Grow These For the Bees Garden Plan

Pollinator Garden landscape plan

Many pollinator species have suffered serious declines in recent years. Unfortunately, most of our landscapes offer little in the way of appropriate habitat, forage, and housing. Even the most beautiful gardens are not always healthy ecosystems. Design choices, plant selections, and maintenance practices can make a huge difference in creating your own healthy ecosystem, filled with life. As a garden designer, I use variations of this landscape plan for many gardens to attract the greatest varieties of pollinators.

Bradford Pears are typically planted in new developments which have very little value for pollinators

Native Bee Habitats

Mason bee habitats attract pollinators to your garden also. Simple strategies, such as providing bee habitats and gardening with an ecological community approach, contributes to species diversity, attracting and supporting more birds, butterflies, pollinators, and beneficial insects.

Mason Bee Houses for sale at a local garden center

Paper tubes or straws provide nesting areas for mason bees which are pollinator powerhouses, much more efficient than honeybees. Tubes of any kind can be used, like bamboo or hollow stems of sunflowers or other thick stemmed plants.

Bamboo makes a good tube for a mason bee house

A pollinator garden can be beautiful as well as useful. Strategies such as planting in groups of at least 3 to 5 plants is very important. A single plant won’t attract pollinators, but groups of same plants stand out and pollinators use less energy flying to a compact group of flowers.

Think of planting in blocks of color-border seen at Stirling Castle, Scotland

My planting plan for pollinators includes an array of plants that span the early spring-time starting with Aconites, Snowdrops, Willows, Crocus, and Scillas, ending with the late bloomers of Aster, Tithonia, and Agastache. Mid-summer is not an issue  to have blooming flowers in your garden; it is the shoulder season of early spring and late summer/fall that keeps pollinators going.

Early spring bloomers, like Winter Aconite, are very important early nectar sources
Agastache, Anise Hyssop, is a late blooming perennial that is very beneficial to all pollinators
Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium maculatum, is a butterfly magnet
Flies are an important pollinator; this is an early blooming Willow

Mixing shrubs and trees with perennials, annuals, and bulbs creates an all-season show of blooms for foraging bees for both pollen and nectar. Many of the plants are also host plants for caterpillars that produce butterflies. And caterpillars are the protein rich food that keeps our songbirds going as it is the primary food that many birds feed their young. For example in my plan, willows are known to shelter tiny overwintering Viceroy Butterfly larvae rolled up in a leaf. You could also plant an Oak nearby as according to Doug Tallamy of ‘Bringing Nature Home’, oak trees are top of the list for providing a host to hundreds of caterpillar species, critical for providing essential food source for birds and their young.

It is important to include both herbaceous and woody plants in your pollinator garden. Trees and shrubs not only provide pollinators with food but also offer protected areas from the wind and predators. Also, remember to plan for a sequence of blooms, staggering the flowering time of nectar sources so that butterflies will frequent your garden throughout the season. Water is an essential for attracting pollinators, and something as simple as a birdbath will work. Mud is the other ingredient that pollinators are seeking when they lay their eggs into the paper tubes that you put out for their use. So, don’t mulch every garden bed.

Side view of mason bee tubes reveals mud plugs placed between each egg
I created a meadow around my beehives

Meadow Creation

Meadow creation is an option if you have a large wide open area in full sun. Using a newspaper layer on top of the grass to smother it, you add compost on top and scatter wildflower seed.

A layer of newspaper is laid down first, then compost and seeds on top
Mix together seeds from various varieties to sprinkle on top
Tamp the seeds into the soil and sprinkle with water to jump start the seed germination
Mid spring, the plants are growing vigorously
High summer meadow

You need a sunny spot in your yard for a pollinator garden to be at its best. If your garden is shady but you have a sunny patio, plant containers full of annuals and perennials instead.

For recipes on planting pollinator-friendly containers, go to Nectar in a Pot-Movable Feast. 

An assortment of pollinator plants fill this container

Don’t excessively manicure your yard. Leaf litter, tall grass, stumps, and peeling bark provide pollinators ideal places to spend the night or to overwinter.

Don’t cut back all your perennials to allow insects places to overwinter
Poster available in my Etsy Shop

For more information on what plants to plant specific to pollinators, go to Plant These For Bees. 

Beekeeping 101

Taking off a perfect frame of honey

The best way to jump-start a conversation at a party is to tell people you are a beekeeper. Inevitably, people will barrage me with questions about my hobby and how they always thought of becoming a beekeeper themselves. Most people don’t have a clue of what is involved and for people who are intrigued but don’t know where to start, the following pointers should help you decide.

A frame of capped honey

How To 

If you are really thinking about beekeeping, first learn all you can about the basics from experienced beekeepers.  Oregon Ridge Nature Center conducts a local course by the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association which is called the ‘Short Course in Beekeeping’.  Starting in the early spring for 6 weeks and concluding with a delivery of a package of bees which you take home and install, this will jump start your hobby. Hands on demonstrations in a communal beehive will give you a good idea of how to set up your own apiary. The instructor is the State Apiary Inspector who will teach you basic bee biology, management of colonies, and extraction of honey, or as he describes it ” a full year of beekeeping”.

Join a bee club where you can get a mentor and support, and they order in Nucs for you to pick up

An excellent starter course with lots of reference materials available and encouragement and mentoring from experienced beekeepers, I was primed and ready to go when completed. Even if you are not interested in starting up a colony, the course is fascinating. If you don’t live in MD,  just search for a local beekeeping group to take courses from.  Increasingly, they are being held all over the country.  Attending one of these courses will help you to become a successful beekeeper.

Cross section of a standard hive
Peeking into the spinning extractor
Freshly extracted honey and beeswax

Cost

The expense of starting up a hive is considerable-hive bodies, feeders, the bee suit and hat, smoker, and various beekeeping tools will run a minimum of $600 to $1200.  For all the bells and whistles, it will cost considerably more. A good extractor alone could set you back $1000. I don’t own an extractor as I rent it for a reasonable sum of $10 from our local beekeeping association.  I would advise starting with two hives so you have a backup if one bombs. I sell my honey but only collect a fraction of the cost of what it takes to set up and maintain my hives.  Also, don’t forget that you will be buying many 20 lb bags of sugar a season to feed your bees! So, don’t consider this a money-maker –  more like a money pit!

 

You have to feed your bees sugar water in the spring and fall to keep them going

The initial investment is steep but once you have your basic equipment, the cost levels off. You can add other items that you need later on, such as solar wax melter, honey strainer, pollen/propolis traps, and a long list of beekeeping paraphernalia, which you won’t need right away.

Basic beekeeping equipment for sale

You can also buy used equipment from a local beekeeper to cut down on your start-up costs but make sure that the equipment is disease free. The cost of your initial package of bees with a queen will run around $145. A Nuc, which I prefer, is a miniature beehive with a laying/working queen will run you more like $170. By attending the ‘Short Course’, experienced beekeepers can help you to obtain the proper equipment that you need to get started.

Setting up and leveling two new hives
Knocking the package bees into my newly set up hives
Just hived up two packages of bees
A healthy beehive

How much work is involved?

Another question that is asked of me frequently is ‘How much time is involved?’, in maintaining your colonies. The lion’s share of your time is spent in the spring to make sure that the hive is happy and healthy. I spend at least 4-5 hours a week in the early spring, feeding, inspecting, and manipulating the hives. Manipulating the hives just means you are pulling your hive bodies or boxes apart, making sure that the queen is healthy and producing, and that there is sufficient room for her to lay eggs in the frames.

Caged queen ready to be introduced to the hive

Later when there is a ‘honey flow’, which means the favorite flowers that bees prefer are blooming in abundance, you need to add extra supers, or hive bodies  to your hives to handle the extra honey. Go to my post on Honey Flow to see exactly what this means. Bees normally will not produce excess honey the first year that they are hived as they are just starting out building a new home, but will produce extra in subsequent years. In the fall, I spend time taking off the supers (honey storage boxes), extracting the honey and feeding and weather proofing them to get through the winter.  I set aside one entire day to remove and extract my honey sometime in August or September. Throughout the winter, I clean and renovate my old hive bodies which become gummed up with propolis that the bees deposit on the boxes to seal them tight.

Adding feeders in the fall

Will they sting?

I have noticed a greater presence of honey bees in my flower and vegetable gardens and generally around my property. The bees use a nearby pond next to my patio for their water source, so the honeybees are very close to where people frequent. The hives are set about 100 feet from my house.

I created a meadow around my beehives

I have been stung many times as I manipulate the hives or extract the honey because the bees are protecting their territory and that is a natural response.  But if I am working in the garden or just sitting on my patio near the pond they never bother me. Guests have never been stung either.  Honeybees are non-aggressive unlike yellow jackets and wasps, and on their daily trips to collect pollen, nectar, or water, they will ignore you and go about their business. I have noticed improved production of my veggie garden and love that aspect of beekeeping.

Bee on butterfly weed

How about my neighbors?

Neighbors are definitely a consideration when you start your own hives. The best way to approach this is to let them know of your intent and to educate them about bees, i. e. – they rarely sting and will not cause problems with their family. I also screen my hives with some spruce trees so that they are not out front and center of my property and there is a buffer between my bees and the neighbors. It also helps if you present your neighbors with a gift of honey!

The gift of honey

Most people are fascinated with beekeeping and are quite curious about what you are doing.

The tall boxes are called supers and contain excess honey

Do you get honey? 

I have 3 hives now on 2 acres of property.  I normally will harvest about 150 pounds of honey from my hives each season and sell it to friends and give it as gifts. It is a fascinating hobby that you can practice on smaller pieces of property, even in a city.

My winter hives

By producing your own honey, you are getting a natural, unadulterated product that has no additives. Read my post about buying honey. Your own honey contains nectar from local wildflower sources  that is supposed to help people with allergies to pollen. I use my honey and beeswax not only as a sweetener, but for healing and cosmetic purposes.

Lavender scented body butter

Managing your own hives also makes good garden sense as it increases the pollination of your garden and will improve the yield of your vegetable garden.  Find out which plants to plant to attract bees at Planting these For Bees. Beekeeping is a big investment in time and money.  Hopefully, reading this will help push you to the tipping point in deciding if this hobby is for you.

Picking up bee nucs

Remember, that the honey bee is not native. Honey bees were brought over with the early colonists across the ocean to join the native American bees. But the European honeybee is the only one that produces honey.

Installing a package of bees in the spring

Pets

If you have dogs, especially black dogs, bees seem to target them. My previous border collie Gypsy, was so terrified of bees that as soon as I got my bee hood out of the shed, she fled! My current Border, Tori is totally unconcerned when I look at the bees but I have seen the bees go right for her and burrow into her fur and drive her crazy. So, now I just put Tori in the house when I open the bees up so that she is not tormented.

Bees do not like border collies!

If you live in areas where bears are common, beware! Winnie the Pooh’s favorite food was “Hunney” and bears are drawn to honey like kids to candy. I have relatives in Vermont who are always battling black bears.

A bee swarm on my property; Go to It is that time of year again

All the bad stuff

Yes, there are lots of drawbacks.  Your bees will get diseases and mites.  Mites are like little ticks that suck their blood and weaken the bees. As for disease, I couldn’t believe the number of maladies that bees can contract and pests that they attract! There is foulbrood, chalkbrood, colony collapse, wax moths, small hive beetles, deformed wing disorder, and numerous others. The list goes on and on and every year, it seems that a new malady is added! There are various chemical remedies and some organic ones also.  But it seems you are always trying to stay ahead of the latest disease.  You deal with these problems as it happens.

If that isn’t enough, queens are notoriously fickle and hard to find in your hive. The overall health of your hive depends on the state of your queen.  She must be young and fertile to lay those thousands of eggs a day!

Bees are making a new queen which is located in a peanut shaped cell

To be a good beekeeper, you should not have a fear of being stung and you should also be strong. The hive bodies when full of honey can easily weigh more than 50-80 pounds. You have to be able to lift them up and move those heavy boxes around by yourself.

Hives are heavy; these nucs weigh at least 35 pounds each

But beekeeping is such a rewarding and fascinating hobby, I continue to do it. I have been a beekeeper for over 20 years and feel that I have only scratched the surface in learning about this hobby. Maybe in another 10 years, I will feel that I know more about what makes bees tick, but I doubt it. It is always an adventure!

I am helping my neighbors set up their own hives

 

 

National Pollinator Week & Pollinator Contest

Eight years ago, the U.S. Senate in a rare unanimous approval vote, designated one week in June as “National Pollinator Week”  which addressed the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Last week was the official kick off of Pollinator Week, and the event has now grown to be an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles.  A proclamation signed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture every year designates a week in June to raise pollinator awareness. Pollinator Week was initiated and continues to be managed by the Pollinator Partnership, the largest non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to the protection and promotion of pollinators and their ecosystems.

The USDA holds a mini festival on pollinators in front of their headquarters in D.C.

Attending the festival in D.C. on a hot and humid day last Friday, I was impressed with the enthusiasm on display by volunteers and employees of the federal agencies to get the word out. Mason bee houses, giving out free pollinator plants and posters, and a giveaway of Haagen-Dazs ice cream were all on the agenda for the day. Haagen-Dazs is at the forefront of putting their money where there mouth is.

Cone Flowers are a great plant to attract pollinators

Honey bees pollinate one-third of the foods we eat, including many of the ingredients they use to make their delicious ice cream and they are concerned with the decline of bees. Quickly scooping out the ice cream in 95 degree heat before it melted, I appreciated the volunteers who braved the brutal heat.

Handing out free samples of Haagen Dazs
Educating the public about mason bee houses

On their website Haagen-Dazs loves honeybees, I read that they have donated more than $1,000,000 to honey bee research. Also teaming up with Xerces Society, Haagen-Dazs has installed the largest, privately funded pollinator habitat on the farmland of an almond supplier in California’s Central Valley. The newly-planted habitat consists of six and a half miles of hedgerow and 11,000 native drought-tolerant shrubs and flowering plants, impacting 840 acres of farmland.

This year’s poster for Pollinator Week
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2016 Poster

The creation of beautiful posters commemorates Pollinator Week and this years poster illustrates the annual migration of the monarch butterfly. It is available by going to Pollinator Partnership. The 2016 poster puts the spotlight on trees that are important food sources for pollinators. Go to Honeybee NectarFlow-Black Locust Trees to see my recent post on the importance of this local tree for my hives. Most people don’t think of trees as a valuable pollinator source, like they would with annuals and perennials, so I was happy to see the subject of the poster.  Because trees hold their blooms up high where you can’t see them, you don’t see the pollinator activity that you would down below with smaller plants. According to Doug Tallamy, who wrote Bringing Nature Home, Oak trees rank number one as supporting at least 557 species of caterpillars as a host plant, and Cherry trees as number two attracting and supporting 456 species of caterpillars. And to have butterflies and other pollinators like birds who feed their young ones butterfly larvae, you need caterpillars.

Oaks are top of the list for habitat

To make it easy to figure out what to plant, you can ask at native plant sales, visit nature centers, and go to websites like plants.usda.gov. This website has  regional and state lists of native plants that you can plant in your area which includes trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous plants.

BEE The Change Giveaway

Anyone who has or wants to teach kids (K-12) about pollinators through gardening, either a teacher, parent, community, or other organization is eligible to win pollinator plants and seeds to be awarded to 31 lucky winners. According to the KidsGardening website, “KidsGardening, American Meadows, and High Country Gardens want to thank educators and parents teaching children about Pollinators with the BEE the Change Summer Pollinator Garden Giveaway. The Grand Prize is a pollinator garden—up to 80 plants to cover an area of 1,000 sq. ft—designed by High Country Gardens Chief Horticulturist Dave Salman or American Meadows pollinator plant expert Mike Lizotte”. Sounds like a great contest and you just have to be teaching kids in the school or at home about these essential helpers. You can enter now until August 31, 2017 at KidsGardening.

Native bee house is a great project for kids, seen at the Ripley Garden in D.C.

 

My own poster Plant These For the Bees

 

 

Bee Balm-Pollinator Superstar

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Attractive to both hummingbirds and bees as well as humans, Bee Balm is one of my favorites as an early summer bloomer and easy to grow perennial. Commonly known as Bee Balm or Monarda, Bee Balm is “balm” to all flying insects and enjoyed by humans in teas and potpourri. Each flower head rests on a whorl of showy, pinkish, leafy bracts. Flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies.

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‘Jacob Cline’ Monarda, a good tall variety

One of the 21 superstar pollinator plants that I designed my poster with and available at TheGardenDiaries Etsy shop, Bee Balm is a pollinator superstar and always has many insect visitors on a sunny day.

Plant These For The Bees
Plant These For The Bees

 Other common names include horsemint, oswego tea, and bergamot, the latter inspired by the fragrance of the leaves, which is reminiscent of bergamot orange (Citrus bergamia). Bergamot orange is the flavor that gives the unique taste of Earl Grey tea.

A bee diving in!
A bee diving in!

From the roots, up to the flower, the entire plant has a spicy minty fragrance which quality repels deer and other browsing critters.

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Even rabbits shy away from Monarda

A valuable plant for landscaping because of this repellent attribute, Bee Balms now come in petite and dwarf sizes to fit into smaller gardens. Even though the entire dwarf plant is smaller, the flowers are the same size or larger than some of the taller varieties.

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Closeup of ‘Leading Lady Plum’

Although bee balm appears to have thin narrow petals, close up they are really little hollow tubes perfect for thin beaks like hummingbirds. “Leading Lady Plum’ has a scattering of dark plum spots on the tips of the petals, adding another color dimension to this standout variety.

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‘Leading Lady Plum’ Monarda next to ‘Heart Atttack’ Dianthus

The “flower quotient”, a term I use for the relative size of the flower to the size of the foliage, is greater than most flowers. When a Bee Balm blooms, it is stunning, unusual, and one that stops visitors in their tracks.

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Nymph Grasshopper hanging out on a Bee Balm Flower

 The red variety is commonly known as Oswego Tea. Used by colonists in place of English tea after the Boston Tea Party, when they threw the English tea in the harbor to protest high taxes. Bee Balm continued for years as a medicinal and enjoyable tea and was frequently planted next to colonists homes for ease of gathering. To make your own tea, just air dry some leaves and steep them in hot water.

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Red Bee Balm or Monarda makes Oswego Tea

Coming in an array of colors and sizes, you can find a Bee Balm for any size garden now, some even fitting nicely into containers. Hybridizers have been busy with this plant and every time I go to the nursery, I see another small variety pop up. “Small” is the key word here; Most plants being developed now have a shorter stature and larger more colorful flowers to appeal to gardeners with limited space gardens or containers.

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‘Pardon My Pink’ Bee Balm

Because of the diminutive size of the new varieties, I tuck them in when I have a bare spot in the garden. Enjoying some shade in the afternoon in hot climates, these workhorses will bloom their little hearts out-usually lasting for 2 months or more if you dead head. The larger varieties can spread aggressively and should be controlled before they encroach and overtake other perennials.

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‘Balmy Pink’ Monarda fits in small spaces

Prone to downy mildew which can mottle the leaves, the newer varieties are more resistant to this disfiguring but not fatal disease.

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Wild Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa, isn’t as showy but still a great plant for pollinators
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An old-fashioned variety ‘Prairie Night’

National Pollinator Week

pw2016_stickerENG

Eight years ago, the U.S. Senate in a rare unanimous approval vote, designated one week in June as “National Pollinator Week”  which addressed the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations.  In 2016 the dates are June 20 – 26 and the event has now grown to be an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles. The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture signs the proclamation every year designating this week. Pollinator Week was initiated and continues to be managed by the Pollinator Partnership, the largest non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to the protection and promotion of pollinators and their ecosystems.

Trees-For-Bees-2016-Poster_800x1260
This year’s poster, Trees for Bees, by artist Natalya Zahn, is a beautiful reminder of the many trees you can include in your pollinator-friendly habitat

The creation of beautiful posters commemorates the event and this years poster by artist Natalya Zahn celebrates trees  in the landscape that will help attract pollinators. It is available by going to Pollinator Partnership.  Most people don’t think of trees as a valuable pollinator source, like they would with annuals and perennials, so I was happy to see the subject of the poster.  Because trees hold their blooms up high where you can’t see them, you don’t see the pollinator activity that you would down below with smaller plants. According to Doug Tallamy, who wrote Bringing Nature Home, Oaks rank number one as supporting at least 557 species of caterpillars as a host plant, and Cherries as number two attracting and supporting 456 species of caterpillars. And to have butterflies and other pollinators like birds who feed their young tons of the butterfly larvae, you need caterpillars.

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Maple Tree flower: Most people don’t notice that bees are visiting flowers high in the canopy of trees

To make it easy to figure out what to plant, you can ask at native plant sales, visit nature centers, and go to websites like plants.usda.gov. This website has  regional and state lists of native plants that you can plant in your area which includes trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous plants.

etsy
21 popular flowers and herbs that attract pollinators

For seed sources, I rely on Botanical Interests for their great diversity and selection. You can order a seed packet from them, I Love Pollinators, #4007 which includes a mix of pollinator friendly plants- bachelor button, sunflower, borage, hollyhock, marigold, zinnia, hyssop, and dill. Costing only $1, all proceeds go to support the Pollinator Partnership which supports the health of our pollinators.

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This mix creates a pollinator-friendly habitat with annual and perennial flowering plants that supply pollinators with nectar, pollen, and shelter. To order, go to Botanical Interests.

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Calycanthus, or Carolina Sweet Shrub, is a great native addition to a garden that will attract many pollinators