through the brief June Dearth. Other garden shrubs important as sources of nectar in urban areas include Hebe, Choiysia, Pyracantha and Cotoneaster – all are popular with bees and are widely planted in urban car parks, and amenity areas around housing developments. Shrubs like Ceonothus provide an abundance of yellow pollen and include several varieties which flower throughout June.
Urban areas contain many exotic trees which flower after our native species have ceased flowering. These include Sweet Chestnut, Pseudo Acacia, and Tree of Heaven alongside native Limes. In urban areas with milder microclimates our native Limes will flower much earlier than in rural areas or the north of the country where July is their usual season. The same is also true of Bramble which in towns and cities grows in abundance along railway sidings and brownfield land.
Our urban gardens also contain many blooming annuals and perennials at this time of year. Right now in my garden Nepeta, Geraniums, Campanulas, Thymes, Sage, Valerian, Perennial Corn Flower, Wall flowers, Osteospurmums and Giant echiums are in bloom attracting large numbers of bees. As June progresses Lavender, Echinops, Escalonia and Teucrium will come into flower, also popular with bees.
Cherry leaf showing extra floral nectaries
Another advantage to beekeepers in urban areas include the widespread planting of Prunus (Cherry and Cherry Laurel) species. These shrubs and small trees have now ceased flowering but they produce leaves with extra floral nectary’s at their base and in some species smaller outlets along the serrated leaf edge. When moisture levels in the soil combine with warm sunny weather these plants may produce more sugars through photosynthesis than they require so they exude the surplus sugars through these extra floral nectary’s. In times of Dearth bees along with ants and wasps will visit these plants to collect the sugary waste excreted from these extra floral outlets.
Away from urban centres there are a number of plants common in rural areas which also produce extra floral nectary’s which will be visited by bees. These include Bracken. Bees will also take advantage of the sticky secretions produced by Aphids as they suck the sap of broadleaf trees. These alternative sources of forage can make life a little easier for our honey bees during the June gap.
As an urban beekeeper with hives in London I have always been fortunate to never have to worry about the June gap and most years in June I am adding extra supers for the surplus honey being made.
We can all do our bit to help the bees and other pollinators during the brief June dearth by ensuring our parks and gardens are well stocked with appropriate plants.