Gardening for Bees


Last night was the second-to-last beekeeping class, which means we learned about bee food sources.  Alright, that probably sounds a little grander than it was.  What we really did was look at pictures of flowers and trees that some people in the class were able to identify down to Latin name, and that I just thought looked like flowers and trees.  I finally recognized thistle, but so did everyone else, which made me feel less special about it.

Bees eat sugar and protein.  The sugar comes from sugar water, nectar, or honey.  The protein comes from pollen or pollen substitutes (yes, there are pollen substitutes, for those of you who are dissatisfied by the new year-round hay fever season here on the east coast).  They collect it, they store it, and then they show us another pictures of a tree.

We’re setting up our garden for this year.  It’s larger than last year’s garden, and we’re employing lessons learned, such as “tomato cages were invented for a reason.”  Yeah, the tomatoes and tomatillos took over the garden last year, so this year we’re reining them in.  I’m making another attempt at turning the yard into a fruit salad this year.  We’ve got two pawpaw trees going into their third year, one of which should be taller than me by the end of the summer.  Raspberries, black raspberries, and blackberries in the two side yards, four potted blueberries, nine strawberry plants, two quince bushes, and a cherry bush.  That’s just where we’re starting the year.  I need to add two more cherries (they work best male and female, but I can’t remember which one I currently have, and the tomatoes smothered its mate), my wife is talking lemons, and I’m always on the lookout for more berries.  Those are my impulse buys when I’m in a nursery.  I’ve had my eye on some hardy kiwis for the past year, but that’s going to have to wait until at least next summer.

Yes, Virginia, you can grow kiwi plants.

Bees love them all, which is fantastic, because my history with them is spotty at best.  Some of the plants I’ve been waiting to mature.  The strawberries will be my third year of trying.  I’ve figured out when to pick the berries before varmints get to them, but I’ve yet to save blueberry crops from the damned birds.  Last year my wife and I each got a blueberry.

One last class next week, which will be nice.  Not only because we’ve confirmed that the mead maker in the club is showing up, but because I’m ready to get my Tuesdays back.  It’s shockingly disruptive to my writing momentum to lose Tuesdays.  I already do little to no writing on Thursdays because I’m attending my writers’ group.  Yes, that sounds ironic and counter productive, but I feel I get more out of that than I would from an extra night’s writing.  Losing two days a week, especially two non-consecutive days, is hard to work around.

The bees will arrive at the end of April.  Look for more pictures in these beekeeping updates when they do.  For now the only thing I can really photograph is the pile of everything in my basement, and that’s all just too big of a mess to show off online.

  1. avatar

    #1 by Ivy on March 22, 2012 - 9:58 am

    I have serious garden envy. We have apples and cherries, but most other fruit and nut trees get hit by frost while they’re still budding. The tree survives but you never get a crop. We had one pie cherry tree set a crop last year, and a flock of starlings came through one afternoon and picked it clean within a few minutes. Bird netting is your friend!

    Some of the hardy kiwi vines can be terrible pests. They’re even on invasive species lists in some places. Verify your variety before you plant one.

    Do you grow any flowers? In our yard bees love alyssum, which is crazy easy to grow, poppies of all kinds, and coneflowers, which take a year or two to establish but are really nice once they’re going, much prettier than pictures would suggest. I have no idea if they make good honey though. Thyme and borage are also huge bee magnets for us and borage has gorgeous flowers to boot.

    I’m looking forward to more beekeeping updates!

    • avatar

      #2 by DLThurston on March 22, 2012 - 11:02 am

      Quite a few flowers, but I don’t know all their names. We’ve got tulips coming up now, we’ve got both bee balm and butterfly bushes up, and I know the bumble bees in the neighborhood LOVED our blanket flowers, which is fine because I’m quite fond of them too.

      We’ve also got a lot of herbs, which apparently provide good nectar and pollen in the fall for bees.

      Didn’t know about the kiwi being invasive. I’ve seen them offered in sales held by the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia, so I’m hoping they’d offer the non-invasive ones.

      Plus we’re in Northern Virginia, so while we don’t have any cherry trees or weeping cherries in our yard, there are TONS in the neighborhood. Bloom right when the bees get started for the year.

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