In northeastern Nebraska in the counties bordering on the Missouri River beekeeping was formerly only moderately successful, but in later years it is becoming more profitable on account of the introduction of sweet clover. From Omaha northward to the Dakota line may be found some of the best bee ranges of Nebraska.
Richardson County, in the southeast corner, has been called “the garden of the state;” but a beekeeper at Humboldt writes: “Twenty years ago beekeeping was a profitable industry in this county; but to-day you can buy colonies for less than the cost of new hives. During the last three or four years, partly as the result of dry weather and the ploughing up of alfalfa and sweet clover, and partly on account of foul brood, I have lost a large part of my colonies, and expect to give up beekeeping.”
Reports from the counties in the eastern section away from the Missouri River vary greatly. White clover often suffers from drought; heartsease yields well in wet seasons; sweet clover is not abundant, but is increasing; and alfalfa yields little nectar.
The sand-hill section, which occupies the central portion of the state, has an average width of 175 miles. The sand hills, the chief characteristic of this region, vary in height from 15 to several hundred feet. They are usually conical, but vary greatly in shape, and often contain crater-like hollows called blow-outs, two or three hundred feet in diameter and 40 or 50 feet deep, formed by the wind. The vegetation is sparse, consisting chiefly of bunch grass with a few scattered shrubs and sunflowers. The sand hills occupy a broad belt in the central portion of the state, and are believed to owe their origin to the wind. Much of this region north of the Platte River is not suitable for cultivation.
Beekeeping in this section is almost wholly dependent on alfalfa and sweet clover. It is surprising, says J. H. Wagner, how rapidly sweet clover and alfalfa are being put in. The larger part of the 1,214,649 acres of alfalfa grown in the state is found in 28 counties in the south-central portion. Where it is grown without irrigation the yield varies greatly in different years. To secure an abundance of bloom there must be sufficient moisture in the ground by May first to produce a vigorous growth of the first crop, and the harvesting of each succeeding crop should be followed by ample rain. If the season is very dry the growth will be short and the bloom scanty. But during a very rainy season little nectar is gathered; for instance, in Custer County, in 1906, there were in June 12.73 inches of rain and in July 9.26 inches of rain, and only six pounds of surplus per hive was stored from the first and second crops. In a normal season the main supply comes from the second crop in July. The first crop blooms in June and the third in August. Large areas of alfalfa are grown in Custer County without irrigation.
In Lincoln County, through the center of which flows the Platte River, there is a large area of alfalfa under irrigation. Sweet clover and alfalfa furnish the surplus honey. They are reliable nearly every year, but the flow may be lessened either by very wet or very dry weather. Sweet clover yields for about six weeks. Alfalfa, which is the source of the main crop, lasts for about two months. It is cut three times in a season, and the honey flow from the second and third crops is better than from the first.
In Custer and Sherman counties, near the center of the state, there are a few bees. From sweet clover and alfalfa an average of 100 pounds is obtained near the center of the state; but 240 pounds per colony, spring count, has been secured. Alfalfa secretes nectar best in dry weather, and sweet clover always yields, but it is most reliable in seasons when there is an average rainfall. It is one of the best-paying crops, and each year a larger acreage is sown. There is a dearth of nectar in this locality until buckwheat blooms about June 15.