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Gardening for Bees

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The Bee Book with bees and honey combs on coverDespite the snowy weather (or perhaps because of it) my thoughts have been turning to spring and what to plant in the way of bee friendly flowers. I have written about our plans for planting for bees on previous occasions but I have not yet mentioned a lovely book on bees that I received as a gift. The Bee Book (Fergus Chadwick et al, Dorling Kindersley Ltd, 2016). Verity gave me this as a birthday present in that year and we have turned to it for advice since then. Having said that, the main focus of the book is on keeping bees, the dizzy heights of which hobby we have not yet tackled. Maybe that will be one of our future projects. We might start off gently with making some homes for wild bees as demonstrated in The Bee Book. You can make houses with bamboo or wooden frames containing clay punctured with holes, the book giving excellent illustrated instructions. An example is shown of a really large bee palace but I think a simpler construction is better to begin with. Watch this space!Young foxglove plants by shed

In the meantime, we have been contenting ourselves with consolidating and improving our bee-related planting. I have posted previously about some foxglove seedlings that I was nursing along and these I then planted in a nice spot by the shed, under the lilac tree. They flowered for the first-time last season and we were delighted to watch bees crawling inside the flowers. I cut the plants down in the autumn so I am hoping that they will put up new growth and flower this year. As we were so pleased with the results of that batch of flowers, I set another tray of seeds from which I had a better crop of thirteen new plants. All thirteen were successfully planted out last September. I have grouped the foxgloves in two locations, in slightly shaded positions; some in a cluster around one of the lilacs and some in our bulb and wildflower patch. At the end of last season, I gathered up nasturtium seeds from the bed where they have established themselves in the last couple of years. I am planning to spread them more widely around the garden as they are another popular bee flower.

Page describing biennials

The book I mentioned above has a section on what plants are good to grow for bees, considering biennials, annuals, perennials, bulbs and so on. Each flower has a handy key so that you can tell what each one has to offer and to which variety of bee. For example, our foxgloves will appeal to both bumblebees (in particular) and solitary bees and is a source of nectar. I was pleased to note that one of our most prolific garden occupants, chive plants have a wide apian appeal, being a good flower for bumblebees, solitary and honey bees. The flowers have the double benefit of supplying both pollen and nectar. It is useful to have something in the garden early in the season when little food is available. Into this category comes snowdrop and crocus; snowdrops used by honey bees and crocuses by all varieties but again a favourite of honey bees.

Page describing bulbs for bees Ideally you would aim to cover as much of the season as possible with flowers to appeal to all of your bee visitors. The book also explains about the life cycle of bees, how they forage and the differences between the common garden varieties. Bees are fascinating creatures and I think I have much to learn! I hope to return to bees and The Bee Book further into this season and I will tell what new bee benefits are to be found in our garden.

In the meantime, it’s back to keeping cosy in the snow!

 

3 responses

  1. Hello Chris, my husband and I are wanting to get into honey bees at our house and eventually sell the honey. We will be starting slow, with one hive, and then expanding each year. I am trying to fill my head with as much knowledge as I can, but I have a long way to go. I wanted to plant wildflowers around our hive for the bees. I got this idea when my mother passed away in August. I was given a paper heart that you can plant with wildflower seeds all in this heart and I want to add more wildflowers with it. I have a friend that has honey bees and they pollinate all his neighbors flowers during the seasons and I absolutely love the honey it produces. I am very interested in learning from your blog so any recommendations from you will be appreciated.

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    • Chris Mills

      Hi Rhonda, thanks for commenting on the blog post (and for following the blog). I wish you good luck with your bee keeping plans. It’s something I would love to try, but it will have to wait for now. I’m contenting myself with planting at the moment and maybe making a habitat for solitary bees. If you’re thinking of flowers for bees, I have found that our best plant by far is lavender. We love it anyway, as we use dried flowers in craft items and sometimes fresh flowers in jellies. Anyway, all types of bees really love it and you can buy different varieties too. The butterfly lavender is really pretty. I have grown a couple of varieties from seed, which is the most economical way, though it depends if you have the time. I mentioned chives in the post – they are also very easy to grow (perennial herb) and will give you lots of seeds to re-sow if you want more plants. If you can get hold of the book I mentioned, you will find a great deal of expert information. I have also mentioned in a previous post Jane Powers, writing in the Irish Times about bees, which is useful. Hope that helps. Good luck and best wishes!

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      • Thank you for the words of encouragement. I love lavender, but I’m not sure how well it will survive in northeast Texas, although I’m willing to give it a try. I was advised to just go crazy with planting flowers and shrubs so I can’t wait to do that. I like the herb idea as well. Thanks for your advice, I can’t wait to see how I do with the lavender.

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