Tag Archives: bees

The Joy (and Benefits) of Growing Bee-Friendly Flowers

I always thought of freshly cut flowers as a luxury, something expensive yet does not last. My husband used to buy bouquets for the house, but since I never made much of a fuss over them and eventually said my thoughts out loud, he stopped.

When I first grew plants on my balcony, it was all about practicality. I went for herbs and fruits for our consumption. I did have some tulips, narcissus, and lavenders but they were gifts. I enjoyed having them, and I did take care of them, but growing flowers only became my conscious choice until this year.

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In the spring, Ian and I started a beekeeping course. We learned to keep bees in a biodynamic way so that we could assist them in their honey making and surviving as strong colonies rather than interfering with their activities to get the most honey. As it would take us a year to learn and god knows how much more time to get our place and keep bees ourselves, I looked for another immediate way to help the bees. The answer was as simple as it should be: growing more bee-friendly flowers.

Before the course, I didn’t know that not all flowers were bee friendly. Some industrial bred flowers have complicated petal systems that prevent the bees from getting the pollen. Also, if farmers use pesticide on their flowers, the chemical gets to the bees and could harm them. However, with a quick search, you can easily find lists of bee-friendly flowers for where you live. Our teacher also gave us some seeds so that I could start straight away.

So I set out in early spring, and here are the highlights of my first year as a flower grower who wants to help the bees.

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Cosmos

Cosmos

Cosmos is the winner of this year for me. It comes in many vibrant colours, and it lasts for a long time. On my balcony, cosmos was the first to flower at the beginning of June, and the last to go away in mid-November.

cosmos in autumn

Cosmos in mid-November

The plant is easy to grow and resistant to ill-treatment, such as overwatering or extremely dry. Over the summer, I took several trips abroad, a week here and there. At first, I set up a watering system for all the plants, but it was a lot of work. Eventually, only the tomatoes and herbs were hooked up, but the cosmos survived just as well. So if there is one thing for sure, it’s that I will grow more cosmos in the coming spring.

sunflower with a bee

A sunflower and a bee

Sunflower

Sunflower is awe-inspiring. A sunflower plant in a pot can grow taller than 1m60. The flowers are of vibrant yellow and brown colours. It’s also super fun to watch bees waddle among the disk flowers

Sunflower is picky, though. It doesn’t grow well being repotted. Because of the size of the mature plant, you will need a 40cm+ diameter pot from the start. When it grows over 50cm or during the height of the summer, you need to water it twice a day. Also, most plants, despite their giant size, often have only one flower head. A lot of work for one flower head, I would say. This year, I had six containers, but perhaps I will reduce it by half next year to make my life a bit easier.

going wild mix

Can you spot the bee?

Going wild for the bees

I have a few pots with random flowers that I didn’t know the names. These seeds were either given to us by our beekeeping teacher or from mixes I got from the local store, specifically for bees and butterflies. Many of them I have never seen before, but the bees, butterflies, knew about them and sought them out on our balcony all the time. We even had a damselfly visiting once.

They are flowers that grow naturally in the wild, strong enough to stand harsh conditions with no care. You might need to water now and then, but that is about it.

And you will be welcome each morning with beautiful surprises like this one:

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Or this one:

 

When I decided to grow more flowers, it was just for the bees. I didn’t know that I would enjoy seeing more colours in my garden so much. Also, the joy of seeing bees on our balcony was priceless.

When the bees visit you, it isn’t just for socialising. They collect pollen and pollinate flowers at the same time. Thanks to them, you get seeds, like sunflower seeds, and fruits. Also, the smell of some flowers can scare harmful insects away. Marigold, for example, is beautiful, bee-friendly and its fragrance keeps away the insects that harm your tomatoes. So, everyone is happy.

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Marigold – Tomato Cohabitation

 

 

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Four things I’ve learnt about honey bees

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Recently, I signed up for a beekeeping course because I want to know how I can help the bees. You might have heard that they are dying out.

Unfortunately, my course got canceled before I go into the practical parts of keeping bees. But I did learn some very cool facts about bees that’s definitely worth sharing

1. The flappy insect
Honey bees can flap their wings more than 200 times per second. 200 flaps in one blink of the eye. Doesn’t that sounds amazingly cool?

I found it even cooler that they flap their wings to adjust the temperature of their hives. By creating air flows, they can heat up or cool down their hive to the ideal temperature all year around. So when you pay for both central heating and air conditioning, the bees just move their wings really fast.

2. They like to dance
They do waggle dance to communicate with their hive mates about a new source of food, for example. They make a series of zig-zag moves to indicate the direction of the food source in line with the sun. Pretty clever, I would say. And it is really fun to watch.

3. An orderly society
A colony of bees includes a queen, a dozen drones and many many workers. They all have their tasks and their destiny.

99% of a bee colony are worker bees. They live for about a month (or more in the winter), and basically work themselves to death. Worker bees take care of many things, from household stuff (like nursing the baby and cleaning around the hive) to more “manly” tasks like guarding the door or collecting food and building honey comb. Remember that they are all girls!

There are male bees, too. They are the drones. But they don’t do any of the above tasks. So when food is scarce in the winter, drones often get kicked out of the hive. No contribution, no rent. Harsh, isn’t it? So make yourselves useful, folks.

You would ask what do drones do. Actually, their only job is to mate with a queen when she is out on a mating flight in the summer. However, they die right after the act. Again, it seems to me that drones have it pretty rough.

Every colony has a queen who bosses others around to tend to her needs and the one of her babies. She mates only once with a few drones, and will be fertile for life, which can last from three to five years. During her life, she keeps laying eggs to establish and expand the colony. A queen can lay up to 2000 eggs per day. Hardly any sex and a lot of births. I am not sure that I envy the queen much if at all.

4. Their food and our food

Honey bees feed on pollen and nectar from flowers and trees. Pollen is used as food to feed the young, while nectar will be processed to make honey for winter storage.

While bees take pollen and nectar from plants, they do give something back. They pollinate crops such as apples, cranberries, melons and broccoli. Some crops, like cherries, are 90-percent dependent on honey bee pollination. I was told the story of bee keepers who move their many bee colonies across the States every March – almond bloom time because almonds depend entirely on the honey bee for pollination.

Plants actually love bees. They create a special range of colours in their flowers, that visible to bees (but not human). Recognising the colours, bees know exactly where to land, get the pollen and do the deed of pollinating for fruits. 

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But bees are dying out because of the heavily use of pesticides and the out-of-control parasites. Some cold-hearted optimists say we should not worry about pollination. There will be more robots to do it instead of the bees. Or just very cheap labour for now.

But the bees are such amazing creatures. They are more than their work of pollination. They are more than their possession of honey. They fly around on sunny day, making that lively buzzing noise. They can teach us a lot about hard work, orderliness and sacrifice. And they are so cute when they dance.