Dandelions deserve a gold medal. One of the first links in that magical chain of events bringing dinner to our tables, this sunny flower is one of the first spring foods for bees. If bees survive the winter, they look to dandelions and other wildflowers for nutrition — so they can begin the work of pollinating our fruits and vegetables. As you know, the bees are in a pickle right now. Their population is dwindling. Let’s not kill off anything that helps the bees.
The final task in a honeybee’s life is foraging for nectar and pollen. They work until their wings wear out.
One of the eminent pleasures of winter is daydreaming about warmer days while looking out at a snow-shrouded landscape — a treasured moment in time, wafting back to the summer breeze or looking forward to the next. It’s a moment without toil, when the vision is in the mind and heart, and blooms without weeds.
I am blessed to be a beekeeper who gardens. I am always accompanied among my blossoming patches of yard and window boxes by the vibrant energy of the honeybees I tend. I treasure the moments when I can pause to watch them work flowers, gathering the nectar and the pollen in a life-giving exchange.
In my garden plan, I must envision a broader picture that goes beyond simple beauty to encompass a plethora of honeybee forage. Balancing out the seasons with honeybee-friendly sources of pollen and nectar can be a fun strategic element in garden design that provides a grounding sense of purpose.
Developing an awareness of what is beneficial (i.e., pollinator friendly planting and harvesting practices) and what is detrimental (i.e., lawn chemicals, unnatural fertilizers and pesticides) in your immediate controllable landscape can in part influence the arc of our evolution. Encouraging a healthy environment for everyone by raising the awareness in your community is even better.
Realizing that honeybees see colors differently than we do, in an ultra-violet spectrum, and understanding how their communication skills and anatomy influence their foraging can inspire a paradigm shift in garden planning and feed our passions for connecting with nature.
Years ago, I would never have imagined a garden leaning towards masses of blue flowers (such as Nepeta, Salvia, Anise Hyssop, Sea Holly and Blue Mist Spirea), with hints of pink and lavender (Flowering Chives, Creeping Thyme, Sweet Pepperbush, Autumn Joy), and the beaconing yellows of early spring (Vernal Witch Hazels, Pussy Pillows and Dandelions) and late summer (Heirloom Sunflowers and Goldenrods), among many other intriguing and delightful specimens.
Embracing the contributions of many of the “invasives” and “weeds,” as well as “flowering vegetables,” is all in the mix of positive pollinator consciousness. There is something elemental that heightens the joys of gardening by inviting and nurturing honeybees, the most prolific and communal of our pollinators.
If you have a garden in your soul, it doesn’t matter whether you have a window box, an urban/community garden plot or a stretch of acres. We each can invite honeybees in with the choices we make.
Grai St. Clair Rice is Co-Founder of HoneybeeLives.org
Featured image: Honeybee on Mountain Mint by John Baker.
Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture