Tag Archives: flowers for bees

Between Winter And Spring

Time to Start Seedlings

There are still a few feet of snow in the garden and the temperature remains below the freezing point.  There’s no sign of spring in sight aside from a few confused American Goldfinches that have started to molt early.  We chiseled a path around the house but not much else. House bound, pretty much.

Reading books and plant catalogs keep me busy in winter.  With plant and seed catalogs coming in non-stop, they have been keeping me going like a kid in a candy store.  With limited space, I will only add one or two new plants a year.  Since I started keeping honeybees four years ago, the first reason for selecting a new plant is whether it’s good for the bees and fragrance comes in second.

Some interesting plant and seed catalogs
Some interesting plant and seed catalogs

This winter I found an interesting book while searching for plants for bees; Garden Plants for Honey Bees by Peter Lindtner.  The great thing about this book is that it provides a variety of plants that bloom month by month, starting from February.  The book also provides information on the level of pollen and nectar each plant provides, from (*) as the least and (*****) as the most.  So, I keep going back and forth between plant catalogs and this book to make a decision for what to add this spring.

Good information on how much nectar and pollen each garden plant provides
Good information on how much nectar and pollen each garden plant provides

My friend, Andy, has given me an advance copy of The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, & Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History by Thor Hanson.  It comes with a package of pea seeds.  I’m not sure I will plant them since there is no indication that the seeds are organic.  The book is a fun read though.  I’ve learned a lot about chili pepper.  I’ve been growing a wide variety of chili peppers for years and just realized how little I know about their biology and evolution until I read this book.  I also learned that the coffee plant has developed a delicate caffeine balance to repel various types of insects and at the same time lures in pollinators that ‘lined up like morning commuters at their favorite espresso stand’.  It gave me the idea to try using coffee as a natural insecticide in my garden.  The book won’t be in stores until April though.

How plants evolve to ensure the survival of their species
How plants evolve to ensure the survival of their species

Yes, late winter is the time for me to start seedlings.  Side stepped to the subject of books and lost track while I writing this post.  I will have to start my tomato and chili pepper seedlings this week otherwise they will not have enough time to mature and bear fruit.  I will add Japanese Shishito, a very mild pepper and Indigo Cherry Drops tomato to the vegetable list.  A variety of Helleborus will be added to the flower list for early spring flowering for bees.  I can hardly wait to get my hands dirty.

Tea For Cold And Flu

A Remarkable Home Remedy; Ginger Tea

It is late winter now and so far we’ve escaped without suffering colds or flu (although my fingers are crossed).   With the unforgiving winter weather this year many of my friends and colleagues have come down with either colds or flu.  Some took flu shots but got sick anyway.  I had a flu shot some years ago and it made me feel sick so I haven’t repeated it since.

Even with the temperature going up and down from 50 to 0 F. within days and not enough sleep, we still managed to ward off colds and flu.  What we have been doing aside from staying away from people who are sick, is drinking our home made ginger tea.  There are no tea leaves in it, just ingredients that can be purchased at any food store.  This tea recipe was passed along from my grandmother and it does the trick for us.  We keep sipping it once we start to feel something coming on.

The end product of my ginger tea in a cup our friend gave us two years ago.
The end product of my ginger tea in a cup our friend gave us two years ago.
Fresh ingredients are the best
Fresh ingredients are the best

Home made Ginger Tea recipe:

  • Fresh ginger, peel off the skin, puree and squeeze the juice out.  I make enough to fill one small bottle at a time and keep it in the refrigerator for a week (usually finishing it before then). I use one table spoon for one cup of tea.
  • Honey, one tablespoon per cup of tea.  I dissolve it in hot water before adding other recipes.  That little jar is from our own hive.
  • Fresh lime juice, one tablespoon per cup.
  • Rose hips, approximately a tablespoon of either fresh or dry.  This is optional but adding it increases the level of vitamin C.
  • Liquor, one teaspoon per cup of tea.  I use Patron Tequila infused with Bhut Jolokia chili pepper but Brandy, Cognac or B & B will do.  It helps to warm you right up when it’s really cold out.  This is optional as well.  But remember, it’s the sparing use of alcohol that the body uses.  If you get a buzz from it, you used way to much, hence the reference ‘teaspoon.’

Hot ginger tea without lime juice, rose hips and liquor is also good for indigestion and bloating.  Just using fresh ginger juice with a little bit of honey to make it more palatable. Sip it when it is still hot.

Rose hips picked from Rugosa 'Hansa' rose last season.
Rose hips picked from Rugosa ‘Hansa’ rose last season.

Rugosa roses (Rosa rugosa) are not just pretty, fragrant and hardy, they are also the best for producing rose hips.  Rugosa ‘Hansa’ and ‘Foxi’ provide a lot of rose hips for me.  I’ve been eating some ripe ones right in the garden and dry the rest for using until I get a fresh batch in fall.

Rugosa roses are also bee friendly, both bumble bees and honey bees, love them.

Rugosa 'Foxi' produce fragrant flowers in abundance from late spring to fall.
Rugosa ‘Foxi’ produce fragrant flowers in abundance from late spring to fall.
Rugosa 'Hansa' is a fast grower and once it blooms it won't stop blooming until fall
Rugosa ‘Hansa’ is a fast grower and once it blooms it won’t stop blooming until fall

 

Helping Monarchs And Other Pollinators

Growing Milkweed

I forgot about an article I had read on the effort to rescue the Monarch butterflies from extinction.   Setting the Table for a Regal Butterfly Comeback, With Milkweed by Michael Wines in The New York Times on 12/20 may be old news but it is still good news for pollinators, and the Monarchs specifically.  It would be very interesting to see wild native flowers growing in the divided area of the highways and along the road again.

The Common Milkweeds (Asclepias syriaca) in our garden grew by themselves, probably from seeds that the wind dropped off.  I let them grow and flower.  To my surprise, the flowers are fragrant and the honeybees love them.  I never thought that they were fragrant as the varieties of Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), its relative, I have grown have no scent.  Now, I have even more incentive to grow them, not just ignore them, in the garden.

For gardeners who like to help the Monarch butterfly by growing Milkweed, please note that:

  • They are easy to grow, but hard to get rid of.  Their shoots can sprout up in unlikely places.
  • All parts of the plant are toxic.
  • The ‘milk’ liquid that oozes out of a broken part of the plant can cause skin irritation.

Aside from the down side, they are drought tolerant, fragrant, and bees and butterflies love them.  The shoots are also edible, when extremely careful and well cooked.  Here’s a short photo profile of this beautiful weed…

Cluster of fragrant flowers
Cluster of fragrant flowers
Close up
Close up
Seed pod
Seed pod
Dry seeds that will germinate where ever the wind takes them.
Dry seeds that will germinate where ever the wind takes them.

Below are Butterfly weeds (Asclepias tuberosa), it’s relative.  They come in very bright colorful colors of yellow, orange and red.  They’re much shorter than the Common milkweed but branch out, not just one straight stalk.  Butterflies, bees and ants love them.

Bright Canary yellow
Bright Canary yellow
Another colorful relative, with bright orange
Another colorful relative, with bright orange
Monarch caterpillar with a hitchhiker Aphid
Monarch caterpillar with a hitchhiker Aphid
Milkweed Tussock caterpillar is also commonly seen on the plant
Milkweed Tussock caterpillar is also commonly seen on the plant

Flowers For Bees (Continued)

Summer Flowers

Summer flowers in our garden are easy to grow and most of them are drought tolerant.  Having a full time job I have to be practical about what I plant in the garden.  I water the vegetable garden regularly since most of the vegetables don’t do well without constant care.  The opposite goes for the rest of the garden.  Most of them are doing fine being left alone.  I weed, prune and feed them when I have time.

So, summer flowers for bees are the ones that will bloom even when neglected.  Here’s some of what I grow..

This lady goes from flower to flower, non-stop
This lady goes from flower to flower, non-stop

Black-eyed susan ‘Gold Sturm’ (Rudbeckia fulgida var sullivantii ‘Gold sturm’) helps brighten up the garden even when everything else wilts.  Bees and butterflies love them.  The seed buds become finch food. It is also much more compact and mildew resistant than other varieties.

I need air traffic control on the Butterfly bush
I need air traffic control on the Butterfly bush

Butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) lives up to its name; it draws butterflies in like moths to a light.  It has a lovely sweet fragrance.  The down side is that it’s very invasive if you let the flowers set seeds.

Honey bee and bumblebee sharing nectar on an Echinacea
Honey bee and bumblebee sharing nectar on an Echinacea

I should have classified Echinacea under herbs since it has herbal properties.  This one is a native that will grow wherever the seeds drop.  The birds also like the seeds.

A good day for this honey bee since no wasps are not around yet
A good day for this honey bee since no wasps are not around yet

Well, a lot of people see this Goldenrod (Solidago) as a weed but I found the bright yellow flowers really beautiful.  It can take care of itself even along side the road where nothing else would grow.

Summersweet ranks right up there with the Butterfly bush
Summersweet ranks right up there with the Butterfly bush

Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) is another flower that lives up to its name.  The fragrance is sweet to the point of intoxication when enough of them bloom at the same time.  The white one above is called ‘Vanilla spice’ the pink one below is ‘ Ruby spice’.

Here, they're sharing again.
Here, they’re sharing again.
She goes from flower to flower
She goes from flower to flower

I grouped a variety of zinnia together this year and they came out really nice.  I also planted them where they can get full sun all day long.  That helps the flowers to stay longer and suffer far less mildew on the leaves.

Flowers For Bees

Let Herbs Flower

Since I started keeping honey bees, the decision on what plants to add to our garden factors in the honey bees as one of the reasons.  I used to think of fragrant, native, butterfly and bird friendly as reasons to choose a plant.  Flowers that butterflies love is not necessarily good for bees.  The butterfly has a very long proboscis, much longer than bee mandibles, so it can easily access flowers for nectar that the bee can’t reach.  If I can find flowers that are good for both of them, it’s perfect.

The first group of plants that work well for both butterflies and bees are herbs.   I have to let them flower, not just keep eating them and make sure to cut off most of the spent flowers.  I let the mint set seed many years ago and it has been a mistake I’ve been paying for ever since.  I have a forest of mint that I can’t get rid of.  Though it smells nice and I can and do use it in many ways, it grows faster than I can consume or give away.

I made the same mistake last year with Anise Hyssop, but they’re easy to transplant.  I dug the seedlings up and replanted them in a group at the edge of the property and they turned out pretty nice when they flowered.  The American Goldfinches love snacking on its seeds so they help to reduce a burgeoning plant population.

A small variety of the herbs I grow is below and aside from being great in many food dishes, in salad and tea, they are also magnets for bees and butterflies.

Spiky lavender blue flowers look lovely when growing in a group.
Spiky lavender blue flowers look lovely when growing in a group.

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is a good source of nectar for bees.  The flowers and leaves can be used in salad and tea.  I love the smell of crushed leaves, very soothing.

Star shaped blue flower, sometime pink, is a beautiful addition for a vegetable garden.
Star shaped blue flower, sometime pink, is a beautiful addition for a vegetable garden.

Borage (Borago officinalis) has lovely star shaped flowers in blue, white and pink.  I have both blue and pink in the garden, still searching for white.

Calendula comes in many shade of yellow and orange
Calendula comes in many shade of yellow and orange

As much as birds like to eat the Calendula (Calendula officinalis) seeds, there are still plenty left for self- seeding.  The petals can be used in tea and salad or as a substitute for saffron as well.

Pure white, spiky flowers attract so many types of bees and wasps
Pure white, spiky flowers attract so many types of bees and wasps

I don’t think I have to write much about what we can do with the mint.  I wish it wasn’t so invasive.  But I no longer feel guilty when pulling it out and putting it in a garbage bag.

What can be more perfect for Italian bees than Oregano?
What can be more perfect for Italian bees than Oregano?
I'm not sure whether to classify this under vegetable or herb since its properties fall under both.
I’m not sure whether to classify this under vegetable or herb since its properties fall under both.

The bright Canary yellow of a Bitter Melon flower (Momordica charantia) has a sweet fragrance that is very strong on a cool morning.  Bees, Hover flies and small butterflies love it.

Milkweed

Yes, It’s a Weed But….

I have no idea how Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) aka Milkweed came to be in our garden.  They just showed up two years ago and have stayed ever since.  Getting rid of it proved to be not an easy task, but taming it is quite easy.  I just pull the stalk out of the ground.

The first year it showed up, I let it grow without realizing that it would expand outward as its runner travels underground.  It’s classified as a weed but I think that’s in the eye of the beholder.  Milkweed, for me, is a lovely fragrant flower that I don’t have to take care of.  I let Milkweed take up residence in the garden for many reasons.  First of all, if you ever smell its flowers you will let it grow too.  In a good weather day I merely have to walk by and its perfume finds my nose.  The flowers are small and very pretty too.

Milkweed also provides food for Monarch butterfly caterpillars as well.  Their population is diminishing since we, humans, are getting rid of Milkweed all along their migration path for the sake of conventional farming.  I just hope to be able to save a few, if they are able to get here.  I saw a couple of them last year but haven’t seen any this year.  I hope it’s because it’s too early for them and not because they didn’t survive.

I can’t ignore how much the bees love the Milkweed’s flowers.  The honey bees from our hives don’t have to go too far for their nectar.

And, I can eat them if I want to.  I know the liquid that oozes out of the plant will make the skin itch and every part of the plant is toxic if not fully cooked.  There are books providing ways to harvest and prepare them, two notable ones are:

  • The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer
  • Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide by Thomas S. Elias and Peter A. Dykeman

I haven’t tried eating them yet, just sticking with Dandelion and other flowers I know that are edible like wild Daylily and Moonflower.  I know if I think long and hard enough I will be able to come up with more reasons for letting Common Milkweed grow in our garden.

Milkweed flower
Milkweed flower
Milkweed flower close up
Milkweed flower close up
Honey bee taking nectar from the flowers
Honey bee taking nectar from the flowers
Busy taking nectar
Busy taking nectar
Young seed pod
Young seed pod

Flowers For Bees

Something I Overlooked:

This year will be my second year as a beekeeper and hopefully I will do a better job than my freshman year.  At this moment I just hope the bees survive this roller coaster winter.  I know there are still some bees in the hive since I’ve seen dead bees on fresh snow all the time.  I would consider it a small but vital victory if I have a new generation of bees born into and multiplying in our garden, as short as life is for them.

Well, since I can’t do much of anything outside or help the bees in any way I’ll just search through a pile of catalogs for plants that are good for bees that I can add to the garden.  It just dawned on me that there are many other ways to provide pollen and nectar for bees than just growing plants I find in catalogs.  While cataloging photographs I’ve been taken either in our garden or while on vacation, I’ve found some simple facts that I’ve overlooked regarding plants for bees.

  • There are water plants that bees love, like Waterlilies (Nymphaea) and Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera).
  • Letting some weeds flower.  Bees forage on weeds such as Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), White Clover (Trifolium repens), Goldenrod (Salidago canadensis) and Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota).  Weeds to us but food to them.
  • Let leafy vegetables flower.  Vegetables that we seldom allow to flower because we eat their leaves, like Arugula (Eruca sativa), Broccoli Raab (Brassica rapa), Bok choi (Brassica rapa) and Mizuna (or Japanese greens).  Last season I couldn’t pick them fast enough so they flowered and the bees were all over them.

I’ve been letting Goldenrod and Queen Anne’s Lace grow for many years because I like their flowers.  I think I’ll have to make friends with the Dandelions.  Then add more of a Sedum I just found in a catalog (so far) for fall foraging.

Here are little happy bees on some plants mentioned above; the 1st three are from vacation on the other side of the planet:

White water lily
Plenty of bees on white waterlily
Purple water lily
The coming and going of the bees on this purple waterlily was non-stop
Pink Lotus
This pink Lotus attracted more than honey bees
Bee on Queen Anne's Lace
A honey bee on Queen Anne’s Lace
On Broccoli Raab flower
On Broccoli Raab flower
Bee on White Clover
On White Clover
Bee on Goldenrod
On Goldenrod

Flowers For Bees in Late Summer

Still A Lot More

Autumn will be here in a week; September 22nd is the first day to be exact.  I don’t really go by the date when I think of autumn.  I depend on the temperature and plants in the garden to tell me that fall is coming.  The same goes for spring when I’m prompted to start sowing seeds by the sprouting of weeds.

I know I have a few flowers that bloom until the first frost, but haven’t been concerned until this year when I acquired honey bees.  I want to make sure that they have enough natural food to last the winter.   The temperature has been down below 50F in the last couple of nights, but has gone up between 70F and 80F during the day.  The honey bees won’t come out foraging until the temperature is above 50F, but the resident Bumblebees have been very busy from early morning until last light.  There doesn’t seem to be any competition between them.  They seem to co-exist pretty well, unlike the wasps.

There are still plenty of flowers in the garden, Garden phlox, Coreopsis as well as herbs and vegetables flowers.   I let the Goldenrod (Solidago) grow and set seeds.  I know it is a weed but what constitutes a ‘weed’ anyway.  On the other side of the globe, Goldenrod is a cut flower and being sold in the market.  Farmers Markets in NYC also sell them.  I guess the phrase “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” still rings true.  I like them for the bright yellow flowers when there is not much else blooming, and for how much the insects and birds love them.  Our resident honey bees can also forage on them from mid-summer to fall.

Honey bee and wasp sharing the Goldenrod for a moment, before the bee was bullied out.

Clematis ‘Sweet Autumn’ (Clematis turniflora) really has a perfect name.  As soon as the temperature cools down, it starts to blossom.  It is a sign of autumn approaching.  They create a cluster of small white flowers so dense that they look like snow from afar and they are lightly but beautifully fragrant.  A plus side?  Bees love them.  A minus side?  It can grow to 30 feet in one season.  I cut everything down to a couple of feet off the main branch in spring; it grows right back on to our roof by the end of summer.

This bee has a lot of pollen to carry back, but still adding more to her load from Clematis ‘Sweet Autumn’.

Another autumn flower is Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’.  It’s great for full sun and dry areas, and it’s hard to kill.  As soon as the flower blossoms, the whole mop head will fill with all types of insects.  I’ve never really liked it much, but it came with the house so I keep it.  I keep dividing them and replanting them in an area that doesn’t need much care.  I may look for a different variety next year since I want to provide a variety of food for my resident bees in fall.

Taking nectar from Sedum

Abelia (Abelia grandiflora) is another staple for mid-summer to frost blooming.  This compact shrub with dark green leaves provides little white cluster flowers with a light fragrance.  I don’t have to do much aside from cutting some old stems off at the base in spring so it doesn’t get too crowded.  Mulching with compost once a year keeps it in good health.

No bees on this one, but Bumblebees and day-flying moths are frequent visitors on this Abelia.

I can’t leave this last one out, Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii).  This lovely shrub can be very invasive if I let the flowers set seeds.  But it makes up for the down side by providing a lot of beautiful and fragrant flowers.  They are still blooming in our garden in September, though less than a month or so ago, but still providing scent for the garden and food for the insects.

Honey bee taking nectar from a Butterfly bush. Notice the little, pink tongue.

Flowers For Bees – A Great Trade

Making Their Lives Easier

I know bees fly for many miles to collect nectar and pollen, but since they’ve entered our lives now, I’m hoping that I provide enough flowering plants for them to be happy closer to home.  I wouldn’t insist they just forage in our garden but at least I can encourage them to do so by providing them with flowers they like.  I’m not sure the bees are that particular, but I am providing them with wholly organic flowers to work.

Fragrant flowers make up most of our garden.  The runners-up are wild and native flowers.  Since I started to keep bees, I have been searching for plants that will provide nectar and pollen for them.  Surprisingly, a lot of plants and flowers we have in our garden already are suitable for bees.  I should have known since we have a lot of Bumblebees, Carpenter bees, Sweat bees and other insects that thrive on nectar.

One of the blogs I’ve been following has posted Favorite English Garden Bee Plants – Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) and provided a list of plants for bees from The Royal Horticultural Society which I find very helpful.  I can’t place all plants on their list from across the pond in our garden but I’m going to do my best to add more.  Another blogger and beekeeper on the other side of the Atlantic has also posted What’s flowering now: mid August 2012 regarding flowers for bees in late summer.  In response to the last line on her blog, here’s what’s still blooming in the garden on this side of the Atlantic, despite the heat, thunder storms and hail.  Our bees still have plenty to put in storage for the winter.

Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota). It’s a beautiful weed. I let it grow every year for its beauty and for foragers.
Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) ‘Vanilla Spice’. This is a great summer flower, highly fragrant and a butterfly and bee magnet.
Another Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) ‘Ruby Spice’.
Hanging on to a White Clover, another weed.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet?
This bee seemed to agree with Shakespeare since she has been working on this William Shakespeare rose for a while. Highly fragrant and a re-bloomer.
Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii), another butterfly and bee magnet. Highly fragrant, fast grower and very invasive if you let it set seed. But, it’s worth growing if you want to have butterflies in your garden.
Echinacea ‘White Swan’, one of many Echinacea in the garden. Not exactly in focus but I didn’t want to miss a chance to capture their co-existance by stopping to set a shutter speed.