By Lisa Millette
Originally printed in the Turtle Tree 2015 Catalog
At Turtle Tree, we are interested in educating the gardening community so that they can grow and care for the earth more effectively and confidently. This spirit of education also encourages the sharing of new (or perhaps long forgotten) tips and experiences fostering open dialogues among gardeners, growers, seed savers, and food enthusiasts.
In recent years, supporting the honey bee and providing food sources for our local pollinators has emerged as a topic of importance. We’ve come to realize how much weight rides on the back of our pollinators to get food on our tables. Thus, a common question we’ve been fielding is: “What are good bee plants?”
When planting out an area for bees, it is important to have a diversity of plants that bloom throughout the seasons – some early blooms, mid-season, and late season flowers. Plant swatches of the same type of plant so they can be easily found. Make decisions on what to plant based on how much time and cultivation you would like to put into your pollinator garden.
Bees enjoy many perennial herbs such as Bergamot (Bee balm), hyssop, Echinacea Purpurea (coneflower), sage, chives, and lavender – these plants will come back year after year and provide you and your bees with culinary delight! Crocus, columbine, and lilac, are early blooming perennial flowers loved by bees, while cup plant and sedum bloom in the fall, providing late season nourishment.
Anise hyssop, borage, dill, basil, phacelia, buckwheat, cosmos, foxglove, dahlias and sunflowers make great annual herb and flowers for your bee garden. Buckwheat and phacelia are especially wonderful to include as they are early bloomers and will reseed themselves.
Ever thought about growing your own apples or peaches? Flowering trees or shrubs such as fruit trees bloom in the spring producing much needed early season nutrition for bees.
From squash and cucumber blossoms to tomato and onion flowers, many of the flowers vegetables produce are loved by bees and are necessary for fruit and seed production. Allow members of the brassica family such as arugula, broccoli, or mustard greens to bolt and flower in the fall as they will withstand the first frosts providing pollen long after other flowers have died.
Many wildflowers and “weeds” also produce blossoms that are food for our pollinating friends. Chicory, black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia), cat mints (such as catnip), clovers, daisy, joe pye weed, goldenrod, and dandelions are just a few. Allowing these to flourish in your yard or at the fence lines of your garden will give the bees added reasons to visit your garden and provide habitat for other beneficial insects as well.
Open-pollinated seed sources are best for pollinator gardens as flowers from hybridized seed will not yield as much pollen. It may go without saying, and just in case: eliminate the use of pesticides, herbicides, or any harsh chemical that might poison bees.
So whether you keep your own bees or want to support native pollinators, add some flowers to your garden or yard this year! Even one container with one type of flowering plant may give that hungry worker bee with enough energy to complete her journey back to the hive.