The 'June gap' is as strange phenomon which appears to occur in the UK but not in all countries. This term refers to a period when there is a sudden reduction in the amount of pollen and nectar around to feed honeybees (and, presumably, other bee types too but no-one is monitoring their honey flow and brood production quite so closely). This is an issue because in May the hives reach their maximum brood numbers and then face a reduction in food supply which might cause them to stop laying and certainly reduce honey production. The pattern is as follows:
- During spring: in addition to many early flowering herbaceous species flowering there are vast volumes of pollen and nectar produced from trees and hedges. To put this into perspective a single mature lime of willow tree will yield the same amount of bee food as an acre of wildflower meadow.
- Then in May, if your bees are rural types, the rapeseed flowers bringing a serious glut.
- But come June, all of that is over, and the grass is now long suppressing most wild flowers.
- Then by July a variety of tall herbaceous species find ways to push up through the grass and once again we have flowers through to September. Also at this stage late flowering fruit species such as brambles come into thier own.
But why is there less flower in June? It doesn't make much ecological sense as you would imagine that some species of plants would evolve to take advantage of the reduced competition for pollinators.
Based on anecdotal evidence it appears that the June gap does not occur in all areas of the UK or even every year but it is common enough to be established in beekeeping folklore. The weather will affect the times when plants flower and can make the gap greater or smaller. Also, some plants will be in flower - just less.
Here are some plants that do seem to still flower through this period so if you have a chance to plant some the bees will be greatful:
- Most of the hardy geraniums including the native geranium pratense
- Roses (simple single petaled or 'dog roses' are best)
- Lots of herbs; thymes, coriander, rosemary and, best of all borage (pictured above)
and..... if you have an area for seed Phacelia which will flower for 6 weeks right at the time the bees need it.