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Wildflowers Are for the Bees

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Just a few days ago, I was pretty excited when I received a package in the mail. Well, actually, I’m excited any day a package arrives, but this one was especially exciting. The package was not all that large; some of the inner contents were so small that they could be considered almost microscopic. And then some were much larger, say the size of beans. In fact, some of the particles in this particular package were, indeed, beans. If you don’t know me by now, then you are probably asking yourself, why in the world would I be so excited about a bean?

Well, if you know me a just a little, then you know that I am a bona fide seed-freak and seeds in the mail give me a rush like no other addiction could. What is it about seeds that makes so many gardeners weak in the knees and inspires poets to write impassioned sonnets? There really is nothing quite like holding a seed packet in my hand, envisioning the little black and brown gems inside sprouting into prodigious green plants that will produce a whole season’s worth of culinary goodness. And oh, what joy when I come across a forgotten package of seeds, only to get irrationally excited about the prospects. 

Okay, euphoria aside, I must point out that this package of seeds was purchased for a particular reason. A couple of summers ago, I wrote about my adventure with bee keeping and how I envisioned them to be detrimental to gardening. Who among us has not wandered through our gardens lauding the lone bee as she goes about the business of pollinating, making sure our zucchinis are well formed and that our cherry blossoms burst into scarlet fruits. We see them go about their work, buzzing from flower to flower, praying that every single bud will become something good and delicious. And we wonder—what can we do to help?

There is a saying that, for every one in three bites of food you eat, you have a bee to thank. A single bee colony can pollinate 300 million flowers each day. Fruits, nuts and vegetables are just a few crops pollinated by these incredible insects. And yet, bees are in a bad way right now. Their colonies are suffering from a plethora of problems. Many experts suspect pesticides, drought, habitat destruction, air pollution, climate change and, yes, nutrition deficit. There is much discussion and finger pointing about the causes of decline, but personally, I say we should just take an interest and do our best to move forward in helping our little friends in distress through these rough times. 

Over the past three years I have gone about the business of keeping several hives that, with the help of a good friend, are thriving colonies and have given me, my close friends and family gallons of honey. These wonderful creatures work so hard turning nectar from my flowers into honey for all my culinary delights. Honey has become almost a staple in my kitchen and it’s used in everything from sweetening my daily tea to slathering on a warm, buttered biscuit. It even suffices as a sweetener in my fig jam and comes in handy as a substitute for the molasses in gingersnaps.

However, does one merely think that these amazing little beings can produce gallons of honey out of thin air? Certainly not; they must have sustenance, and that is why my newly arrived package of wildflower seeds is so precious. Scattered over my little farm, the seeds will grow into a multitude of flowers producing enough nectar and pollen to sustain my bees through many a season.

Like all pollinators, bees have specific needs and tastes, kind of like our family members. Bees, as well as butterflies, prefer landing areas for mopping up the pollen and sucking up that sweet nectar, whereas hummingbirds are quite adapted to poking their long beaks into trumpet-like flowers for a meal. These are just some of the bee-friendly flowers my wildflower mix contains: butterfly milkweed, calendula, cornflower, coreopsis, cosmos, foxglove, California poppy, gaillardia, baby’s breath, sunflower, sweet alyssum, lupine, black eyed Susan, scarlet sage, marigold, crimson clover, nasturtium and zinnia.

Addressing the urgent issue of declining bee and pollinator populations, the U.S. Senate’s 2007 unanimous approval and designation of a week in June as National Pollinator Week marks a necessary step forward. After just 13 years, Pollinator Week has grown into an international celebration of the invaluable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles. This year, our hard-working pollinators will be honored from June 21 to 27. 

It’s not too early to plant flowers now in celebration of our pollinators this summer. Now is really the best time to plant, just before our rainy season really gets going. Planting wildflower seeds now will ensure the young seedlings don’t wither in the late spring to early summer heat. Choose a spot that gets at least six hours of sun daily and make sure that there is ample water to help get them going and keep them thriving, in case we don’t have a rainy season. Some annual varieties will bloom as soon as four to five weeks after planting, while perennials may not bloom until the second year. Once established, however, some perennials will come back year after year with very little care.

Not only do I feel great satisfaction from helping out my resident bees and other pollinating friends, but I shall also delight in the beauty and wonder of fields of flowers surrounding me this spring, and hopefully through the summer. So, get out your hoes and grab some seeds and join me in support of our MVPs, most valuable pollinators. Seeds are cheap and come in small packages, but the benefits are immeasurable.

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