Nectar is the raw ingredient of honey. It is produced by flowers to lure pollinators to them for pollination and eventual fertilisation. Pollination, especially for many food crops, is essential for successful cropping.
It is a solution of sugars in water with amino acids, minerals, essential oils and organic acids. The solution of sugars is usually made up of sucrose, glucose, fructose and sometimes maltose.
Some plants reliably produce abundant nectar despite environmental conditions e.g. citrus, whilst other species may not produce much at all.
Once flowers have been pollinated they produce less nectar. Cucumber flowers are a good example as they only produce nectar on their first day of opening.
Environmental conditions that affect nectar production are: air temperature, soil moisture, soil fertility, sunlight levels, plant processes such as photosynthesis, respiration, growth and flower age.
Honey bees seem to prefer nectar with equal quantities of glucose, fructose and sucrose.
Avoid planting species that have double flowers i.e. masses of petals. Select single-flowered spp. and cultivars as these are easier for the bees to visit.
It's a good idea to identify and record good bee plants in the 2-3km radius of your apiary. Make a list of the species that have good nectar and pollen supplies and the months that these plants flower. This will give you a good indication when your bees will be most active.
Rosaceae – all stone and pip fruits, blackberry, hawthorn
Fabaceae – clovers, gorse, false acacia, mimosa
Lamiaceae – rosemary, lavender, sage and other salvias, thyme, mint, bee balm, basil, catmint
Scrophulariaceae – koromiko, penstemons, veronicas,
Brassicaceae - brassicas
Asteraceae – dandelion, sunflower, dahlias, heleniums, cosmos, echinacea, zinnia
Myrtaceae – eucalypts, pohutukawa, rata, bottlebrush, manuka
Rutaceae – citrus
Ericaceae – heather
List of nectar rich plants suitable for gardens:
Kohuhu (Pittosporum tenuifolium)
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
This is not a definitive list of nectar rich plants. Beekeepers should observe bees visiting other species and add to the above list.
Also, people should check the National Plant Pest Accord lists or Regional Pest Plant Strategies for weeds to avoid. Unfortunately, we do have weed issues in New Zealand. Nurseries have rules and regulations for what plants they can sell/promote.
It's important we as New Zealanders help protect the environment by avoiding planting invasive or potentially invasive plants.