Herbs for the Bees

Feeding Bees

by Sam Doll

Bees are responsible for at least one-third of our diet! Since these busy little creatures are so important to the food we eat, we thought it would be nice to spice up their diet (as well as ours) with some ideas to make a bee-friendly pollinator garden!

Here are a few herbs that you and the bees will love to eat this summer

Sage:

Great for giving that classic flavor to meats and, if you are daring, can be a great addition to some classic adult beverages (check out this Sage Bee’s Knees Cocktail). Sage is a hardy perennial that loves well-drained soil and lots of sunshine, which means it does great in a container. This herb also preserves its flavor past flowering, which means it can feed you and the bees at the same time!

Lemon Balm:

A perennial herb native to the Mediterranean, with a wonderfully gentle lemon scent in the mint family.  The fragrant, inconspicuous but nectar-rich white flowers will attract honey bees.  Leave the blooms for the bees for a couple of days, then trim them off to prevent self-sowing.  Lemon Balm is often used as a flavoring in ice cream and lemon balm pesto and in herbal teas.  Use the fresh leaves in chicken or fish dishes as well as with fruit and fruit juices.  The same goes for any member of the mint family (peppermint, spearmint, and catnip included). Basil: Sweet, Thai, cinnamon, lemon, lime, purple, and Christmas are just a few of the basil varieties available to you. Basil is a versatile and easy to grow herb that originated in tropical Asia and has been cultivated for thousands of years.  This warm-weather annual has a refreshing, aromatic flavor that makes it a classic ingredient of many Italian and Southeast Asian dishes. Try using it in a classic Thai basil Soup. Make sure to trim the flowers before they go to seed to prevent the flavor from changing.Green leaves of basil growing in a small pot.

Thyme:

An easy-to-grow, drought-tolerant herb used to flavor food, as an antiseptic, and in essential oils.  The leaves of this warm, pungent spice that can be used fresh or dried in many dishes, marinades, and sauces. For an easy dish, try this oven-roasted potatoes and carrots with thyme recipe. Thyme will attract both bees and butterflies!

Chives:

The surprisingly beautiful chive blooms are as tasty to the bees as they are to us! The blossoms are oniony and spicy. They are often used to make chive blossom vinegar, which is often used in salad dressing, or just can be chopped up and added to any savory dish for some flavor and color!

Purple blooms of the herb, chives.

Lavender:

The most timeless and versatile garden flower around, lavender flowers and leaves can be used in everything from homemade cosmetics to confections. It is especially nice to use in a simple, homemade sugar scrub. The blooms are perfect for attracting all the neighborhood honeybees.Purple lavender blooms with honey bees.

Other great pollinator-friendly herbs are bee balm, chicory, dill, fennel, hyssop, and rosemary.

 

Start Your 4th of July Party Now

Firecracker Penstemon

By: Sandy SwegelFirecracker Penstemon with brilliant red tubulalr flowers on tall stalks

Get your Fireworks and start your 4th of July party now.  One of my favorite things about perennials is that you plant them once and they bloom year after year.  Their appearance every year becomes one of the sweet rituals of the garden.  Bright red Firecracker Penstemon is a favorite neighborhood ritual of mine.  Some 15 years ago an older lady in the neighborhood planted red firecracker penstemons around her mailbox on the street.  She called it the 4th of July flower because the little stand of 3- ft tall red flowers that had grown around her mailbox in the hot beating sun were always in bloom on the 4th of July.  Over time, the display got more elaborate as purple salvia were planted at the base of the penstemon. Later white alyssum was growing all around in the rocks.  It was a true red white and blue extravaganza.

A few years later I noticed other mailboxes in this suburban neighborhood had firecracker penstemons growing up around them.  The whole street was decorated for the 4th of July.  I never did find out if everyone liked the idea and planted penstemon too or if some middle of the night guerilla gardener spread penstemon seed everywhere.

Firecracker penstemon is a good choice for mailboxes in the sun next to the street because it tolerates high heat and drought which both plague mailboxes in the sun next to concrete sidewalks.  The only caveat is that penstemon is one of those perennials that doesn’t bloom until its second year, so you’ll have to wait a bit for the start of your annual your 4th of July explosion of red.

 

Photocredits:

https://nargs.org/forum/penstemon-eatoni-eaton-firecracker-or-firecracker-penstemon

http://extension.usu.edu/rangeplants/htm/firecracker-penstemon

Three Wild and Spicy reasons to grow Wild Arugula

Gardening Tips

by Sandy Swegel

Wild arugula is my favorite spring green of the week and this year it’s the first thing I’ve seeded out into the garden during our warm spell.

Similar to regular arugula, wild arugula has a “wilder” taste and thinner leaf.  It looks quite like a mustard weed when young if you aren’t familiar with it.  Definitely a cool season crop as once the temps get to 80 wild arugula can be quite bitter.

It is very easy to grow, as mustards often are, and can handle less than ideal soil and water.  (Watch out…low water makes it even spicier.). I like to plant it somewhere it can establish itself as a perennial that I can just pick a few leaves now and then to add some zest to dinner.  But a Spring garden patch is essential to get cups and cups of the greens to use in making pesto.

 

So here are my three favorite wild and spicy reasons to grow wild arugula.

SPRING SALADS

Arugula has a nutrient profile similar to other spring tonic herbs like dandelion and nettles, but I like the taste even better for salads or lightly steamed.

PESTO

Wild arugula pesto is an absolute favorite.  Make it with garlic, olive oil, walnuts and Parmesan or goat cheese and you have a fantastic sauce for fettuccine noodles, topping for pizza or spread for appetizers.

POLLINATORS

Naturally, foods that are favorites of pollinators are favorites of mine.  Once summer sets in, wild arugula bolts and sends up tall tiny spiky yellow flowers that pollinators love.  I’ve seen all kinds of bees and butterflies snacking on the wild arugula flowers from summer through late fall.  I also snack on them….I like the flavor of arugula flowers even better than the leaves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credits

https://www.dherbs.com/articles/featured-articles/wild-arugula-pesto/

http://honest-food.net/arugula-pesto-recipe-pasta/

Wild Arugula; Delicious Low-Water Beauty

Alyssum

Wildflower Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

It’s time to give the last garden award of the year: Latest Bloomer of the Year. Late blooming flowers are important because they are the last nectar and pollen sources of the season for bees and other pollinators. Bees especially show up on sunny Fall days when the warmth prompts the bees to leave the hive but freezes have already killed off all the flowers except for a hardy few who have little warm micro-ecosystems.

It’s a tie this year. The day after Thanksgiving only two flowers were in bloom: Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritima, the annual, and yellow perennial alyssum, Aurinia saxatilis.

Perennial alyssum is the Spring yellow cascading ground-cover known as “Basket of Gold“. It’s glory days are Spring, but it throws out tiny yellow flowers here and there most of the year. The cooler weather of Fall spurs on more flowers and the bees can see those bright yellow flowers from far away.

White or Sweet Allysum is the annual often found in planters mixed with geraniums. It is sturdy, blooms all season and has a very sweet smell. Bees love it all season long. It reseeded itself which is how it made itself at home between pavers on a stone patio. Adorable, hardy and bee food. What a flower!

So, dear Alyssums, we salute you this year as latest bloomers. The bees appreciate your food and the humans love your beauty as winter gray takes over our once colorful gardens.Basket-of-gold AlyssumSweet AlyssumPhotos:

http://typesofflower.com/alyssum-flower-beautiful-meaning-with-gently-care-flower/alyssum-flower-annual-or-perennial/
https://roundrockgarden.wordpress.com/tag/parsley/

Quit Working so Hard This Fall

Garden Clean Up

by Sandy Swegel

The old adages say cleanliness and hard work are virtues. That may be true in your kitchen, but in the garden, a little sloth can save many lives and make your life a little easier.  Mother Nature isn’t just messy when she clutters up the Fall garden with leaves and debris….she’s making homes for her creatures.  Old dead leaves may look like clutter that needs to be tidied up, but it’s really nice rustic sustainable homes for many of a gardener’s best friends.

Here’s who is hiding in your garden this winter if you DON’T clean up.

Ladybugs in the garden beds next to the house.  Ladybugs want a nice sheltered home safe from wind and exposed soil. I most often find them under the leaves and dead flower stalks in the perennial garden.

Butterfly larvae (aka caterpillars) in leaf bundles. Sometimes in winter, you’ll see a couple of leaves looking stuck to a bush or tree or in a clump on the ground.  Often there’s a butterfly baby overwintering there.

Lacewing at the base of willows or in the old vegetable garden.  Insects don’t work very hard in the fall either.  Often they are eating happily on the aphids in your vegetable garden or your mini forest and just go through their life cycle right there.  They lay their eggs on the bottom of leaves and the leaves fall to the ground.  If you clean up too much, you’ll clean up all the beneficial insect’s eggs

Slugs in your Hosta garden. Even slugs are a good thing to leave for the winter.  They will be plump food for baby birds next Spring.

The bottom line is don’t do a good job of cleaning up in the Fall.  Take away any very diseased leaves.  Clean up the thick mats of leaves on the lawn so they don’t encourage lawn fungus.  But leave the flower stalks with seeds and the leaves in the beds.  They insulate and protect plants and insects.

Another good reason to be a little lazy this Fall.

Photos: http://www.nashvilleparent.com/2013/07/fall-for-fun/http://antsbeesbutterfliesnature.blogspot.com/2009/11/overwintering-caterpillars.html

Food for Fall Pollinators

Wildflower Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

Fall is a great time for birds and bears.  Gardens and natural areas are full of seeds and berries for getting the calories needed for winter.  Pollinators like bees, flies, butterflies, moths and insects need nectar and pollen food sources.  When I was in the foothills this weekend I noticed that native sources of nectar weren’t very evident. We haven’t had much rain so some late-season flowers finished earlier.  There were still tiny white aster blooms and stray late blooms of Penstemon, Liatris and Gaillardia, but this is nothing like the abundant feast of spring.  Poor pollinators…Fall must be a difficult time…addicted to sugar all summer and then have it all cut off.

 

Fall is one time when it’s good to have nice irrigated areas with annuals and non-native plants so that you can feed the pollinators of fall who are still active.  In home gardens this week I saw dozens of butterflies, bees and moths on late-season annuals like Verbena bonariensis, Cosmos, Zinnias.  Our love of home gardening is very helpful to pollinators.

 

Cornell University released a study this year about monarch butterflies.  While it is true that milkweed is the only food of the caterpillars, adult butterflies eat from all flowering plants.  This time of year the monarchs need a lot of nectar and pollen to give them the strength to migrate back home.  The monarchs can find nectar in areas gardened or farmed by humans.

 

So for those of us who love pollinators, providing some fall habitat with blooming flowers is very helpful to butterflies and all the pollinators. The longer in the season they eat, the better the chance they’ll survive winter.  To get ideas for what to grow, notice what might still be blooming in wild areas and where the pollinators are actively feeding in gardens.   Each year I give out awards to the plants I know for things like “First Bloom of the Year” or “Best Season Long Performer.”  The last award of the growing season is “Last Bloom of the Year.”  Sometime in November long after a hard frost, there is still some little single perennial flower that had several bees visiting it.  Most years it is blue Scabiosa, but Borage is putting up a last-minute burst into bloom.  Who won the last bloom of 2016 in your habitat?

Photos:

http://monarchbutterflygarden.net/are-native-only-wildlife-gardens-starving-fall-pollinators/

http://diet.yukozimo.com/what-do-honey-bees-eat/

Ask Me Anything

Gardening Tips

by Sandy Swegel

Ask me Anything

About gardening that is. That’s what I tell people when I’m looking for blog ideas or a little fun.

So the answer this week in the form of a question was from my friend Jim:

“Why do sunflowers follow the sun but then all die facing the same way?”

That was a puzzler. I had to look that one up…fortunately there was just an article in August in the journal Science.

 

Sunflowers do follow the sun as long as they are still growing. The start off facing east and follow through the day facing west at sunset. Overnight, they grow and face east by sunrise.

This has long been known to gardeners and scientists…but Science answered WHY they do it. Because flowers that face the sun are warmer and attract more pollinators than those facing away from the sun. Well, that’s a good way to make sure you are pollinated. Very clever Mother Nature.

But then there’s the question of why they all face East when they die. It’s actually much simpler than that. Sunflowers only follow the sun as long as they are growing. Once they reach their full mature height, they no longer grow taller. The main stem thickens and hardens and no longer moves with the sun. It stops in a position facing East. So that’s naturally where it dies. Why? Again, it’s just to entice the pollinators. An east-facing flower warms up earlier and stays warmer longer during the day when most pollinators are feeding.

The one exception to this rule? Wild sunflowers. They have so many small flowers at all kinds of angles, they face every which way. Their leaves tend to follow the sun while growing, but the flowers are all over the place.

 

So, thanks for the question, Jim.

Next! Ask me anything you’ve wondered about gardening.

 

Photos:

http://rebrn.com/re/this-sunflower-doesnt-want-to-face-east-492414/

https://redlegsrides.blogspot.com/2010/08/sunflower-sunrise.html

 

Bees Sleep

Gardening Tips

by Sandy Swegel

One evening near dusk in the garden, a gardening friend’s inquisitive granddaughter asked: “Where do bees sleep?”  This obvious question brought on a googling frenzy.  We could guess that honey bees might sleep in the hive. But what about the 4000 species of native solitary bees?  Hive-dwelling honey bees are a small percentage of the total bee population.

The answer should have been obvious:  Bees sleep on flowers! How adorable!

 

To be more precise, male native bees usually sleep on flowers.  When the female bees are laying eggs and raising young bees, they often sleep in solitary nests in the ground.

Sleeping on flowers has lots of advantages. It’s soft and very convenient.  You wake up and there’s breakfast (nectar and pollen) served in bed!

 

Some of my favorite stories of bees sleeping come from the squash bee family.  Squash bees spend their day inside a squash blossom.  As evening approaches, the male squash bee makes himself comfy as the squash flower wilts and closes around him.  In the morning, not too early, the flower opens again and the bee begins a new days foraging.  If the female bees have made nests, the nests are usually in soft dirt under the squash fruit.  So if you are growing pumpkins, it’s likely there are some young bees growing up under one of those pumpkins.

Foraging bees need the most sleep.  You’ll often find bumblebees taking an afternoon nap on a flower, all tuckered out from a hard day’s work. Younger bees and bees that do less foraging often just take short little 30 second naps.  Honey bees sometime sleep in the hive and sometimes they like to camp out and sleep under the stars. Next time you see a bee, motionless on a flower, don’t worry, it’s not dead…it’s just taking a nap!

 

 

Photos:

http://www.yalescientific.org/2015/03/bzzzzzz-the-bees-need-for-sleep/

http://www.arkive.org/honey-bee/apis-mellifera/image-A18941.html

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-06/natiive-bees-daisy/6918448

Seven reasons to grow Agastache

Wildflower Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

The number one reason, of course, is because hummingbirds love Agastache.  I was trying to pull a few weeds yesterday and at least three different hummingbirds were dining on the Agastache blooms…with one dive-bombing me to get me out of “their” territory.

As I enjoyed the late afternoon sun amid the buzzing I thought six more reasons I REALLY love Agastache.

Startling beautiful flowers

Complex blossoms in multi colors with long tubes.  Mine are orange and red.  Agastaches come in several colors in red-orange-apricot sunset colors.  Another Agastache (Lavender Hyssop) is blue. The Agastache stems make for an interesting addition in a cut flower arrangement.

Interesting Foliage

This Agastache (Agastache rupestris) has thin airy leaves that look quite blue.  An interesting texture when planted en masse.

 

Divine Fragrance

My little patch smells like root beer.  There’s a whole series of Agastaches named after the bubble gums they smell like.

Great in a Mixed Border

This little patch grows in the lavender bed.  When the lavender is in full display, the Agastaches are still small.  Then as the Agastache come into play, the lavenders are still putting out a few complementary purple flowers.  Orange butterfly weed is planted next to the Agastache making both look more interesting.  The Agastache reseed gently throughout the border.

Attract bees and all kinds of pollinators

Yesterday I saw hummingbird moths, native bees, honey bees, a huge bumblebee and some tiny flies…in addition to the hummingbirds.  Butterflies were there earlier in the day.

 

Photos:

monarchbutterflygarden.net/5-butterfly-flowers-attract-monarchs-and-hummingbirds/

 

Squash Bee

Peponapis: A Squash Lovin’ Bee

Jul 19, 2016 04:54 pm | thebeeswaggle

by Jessica Goldstrohm

Did you know some bees are very dependent on particular species of flowers?

This lovely bee is the squash bee, and I was fortunate enough to discover her, along with may others nestled inside squash flowers of a good friend’s garden! This was a very healthy and thriving collection of squash bees, and they are very specific to squash plant reproduction.

Squash bees are quite predictable in the flower preference they have; squash flowers, any type of squash flower, but it must be a squash flower.  They fly very early in the morning, sometimes before dawn seeking the opening squash flowers.  The females will spend much of the morning nestled inside squash flowers, circling the stamen of the flower, collecting nectar and pollen for their nests.  In fact, you will often find groups of squash bees within each squash bloom, absent of any conflict among them.

 

Squash bees are solitary nesters, meaning they work independently to build her nest, lay eggs, and collect all resources for the eggs they lay.  However, they may nest in aggregations of hundreds, kind of like apartment buildings are to humans. We live next to each other, but we all lead separate lives.

Squash bees prefer to nest VERY close to their favorite flowering plants, so you will most often find their nesting holes in the ground under squash plants.  Females will retreat to he nest come rundown, while males find a nice squash flower to sleep in until morning.

This activity continues throughout the summer, and partway into fall, then all the existing bees die, leaving behind the next season’s generation nestled all in a row of egg cells containing adult bees.  This new generation of bees will hibernate until the following spring or early summer when the squash plants are flowering.  Squash bees are so particular about the flowers they feed on, that their lifecycle revolves around squash plants!

I’m sure you may have already arrived at the question of what does that mean for them when we go to clear the dead squash plants at the end of the season?  Well, too much deep tilling can lead to complete destruction of a mother bee’s hard work.  Squash bees nest approximately 1.5 feet straight down into the ground, so only rigorous tilling harms nests. Leaving some of the plant behind can serve as insulation to the hibernating bees through the winter.

Next time you see a squash plant, take a peek inside to see a group of squash bees, and look under the squash plant for any holes in the ground that might be a squash bee’s nest.

There you have it! Another native bee we depend on to get resources we all enjoy in the fall!  I can’t wait to have some zucchini from my plants, and pumpkin too!  So many things occurring right beneath our noses, and we miss them when we don’t stop and observe.

Cheers to joining the movement to save our bees!