To Save The Bees (Part III) Provide Food

This is the final post in the series that was published in 2016. Click to see Part I or Part II. After reading it again I realized that I have discovered a few things since it was first published.

We have grown some more plants that I have observed the honey bees foraging on heavily. They include chamomile and chives which blooms in the spring, oregano which blooms throughout the summer, and spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint and anise hyssop which all flower in late summer and fall, so these can be added to the others you will read about in the original post.

The other thing that I recently read and thought would be worth including with this post is that honey bees will only forage one type of plant during a flight. Knowing this it stands to reason that they would be foraging a type of plant that is plentiful in the area. Thus if you are planting with honey bees in mind it would be better to plant several of one type of plant than to plant only one of several types of plants.
I hope you enjoy the original post.

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Since we decided to become beekeepers I have read many recommendations about what to plant for the bees including the above picture. I feel very strongly that it is important for the health of the bees that they have a variety of foods (plants) to forage. Although it is not our only consideration when deciding what to plant, planting for the bees is something that we have been doing since we bought the farm and decided to become beekeepers.

Other things we take into consideration are:

1. Is the plant annual or perennial? Except for food and herbs we usually don’t plant annuals.

2. To know if a perennial will survive it is important to know the hardiness zone that you live in.  Some plants that are perennial will not survive the colder temperatures of our winter and some will not even grow long enough to blossom.

3. It is also good to know the growing conditions that the plant requires – type of soil, wet or dry, and sun or shade are all important considerations when deciding where to plant something.

4. I love things that have multiple purposes. So I consider other uses for the plant – are they edible, medicinal, a good cover crop that will nourish the soil, or simply planted for their beauty ?

5. I also have to consider what critters will eat these plants before either we or the bees can benefit from them. I have found some plants that the deer and rabbits simply don’t bother with, yet there are many others that have to be fenced in order to protect them.

6. When planting for the bees, another thing to consider is the bloom time of the plant. It is good to have plants that blossom at different times of the year. Early spring is probably the time when the bees are most in need. As they emerge from their hives in the spring, their winter food stores are running low if not depleted, they need to be able to find food in order to survive.

What we have planted:

Lavender  was a plant of choice before we ever knew we were going to become bee keepers. I originally planted lavender at the house  because I loved the plant, loved the fragrance, loved the dried flowers that could be made into sachets, sleep pillows, tea, or infused into oil. I also add them to my chamomile/lavender soap. It was on the plants at the house that I first observed honey bees foraging and realized what a good bee plant it was. When we bought the farm, planting lavender was a no-brainer and it is now a large part of our prayer garden. Another thing that I appreciate about lavender is that deer and rabbits leave it alone.

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Our Prayer Garden

Thyme is also grown in our prayer garden. It is a low creeping plant that makes a nice ground cover. It has both culinary and medicinal uses. http://www.delallo.com/articles/thyme  Last spring, when the thyme was flowering, I noticed that the honey bees were all over it. I was happy to see this because thyme essential oil is recommended as a natural treatment for varroa mites. While I haven’t seen it written anywhere, my theory is that by feeding on thyme, perhaps, the bees can extract the thymol that is reported to be effective for controlling the varroa mites, thus not requiring human intervention.  Thyme is another plant that is not bothered by deer or rabbits. This year I will divide the roots and spread thyme throughout the  prayer garden.

Sage and Salvia are of the same family. This link provides a growing guide for the different types. http://www.bhg.com/gardening/flowers/perennials/guide-to-salvias/    When planting sage/salvia it is important to note the hardiness zone for the variety you are planting. I have grown several varieties of sage. They grow well during the summer, and I have been able to harvest their leaves, but since they are not hardy in our (zone 6) growing area they have never blossomed and some have not survived our winters. Since they do not flower they are not useful to the bees. On the other hand I do have a salvia plant (I’m not sure what variety it is) that has beautiful purple spiked flowers in the spring and summer. I have had it for three years and the honey bees love it. Salvia and sage seem to be plants that the deer and rabbits leave alone.

Basil – I have grown basil for many years. I use it fresh during the summer and dry it to have on hand year round. I pick the leaves off before it begins to flower and continue to pick them until I want it to flower and go to seed. Late last summer, when I let the basil plants flower, I noticed the honey bees were heavily foraging them.

 

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Sunflower  is one of the annuals that we grow. I can not speak for all varieties of sunflowers but our bees visit the Grey Stripe Mammoth   and black oil seed varieties often.

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Once you plant sunflowers, don’t be surprised if they come up voluntarily the following year in surprising places as these did. They always made me smile 🙂

Coneflowers – Also know as Echinacea, known for it’s medicinal properties, is a plant that the bees also like. http://www.gardenexperiments.com/echinacea-species-flowering-plants-for-bees-butterflies-and-birds/

Asters grow wild in our field. They blossom in the late summer and fall and last year we witnessed the bees feeding heavily on them.

Clover is the one thing that we plant most often, that is great bee food. We sometimes use clover as a cover crop to nourish the soil for future crops, but most often we use it combined with grass seed when we landscape areas.  Call me crazy, and you might if you’ve been paying a lawn care company to keep your lawn weed free, but I feel that white clover compliments the grass. It grows at a similar rate, it fixes nitrogen that helps the grass grow, and it is soft to walk on. I also like that if I mow the white clover when it is blossoming, it will blossom again.

Buckwheat – Another plant that we have used as a cover crop that the bees seem to enjoy. Buckwheat makes a dark honey with a strong flavor. It also makes a good cover crop as it grows fast and is said to choke out competing weeds.

Last summer my husband and I were in the garden center department of one of the local home improvement stores. I was looking for more of the salvia plant that I have, but was unable to find any. We noticed honey bees visiting several different flowering plants. You should probably know that for me going to a garden center and not buying plants is almost like going to the Dairy Queen and not buying ice cream. I absolutely hate shopping and the only exception is going to a green house or garden center. I could spend way too many hours and way too much money in these places. That being said we ended up buying some of the plants that we saw honey bees visiting.

They included a Coreopsis also known as Tickseed.

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Tickseed

 

A Mallow

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Mallow

and a Balloon Flower that I don’t have a picture of. After planting these in our prayer garden I didn’t notice any bees on them. I suspect that there were so many other things blossoming in the area that the bees did not pay any attention to these flowers. Thus, the lesson I take from this is that my focus should be on sticking to what we already have. I will add more lavender, (I started some by seed) I will divide the thyme and let it spread, and perhaps I will divide my salvia in order to have more plants. I will cherish the clover, the asters and the golden rod that grow wild in our field, and I will not curse the thistle (much).

2020 update – While the mallow plant pictured above did not come back the following year, the balloon flower has continued to grow but I have never observed bees on it. The tickseed has continued to grow and spread and last summer I often saw bees foraging it.

Will you be doing any planting this year? Have you observed bees foraging on specific plants in your area? I would love to hear from you.

Happy Planting! 🙂

 

21 thoughts on “To Save The Bees (Part III) Provide Food

  1. Mulleins (Verbascum species) are great bee plants. They’re biennials, meaning they grow basal leaf rosettes the first year and a bloom spike the second year, after which they’re done. They are BIG — the leaf rosette can be 3 feet across, and the bloom stalk 6-8 feet tall (or more). Flowers are mostly yellow, but there is a white variety that’s smaller. They have a long bloom season; when it’s finished you can let them ripen seeds, guaranteeing more plants (you’ll have to pull up the unwanted ones). It’s an impressive, statuesque plant when in bloom. The leaves are fuzzy. They’re drought-tolerant, love full sun, and deer don’t touch them. And unless you get hurricane-force winds, they don’t need staking either.

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    1. Hi Audrey. Thank you for sharing that. Mullein grows wild on our farm and I am always excited to see it. I have great respect for it and try to avoid cutting it down. It has wonderful medicinal properties (explained in this article) https://herbcraft.org/mullein.html . I haven’t observed bees foraging it but that is likely because either I just haven’t been there to see it or perhaps because the mullein is sparse in the area the bees are finding more plentiful foods to forage. I really appreciate your comment. 🙂

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  2. This is very informative Ruth – I’ve not planted for encouraging bees, but I did for butterflies. I did buy the butterfly bushes, and found it was okay as to hardiness zone, however the first Polar Vortex zapped them all. I never replanted and just as well as we had another Polar Vortex event the following year – if only all Winters could be like this one!

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    1. Thanks Linda. Years ago we had butterfly bushes that did not survive the winter. Many of the flowers that attract bees attract butterflies as well. This winter certainly was one of the easier ones and I am seeing lots of signs that spring is here (including hearing frogs for the last several day! 🙂 )

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      1. That’s great about the frogs Ruth and I follow a few parks on Facebook and one showed a photo of Nankin Mills Park (Livonia) and a turtle out sunning itself yesterday. I wish all our Winters were like this one. I truly thought the butterfly bushes would be hardier since they are maintenance-free, but who knew we would have such brutal weather either?

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      2. Now I’m looking for the trees to start budding. Poplar and maple seem the be first. I suspect as soon as the night time temps warm up a little (maybe this week) that will begin to happen. 🙂

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      3. I think it’s an early Spring too Ruth. The Groundhog was smart! I saw willow trees in two parks starting to unfurl and leaf out in yellow-colored leaves.

        I thought of you today and mentioned you – maybe your ears were burning? I went back to the alpaca farm on Grosse Ile today – soon they will close the Free Bridge all Summer and I wanted to see the alpacas before they got sheared. They also have bees and sell honey. So the owners are a husband/wife … the husband was there and I said I’d have to come back for the taking the honey off the combs (he had told me when I was coming that way to let him know and I could watch … this was after I sent the blog post about their alpacas) … anyway, I told him how you write about honey/bees and he said he is allergic to bees, but is the beekeeper but lost all his bees this past Winter due to the GMO from what they spray the corn with – he lifted the lid and showed me all the dead bees and they had already begun to make a little bit of honey. He offered me to swipe my fingers in it to try it, but I declined (had gloves on and camera too and a bit of a germaphobe). 🙂

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      4. I hate to hear of others losing the bees too. We do have farmers in the area that spray and it is possible contribution to our losses. It could weaken the bees so that they are not able to survive. It’s very frustrating. Did he say if he would be starting new hives this spring?

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      5. I told him about you and that you often write about bees and honey and you had ordered “packets of bees” as you had lost bees too. He said he would have had to order them in December (I think that is what he said – December) and would not have done so, because he said he closed them up for the season and did not anticipate any problems. He showed me how the apparatus worked – pulled out the filter and I saw the honey (not a lot) and the dead bees. I didn’t take a picture of them. He said he is allergic to bees. After I wrote the alpaca story, I sent them the blog post – both he/his wife maintain the Facebook page – he said he raised bees and too bad he had just closed the hive or I could have seen that. This is what he wrote me, I just went on Facebook to look. They are shutting down the Grosse Ile Free Bridge end of April – I went to see the alpacas now as they get sheared in April, same time the bridge closes up. He had told me when to come back to see them “fuzzy” … here is what he wrote me on his bees, but he said yesterday he is not having more bees.

        “We just pulled off the last of the honey. Now I prepare the bee hives for this winter by first gassing them with ocilic acid gas to kill any Varroa mites then place beetle traps in the hive then load up their feeder with bee pro vitiman supplement then size up their winter doors and winter ventilation and they’re all done for 3 weeks then open the hive check food and inner hive conditions close em up check ventilation and let them slumber til January thaw and repeat . And if all goes perfect I have bees for spring if not i order more for spring if that’s the case the hive will have to be gone through and striped and made ready for its new residence . All this time and money to replicate a hole in a tree so bees will be happy. Lol

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  3. I have a love hate relationship with bees. I love their work, I love their honey. I hate the fact that they can kill my husband. He has been taking injections for over a year now so allegedly he wouldn’t die for a sting anymore but he still has to use the epipen and get to the hospital ASAP if/ when it happens. But I do love their pollinating and honey making. I usually plant more for butterflies because they don’t sting. Thanks for the information, and the time you take to provide such great posts.

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    1. Hi Terri. I understand your plight. Bee stings can be deadly quick for those who are allergic. I’m glad your husband takes steps to protect himself. Attracting butterflies sounds like a better/safer option. I have some plants that bees don’t forage that butterflies love. The one that comes to mind immediately is Hibiscus.

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    1. I’m glad you liked it Anne. I know what you mean. Our dogs like to dig and I think it would be great if I could channel that into a helpful behavior rather than a destructive one.

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      1. Our dogs don’t dig in the garden – they prefer digging in the field for mice but the chickens will tear up a garden in no time if the have access to it. If we plant seeds it is best to fence off if we expect to see them sprout.

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