i have a 4 year-old 1/6 acre food forest. the original site (suburban lawn) had lots of ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) which has since spread to serve as a groundcover for about half the garden. there are some things I love about this plant, and others I dislike, but we are pretty much stuck with it either way for the time being.
one thing that I like about it is that the bees seems to LOVE it. when its flowering, I can usually find several honeybees per square foot of this plant, happily buzzing around. so it brings in a lot of pollinators, which should be good. however, I was observing the garden this spring and got to wondering if maybe the bees like the ground ivy too much. with it being so abundant, and so delicious, it seems as if all the activity was happening on the ground cover layer and few if any bees were flying upwards to visit the flowering trees/shrubs that are higher up off the ground. now that I can see how much fruit is set, I again get the feeling that there was not as much pollination going on as I would have liked...
would anyone care to chime in on this and share thoughts on whether its possible to provide too much pollinator food? or do you think I can remedy this problem by creating a "ladder" of good nectary sources at different heights that would encourage the bees to get up to the fruit blossoms 15 feet off the ground? other comments/ideas?
That is how honeybees work. The bees will work one type of plant until it is exhausted. Other bees in the hive might work other plants but they won't go from one type of plant to another.
Bumblebees and mason bees, on the other hand, will work a variety of plant species. They are actually much more effective pollinators than honeybees for this reason. If you want good pollination, make sure to provide lots of habitat for bumblebees and mason bees.
The way I understand it, with honey bees, the 'scouts' go out first in the morning and find today's food. They then come back to the hive and do a little "dance" that communicates what, which direction, and how far food has been found. The rest of the hive follows their instructions to go gather. So, if the scouts 'say' "I found tons of lavender in Mrs McGready's backyard." that is what the honeybees concentrate on for the day.
As stated above, bumblebees, Masons, and other solitary bees are different. They do not have the hive mentality. Each individual bee is responsible for finding their own daily needs.
Creating a varied habitat for the native, local pollinators is essential for good pollination.
Honey bees work well for commercial orchards, where nothing else is allowed to grow except the one crop.
They don't work so well where there are dozens of species to choose from. They will pick the one crop in abundance, and pretty much leave the rest alone.
Honey bees were not native to the Americas. They were imported to fill a niche.
That niche was monocrops, not food forests.
I'm not terribly familiar with ground ivy, but a little reading leads me to believe it is used as food and medicine in several different ways. perhaps if you acquire a taste for it, you won't have such an excess.
regarding it competing for pollinator attention: it's possible. there are several ways to address a problem like that. habitat for native pollinators was mentioned by others. that's good advice. many of the natives are, indeed, more effective pollinators than honey bees. in my own experience, though, even with a large variety of flowers to choose from, honey bees still visit my fruit trees, though they are relatively small in number compared to other available flowers.
I do keep several beehives nearby, though. if you would like honey in addition to pollination, keeping bees might be something to consider. if you were to house even a single colony of honey bees in your food forest, covering the entire 1/6 acre with ground ivy would not satisfy their appetite, so they would need to visit other flowers, too, even if the ground ivy is the favorite.
consider also that keeping honey bees would not preclude encouraging your native pollinators. a once heard a chap from Xerxes suggest that it's either honey bees or the natives, but not both. that, I have no problem telling you, is codswallop. I grow a lot of flowering plants mostly to help out my honey bees, but I see an almost ridiculous variety of native insects on the same flowers as the honey bees. unless an area is egregiously overloaded with beehives, there's plenty to go around.
wow, thanks for the all the helpful responses! i've done some more research (and observation) on these various pollinators and the plants that attract them and it seems like im headed on the right track with the plants I have, I probably just need to provide more of them and spread them over a greater space (although the mason bees and bumblebees also love the ground ivy, which flowers for a couple months throughout spring). I came across a lot of lists of plants that attract mason bees but most of them seemed to flower at a different time than the fruit trees here in the NE U.S. ... but seems like two I may want to add are some spring-flowering lavender and heather. any other plant suggestions from those of you in a similar climate?