Flowering Crab Apples for Spring Bee Food

Crab apple trees provide bees pollen in spring.

Crab apple trees provide bees pollen in spring.

Flowering Crab  Apples for Spring Bee Food

Flowering crab apple trees are one of the popular spring bee trees in mid-Missouri. My bee buddy David has a beautiful specimen in his front yard and I love to visit it to see how many varieties of bees I can find among the lovely white blooms.

Whether it's honeybees from his nearby apiary or native bees from the neighborhood, this flowering crab apple tree is abuzz with a variety of winged insects from bees to wasps, all important pollinators.

A variety of bees visit this crab apple tree in spring including native bees.

A variety of bees visit this crab apple tree in spring including native bees.

One of my favorite things to do is to stand under the tree and just listen. It takes a few seconds for my focus to sharpen but once I get quiet, it is amazing the sounds I pick up from all of the insects flying around in the tree.

A honeybee takes off after visiting the flowering crab apple tree.

A honeybee takes off after visiting the flowering crab apple tree.

See the little yellow pollen this honeybee is packing on its leg?

Flowering crab apples are a great source of spring pollen for bees at a time when they are quickly growing the bee nursery. Crab apple trees also provide wildlife pretty fall color and winter fruit for wildlife. What's not to love?

Charlotte

First Spring Bee Pollen Source

This year, I found my first dandelion blooming mid-January 2017, a new early record.

This year, I found my first dandelion blooming mid-January 2017, a new early record.

First Spring Bee Pollen Source

Seed and plant catalogs are piling up on my coffee table, some extolling yet again the virtues of their new plant offerings as bee and pollinator food sources. 

People want to help pollinators. It's a very romantic concept to some, the idea of "saving" a species by planting flowers. I certainly rank among them. I have contended all along that we need more flowers and less grass, although my brothers will tell you I haven't met a flower I didn't like. When they were growing up in southern Illinois and had grass-mowing duty, it was a challenge for them to trim the green plants and yet not mow down all of the blooming weeds I loved. We compromised and had a neatly-trimmed green center with paths along the edges lined with "weed patches." I preferred to call them the more dignified cottage gardens. Consider it one of the few - well, ok, one of the many - big sister privileges.

One of the flowers I loved finding even then was the first dandelion. The sunny color, especially when the flower was growing tall and reaching for the sun, was the epitome of a sunny spring day. When the flower turned to the puffy seed ball, even better, I loved nothing more than to carefully pick the stem and gently blow the seeds into the wind. 

I suspect I just gave someone a heart attack. That is what comes from not growing up in North America and being taught dandelions are evil weeds. As a matter of fact, dandelions are a perennial herb, once highly prized for their medicinal qualities. Even today in some cultures they are still appreciated, not just for their varied health benefits but in cooking, especially the young spring greens for specialty salads. 

For beekeepers, dandelions are also a great harbinger of spring. They are usually among the first spring sources of pollen for bee colonies raising young. A beekeeping friend and I even joke about the various seasons with spring being BD, before dandelions and AD, after dandelions.

This year, I am not sure what the USDA zone 5b growing season will be. It's been a record mild winter so it's anyone's guess about what the new growing season will bring. So far, we are two months ahead of schedule, with my bees raiding my bird feeders for the cracked corn dust for a pollen substitute for baby food.

A couple of days ago, the raiding stopped but the honeybees were still packing in pollen. I suspect they found real pollen from flowering oak trees and dandelions. Although it's early, I made a note. I didn't have to buy any plants or seeds; the dandelions must once again be blooming somewhere, taking care of themselves quite nicely, and now taking care of my bees.

They are still my kind of plant.

Charlotte

 

 

 

Garlic Chives Honey?

One of my honeybees discover blooming garlic chives late summer at Bluebird Gardens.

One of my honeybees discover blooming garlic chives late summer at Bluebird Gardens.

Garlic Chives Honey?

I am not so sure now this was such a good idea.

Earlier this spring, I dug up a lot of plants from a former neighbor's house, many of the plants unidentified. To make sure I could find them again, I planted some small plants along my flower garden border, in between Liriope "monkey grass."

Turns out the little green stems are garlic chives, Allium tuberosum, also called Asian chives, Chinese chives and Oriental garlic. This plant is native to the Himalayans and the Chinese province of Shanxi. It is cultivated and naturalized in many locations around the world and especially now in my garden.

I planted garlic chives between monkey grass so I could find them again when blooming.

I planted garlic chives between monkey grass so I could find them again when blooming.

I love anything that has a flower and is easy care. Garlic cloves have quickly settled in around my garden, adding beautiful white swaths to my garden at a time when little is in bloom. And so far they seem to bloom through record hot temperatures and drought.

The lovely garlic chives were in full bloom August 2016 next to my bees favorite bird bath.

The lovely garlic chives were in full bloom August 2016 next to my bees favorite bird bath.

Late summer is also the time beekeepers start to monitor blooming goldenrod. It's not as easy as it sounds, Missouri has 22 different kinds of goldenrod that bloom from June-October.

The discussion about goldenrod, however, centers around harvesting honey before bees add goldenrod pollen to their winter stores. Goldenrod adds a bitter taste to honey, at least to human palates.

As I was listening to a discussion about when to harvest and when goldenrod blooms, my thoughts went to all of the garlic chives now blooming in my garden. I wonder what the delicate onion-like flavor will do to the honey my bees are making.

One of my honeybees checking out garlic chives blooms at Bluebird Gardens apiary.

One of my honeybees checking out garlic chives blooms at Bluebird Gardens apiary.

Who knows, we may be starting a new honey trend - garlic clove honey!

Charlotte

Monkey Grass August Favorite

Monkey grass makes defining flower borders and paths easy.

Monkey grass makes defining flower borders and paths easy.

Monkey Grass August Bee Favorite

Before I had bee hives, I knew this was a favorite bee plant. When little else was blooming, this low maintenance border plant entertained pollinator visits from bees to butterflies

Liriope muscari is a charming perennial that requires little and gives back a lot. It is easy to care for, heat and drought resistant, crowds out weeds and tolerates a variety of soils and light conditions. 

I use monkey grass as a border plant to mark off my flower borders and adjoining paths. Most of the year, they are bunches of long green leaves until late July, when they start to bloom.

My bees are starting to discover that monkey grass flowers are starting to bloom.

My bees are starting to discover that monkey grass flowers are starting to bloom.

The plants start to bloom about the same time as surprise lilies. The little buds form on the spikes for a couple of weeks. Then they start to open into teeny tiny purple flowers with yellow centers.

The teeny tiny monkey grass flowers starting to bloom at Bluebird Gardens.

The teeny tiny monkey grass flowers starting to bloom at Bluebird Gardens.

Sometimes I find my bees riding the flower spikes like a carnival ride, their little legs packed full of yellow pollen.

At other times, they may ignore the plants in favor of a better available pollen source.

Nevertheless, I would want to add monkey grass to any flower garden as insurance that if nothing else is blooming during Missouri's August dearth, at least these plants are available.

Do you have monkey grass in your garden?

Charlotte

What Bee Likes Surprise Lilies?

Can you spot the bee amongst the surprise lily flowers? 

Can you spot the bee amongst the surprise lily flowers? 

What Bee Likes Surprise Lilies?

I don't even think about it when I do it, follow bees around my Missouri hillside garden to see what flowers have their attention.

It works well when visiting a garden center or nursery. Bees buzzing around a particular kind of flower, and better yet, packing pollen, is a good recommendation to bring that plant home. Although bees are supposed to favor blue, yellow and white flowers, it also depends on weather and what else may be blooming at the same time.

When walking through my garden, it's not as easy. Between birds, hummingbird moths, bumblebees, butterflies and bees, the place can be very busy with buzzing wings and moving parts. On this particular day, I saw a movement in the blooming surprise lilies out of the corner of my eye.

Since I knew if I moved I might chase off the visitor, I just kept shooting. When I reviewed the photos, there was my little winged visitor, right in the middle.

There it is, in the middle of the lovely scented flowers, cousins to the South American Amaryllis.

There it is, in the middle of the lovely scented flowers, cousins to the South American Amaryllis.

Now can you tell what bee was visiting the surprise lilies?

Here's a hint, it's one of Missouri's 400 different native bee species.

Now can you tell what kind of bee likes these flowers?

Now can you tell what kind of bee likes these flowers?

That shiny backside is a dead giveaway, it is a carpenter bee. Carpenter bees are solitary bees, nesting in wood. I have one living in the bottom of one of my bird houses. There are some 500 carpenter bee species worldwide.

Do you see carpenter bees in your garden?

Charlotte

Bachelor Buttons Bee Favorite

Bachelor buttons volunteer to grow in this Missouri garden.

Bachelor buttons volunteer to grow in this Missouri garden.

Bachelor Buttons Bee Favorite

One of the easiest flowers to grow for bees - well, easy to grow regardless -  is bachelor buttons, also know as cornflowers. They are so easy to grow, they usually are the first seeds given to kids to grow when they are starting to garden.

The nickname "cornflower" comes from the fact that the plant grows wild in the grain fields of southern Europe. When Napoleon forced Queen Louise of Prussia from Berlin, she hid her children in a cornfield and kept them entertained and quiet by weaving wreaths of cornflowers. One of her children, Wilheim, later became the emperor of Germany. Remembering his mother's bravery, he made the cornflower a national emblem of unity.

Depending upon the variety, plants will grow to between 1 and 3 feet tall and are most effective when massed in beds and borders for color. Bachelor buttons are a cutting garden favorite, and they are one of the easiest flowers to dry for everlasting arrangements.

Although considered an annual, once established in an area they will usually re-seed themselves.

I have grown bachelor buttons in the three home sites I have had since I graduated from college. All three sites had a varying degree of good soil, moist conditions and, in one case, was precariously close to a border with iris that periodically was inadvertently mowed down.

How to Grow Bachelor Buttons

To grow, mark off a site where seeds are scattered after all danger of frost, usually early May.

Water.

Wait for seeds to sprout. Once seedlings are a good two inches, move to their final growing spot.

Bachelor button starts from seeds at Bluebird Gardens. I keep them watered until I can move.

Bachelor button starts from seeds at Bluebird Gardens. I keep them watered until I can move.

We have had record hot temperatures in Missouri this year so I am going to wait until temperatures cool off before I move my seedlings. In the meantime, I keep them watered so their roots don't dry out in our record hot Missouri summer temperatures.

Looking forward to seeing my bees discover these beautiful, blue plants next summer!

Charlotte

Bee in Double Rose of Sharon Bush

A honeybee visits a double Rose of Sharon at my bee buddy David's house.

A honeybee visits a double Rose of Sharon at my bee buddy David's house.

Bee in Double Rose of Sharon Bush

When I first started beekeeping, I thought there would be some discipline to what plants bees would visit.

Not that there isn't. Bees do prefer high pollen-producing plants, such as dandelions, clover, sunflowers, buckwheat and blue salvia.

There are a number of books that explain how bees chose their flowers and what flowers they might prefer. Bees visit 2 million flowers and fly 55, 000 miles to produce one pound of honey. One bee colony can produce 60 to 100 pounds of honey per year. An average worker bee makes only about 1/12 teaspoon of honey in its six-week lifetime.

Considering that bees make honey for winter food, flower visitation is important to the bees success in getting honey stored before winter.

I had just finished reading one such book, which basically said bees need to have clear access to pollen. Double-bloomed plants, although very pretty, are not supposed to be good bee plants.

My bee buddy David and I were discussing the book when I spotted one of his honeybees visiting a nearby double Rose of Sharon bush. We watched for several minutes as the bee moved around the inside of the plant. When it left, its little leg pouches were stuffed with a cream-colored pollen.

Add Double Rose of Sharon Bush to a honeybee's favorite plant list!

Charlotte

Gooseneck Loosestrife Pollinator Magnet

A carpenter bee visits Bluebird Gardens gooseneck loosestrife just starting to bloom.

A carpenter bee visits Bluebird Gardens gooseneck loosestrife just starting to bloom.

Summer is still a couple of weeks away but the summer-flowering plants aren't waiting to get started. One of my favorites is gooseneck loosestrife, Lysimachia clethroides, a perennial with tiny white flowers that drape when in bloom.

Pollinators of all shapes and sizes also like these flowers. From bumblebees to butterflies, the patch of blooms will soon be buzzing with visitors, especially early morning.

Gooseneck loosestrife can be invasive. It propagates through runners, much like mint, and can grow in either sun or shade. I have encouraged it to grow in garden spots with ample room so bees and other pollinators can collect the nectar and pollen.

Charlotte

Welcome Coreopsis!

Honeybees and small native bees visit variegated coreopsis in my bee buddy David's garden.

Honeybees and small native bees visit variegated coreopsis in my bee buddy David's garden.

Cool Coreopsis

Delighted to see honeybees attracted to this pretty perennial, a variegated coreopsis. This hardy perennial is pretty in its original all yellow form but I also like the tinged with burn red variety. Both have easy to access pollen for bees and both grow well all summer, including Missouri's infamous August derth.

Good Plant for Hot August

August is traditionally so hot in Missouri plants shut down producing nectar and pollen when temperatures are over 95F for more than a week or so. Gardeners know not to plant much in August because the soil is so dry anything that gets water dries out quickly.

My established coreopsis make it through this hot period, even when I sometimes forget to water them.

Several Coreopsis Choices

There are now a number of coreopsis varieties, from dwarf mounding plants perfect to line borders to plants that grow 4-feet tall, perfect for the back of the flower borders. Remember to plant several plants together so bees can easily see them.

Charlotte

 

Seeds for Bees

I often get asked what people can plant in their gardens to help bees. Here are my first three recommendations:

North American Wildflower mix

Bachelor Buttons

Sunflowers

These three seed packets are my top recommendations for planting for bees.

These three seed packets are my top recommendations for planting for bees.

Wildflower Mix

The wildflower mix will be the hardest to manage because some plants will sprout later or maybe take a year to establish themselves.

When planting a wildflower mix, plant in an area you can set aside and observe since the flowers may show up at different times of the year. That is one of the ways you can help pollinators, making sure they have something offering them pollen continuously through the growing season.

Bachelor Buttons

To that end, bachelor buttons provide a nice pollen source through summer and into fall. Once established, bachelor buttons will self-seed and spread so give them room.

Sunflowers

Sunflowers, if planted early enough, will provide pollen from summer through fall, which includes the dreaded Missouri August dearth. When temperatures reach more than 90F for a week or more, plants stop producing pollen leaving bee colonies at their highest population numbers bereft of a food source.

There are other seeds you can plant to help bees, these happen to be the ones I recommend to someone just starting out.

Have you tried to grow these? How did you do?

Charlotte

Hello, Henbit!

Hardy henbit grows everywhere including in rock walls.

Hardy henbit grows everywhere including in rock walls.

Hello, Henbit!

Of all of the first flowers of spring, henbit is a bee, and beekeepers, favorite. Although many in the midwest consider henbit a weed, it is actually an herb.

Henbit grows by roadsides, in cropland, pastures, in waste areas, in gardens, and on lawns. It is often one of the first spring plants to offer bees a generous source of pollen.

Henbit prefers light, dry soil and cultivated soil. It tends to grow in bald spots and works well to prevent soil erosion.

This edible plant originated in Eurasia and Northern Africa. It also grows in Australia, South America, western Asia, Greenland, and throughout Canada and the United States.

Henbit can be consumed fresh or cooked as an edible herb, and it can be used in teas

For bees, henbit is an invaluable source of spring pollen so let it grow in your garden. 

Charlotte

Eastern redbud Offers Spring Pollen

Spring in Missouri is lovely with a variety of trees adding color to the spring garden palette: Service berry starts the show, followed by a favorite pollen source of honeybees, the Eastern redbud. 

I didn't use to walk through my spring garden staring up at the sky until I started to follow my bees. 

One of my honeybees visiting an Eastern redbud tree in bloom spring 2016.

One of my honeybees visiting an Eastern redbud tree in bloom spring 2016.

Beekeepers often talk about "BD," which stands for "before dandelions" and "AD" for "after dandelions," a prolific source of spring pollen. I tend to think of spring as "BR," "before redbuds," because these lovely ornamental trees seem to marshall the rest of spring flowers bloom.

Flowering Eastern redbud attracts honeybees from Bluebird Gardens.

Flowering Eastern redbud attracts honeybees from Bluebird Gardens.

Eastern redbuds grow close to one of Bluebird Gardens apiaries.

Eastern redbuds grow close to one of Bluebird Gardens apiaries.

Do you enjoy seeing bees and other pollinators in your spring trees?

Charlotte