What's up with the bees and what can YOU do?

What is up with the bees dying? While there is more than one reason, we have narrowed it down to just a few and one of them you CAN do something about! We planted monocultures instead of diversified habitats. We have acres and acres of beautifully manicured lawns without a dandelion in sight! We spray insecticides and herbicides to keep those green lawns green and weed free and oh, pest free, too! We are also keeping them free of everything that makes the natural world good. We have to stop doing this and go back to more natural methods.

Schroedingers Beehives - In a cluster right now, we don't know if they are dead or alive and won't until it warms up.

If you took my advice last fall, you have branchy sticks in your yard – the left overs from last years flowers. If you took my further advice, your lawn is looking.. well, weedy, too. And there in those weeds sits the future of your garden – the insects, good and bad, waiting for the spring. And we really do need them – even the bad insects have their place.

Towards the end of autumn, still green but messy.

Now is the time to transform your yard into a diverse multi-culture from that monoculture of grass. This takes a shift in your thinking for sure and it might take a challenge to city halls everywhere. Our futures depends on it because it’s one of the things killing the bees. If you seriously want to help our pollinators, there are specific plants you can grow that will help at all stages of the growing year.

There is a lot of conflicting information about what you should plant for the insects and that can be overwhelming to the new gardener. Here is a wide selection that would not only be beneficial, but would help our bees. Some of them are considered ‘wildflowers’ and others are actually herbs and veggies that will help you stay healthier, too! Just the act of gardening is good for your health – but you knew that, right?

Not only good for the bees!

Early on in the year, in the spring, these flowering trees and bushes not only feed the young spring bees and birds but they are also lovely in your yards and beneficial, too. Blueberries and Cranberries will feed you as well as the bees. Add to those permaculture bushes with a small Crabapple or Red Bud tree and then surround them with crocus, foxglove, hazelnut, primrose.

If you have a nice water source or just a damp area of your yard, plant willow and if you have a nice protected sunny bay – plant Rosemary. You might have to bring the rosemary back in for the winter but for the summer, it’s a bee magnet when it’s in bloom.

We’re speaking primarily of Missouri/Illinois, other regions have their own variations in climate and conditions, flowering times may be from late March on. Bumblebees, with their furry coats, can often be found bouncing around on even colder spring days so it’s very important for them to have early flowering plants.

As the season warms up towards Late May and Early June, the bees will be buzzing about all kinds of flowers and they won’t be just honey bees. All kinds of bees stay busy and we need all of them. Those little sweat bees that like to buzz your skin can’t even sting you but they do like the salt on your skin and the sugar In your soda. Worried about stings? Stay calm and don’t flail about – they might check you out briefly but they are really only interested in nectar and pollen and will soon lose interest in you.

Each one of my honey hives holds between 50,000 to 60,000 Little Sister Worker bees. There are a lot of baby bees (larva) to feed in the hive and only so much time to collect the bounty. During the spring and summer, all types of bees are out looking for nectar to feed their new broods. We need plenty of be friendly plants to insure they continue to thrive.

In addition to your permaculture beds for the spring, you should plant blackberry, catnip, chives, lavender, raspberry, sunflowers, forget-me-nots, comfrey, thyme, sweet peas, sage and passionflowers. While yes, several of these are flowers, several are also herbs and do double duty for the bees and for yourself and your family.

Oregano blossoms

Later on towards the fall, you need to plant late flowering plants that will help build up the hives with brood for the fat winter bees. These bees will not be foraging for most of their lives, they’ll be keeping the hive warm. They will be dragging in every last bit of pollen and nectar they can in preparation for winter.

To give them a hand, plant Asters in your perennial permaculture beds, along with borage, coneflower (echinacea), goldenrod, pumpkins, squash, snapdragon, cornflowers, bergamot, mint, and oregano.

To make it even more comfortable for insects to visit your garden, create a watering station – a bee bath! All critters need clean water – the birds and the bees will thank you for providing one. The bees can’t use your average bird bath, though, they need to have a shallow pool with rocky islands that they can land on without drowning. Your bee water station needs to be lower to the ground, more of a low shallow basin. Here at Windy Thistle, we have a pond just a short distance from the bee yard so water is always available to them. Keep your waterer clean of algae every day, though.

Adding a water element to your garden is a pretty thing, too. Park a nice bench nearby and watch your hard work pay off as birds, butterflies and bees visit you. Your bonus: You’ve contributed to saving our resources, you’ve made your yard beautiful with flowers and a water element and a seat to enjoy and you’ve walked a little further away from the monoculture that is a green lawn of grass and this is a very good thing. Extra Bonus, you’ve grown some herbs and veggies to grace your table, too!

Plant a garden to keep bees fed this year!

Follow Windy Thistle Farm’s blog and come along as we continue our journey to a sustainable farmstead. Comment and let me know what YOU are growing this year!

SPRING BLOOMERS: Blueberries, Cranberries, Crabapple, Red Bud Tree, Crocus, Foxglove, Hazelnut, Primrose, Willow and Rosemary

SUMMER BLOOMERS: Blackberry, Catnip, Chives, Lavender, Raspberry, Sunflowers, Forget-me-nots, Comfrey, Thyme, Sweet Peas, Sage and Passionflowers

FALL BLOOMERS: Asters, Borage, Coneflower (Echinacea), Goldenrod, Pumpkins, Squash, Snapdragon, Cornflowers, Bergamot, Mint, and Oregano.

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