Sunflowers: Good for Bees and Birds

This article is applicable every year, and sunflowers never get old!

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Photo taken by: Jessica Goldstrohm

Sunflowers are an icon of summer, and sometimes a beautiful centerpiece in a fall bouquet.  Our eyes are captivated by their varieties and astonishing heights they can reach in a growing season. We enjoy their seeds at baseball games, and their oil in salad dressing, but there is more to the story of the sunflower that includes the lives of bees, and birds.

The sunflower blooms do not appear until the middle of summer, and will continue to bloom into the fall months.  Each flower is host to as many as 2000 individual flowers called florets.  Sunflowers are adorned with copious amounts of pollen, and deep within each floret is a tasty drink of nectar for any interested visitors.  If you look closely at the photo above, you will see yellow dust all over the bottom petals!

Pollen is half of the reproductive equation in flowers, and is produced on the male part of the flower, the anthers.  The other half is the egg, which lies deep within the female part of the flower, the ovary at the base of the stigma.  Interestingly, the sunflower has evolved to display anthers with pollen on them first, sans the stigma of the flower.  Oh, and let’s not forget that this “one” sunflower contains up to 2000 individual flowers, each containing both male and female parts.  So, each floret stands the chance of becoming an individual seed capable of growing into another sunflower with 2000 more florets!  This is a seed producing machine!

Who is responsible for transferring the pollen to the right place at the right time? Bees!

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Photos taken by: Jessica Goldstrohm

Bees are after a vegan meal consisting of nectar, first and foremost, and then pollen.  As they traverse across the sunflower bees transfer pollen from florets with pollen baring anthers to florets baring open stigmatic structures ready to pick up pollen.  If you look closely at the top photo of the sunflower with a pollen-caked bumblebee snacking the nectar in each floret, you can easily recognize that the bee is very effective at picking up pollen and transferring it to just the right spot.  The bees do not know that their visits to flowers results in the plant’s replication; they are really only there to feed.  The middle photo shows a green sweat bee feeding on the florets of the sunflower, and you can really see where the anthers (yellow dots) are, and where the stigmatic structures are (on the periphery of the yellow dots).  The anthers are the first to appear in this process, while the stigmatic structures show up after, and this order of events prevents self-pollination of the plant, which results in fewer seeds and oil of lesser quality.

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Photo taken by: Jessica Goldstrohm

So, the bees spend their time traversing and reveling in the nectar provisions of the sunflower from mid-summer into the fall, and then something remarkable happens.  The flower goes from this beautiful, bright bloom like the one above, to this…

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And what was once covered in pollen and filled with nectar becomes a seed-filled delight for birds! Each seed is full of protein and fat for birds, and other interested visitors.

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All photos taken by: Jessica Goldstrohm

What started out as a wonderful provision for bees became a delicious meal for birds, because each piece fed the other. The flower fed the bees, the bees transformed the flowers into seeds, and the birds enjoyed their feeds!  What a lesson of interconnectedness this is.

Sunflowers are native to North America and grow well everywhere! Consider adding them to your yard next spring so you can feed both bees and birds, and maybe you’d like a taste of the sunflower seeds too!

Here are some wonderful resources on all things Sunflower:

History of the Sunflower

Following the SUN

Plant Them

Sunflowers

Thank you for joining the movement to save our bees!  What’s good for the bees is also good for the birds!

 

 

 

Natural Weed and Pest Control

I have had many inquiries on this topic, and I would like to post some solutions for you to use as an alternative to poisons.

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Weeds do have value to pollinators, as most produce blooms that carry highly nutritious contents for pollinators.  However, they can be overwhelming in their growing power, and we need ways to control them without poisoning the soil and the things that feed on them.  I would like to begin by saying I allow dandelions to bloom, and pull each and every weed I do not want growing in specific places when the blooms have closed and are heading into seed phase.  I never use chemicals, not even vinegar and salt.  I would like to urge you to do the same, but I realize we all need options, and I am providing you with some choices that are non toxic.

  1.  Boiling water (BEST).  Pouring boiling water over weeds cooks them, and kills them.  Water is only water, so it’s okay for it to get into the soil and ground water.
  2. Spray straight White Vinegar on the leaves of weeds being careful not to go overboard.  Too much vinegar in the soil isn’t good for the pH of the soil so it will affect the balance of the existing underground ecosystem if it is applied excessively.
  3. Spray a mixture of salt and vinegar…and then maybe pull them, roast them, and eat them?  Just a joke.  The recipe is 1 cup of salt into 1 gallon of vinegar. This is my least favorite approach because adding salt and vinegar to the soil will burn neighboring plants, and disrupt the soil’s pH. Colorado’s soil is already very salty.

Wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets are the other most popular topic of seasonal pests.  I don’t consider them much of a  pest because they eat other insects, which makes them a very important part of the food chain.  So, instead of finding ways to kill them, I find ways to coexist.  They do not like peppermint oil, lavender oil, or eucalyptus oil.  So, the best prevention is to spray a mixture of these oils with water around the areas you’d rather them not set up shop, beginning in early spring.  Be persistent in applying this spray until May, as they will have found an ideal location by then.  

The recipe is as follows:  1 tsp of peppermint oil; 1/2 tsp lavender oil; 1/2 tsp eucalyptus oil into 2 cups of water.  Use a good spray bottle to apply this mixture anywhere you do not want them present.

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Remember that every living thing has a purpose, so frugally controlling them is in our best interest! I hope you are preparing to host a multitude of pollinators in your yard this summer!  Thank you for being part of this very important movement to save our bees!

Jessica

#pollinateCO

#savethebees

Just say NO to pesticides

No Longer a BIG mystery is an excellent, quick read, explaining why pesticides are under so much scrutiny.  Our food resources are at risk, because pollinators are struggling to survive, and it is undeniable that their struggle is due to pesticides.

There is a strong case against pesticide use regarding pollinators, but what does this mean for our health?  What are pesticides doing to humans, as we eat foods that have been sprayed or even have pesticides circulating throughout?  If pesticides are poison to pollinators, and this group includes birds, and birds are mammals, so are we, then what makes us think we can just dismiss pesticides as a potential threat to human health?

Have a look at this article and spend some time thinking about habits you may be willing to change to make this situation a better one for all of us.

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Cheers to joining the movement!

Jess

A Little Dirt Won’t Hurt!

Last week I wrote about the importance of adding forage (flowers) to your yard.  Shelter is another provision can easily met for various species of bees.  Keeping native bees is very simple, just add a few things to your yard, and sit back and watch the changes occur!

70% of native bees nest underground, and the others nest in plant material, whether it bee hollowed out stems or dead wood.

Ground nesting bees will look for bare patches of soil or sand, and begin digging tunnels.  These tunnels will then soon be filled with many egg cells developing into adult bees destined to emerge the following spring.  It is ideal they are able to find nesting sites near food, as most native bees do not travel far from home to collect nectar and pollen (most only fly between 200-1500ft to forage).

Providing shelter for these ground-burrowing bees is simple! Just leave soil bare; under bushes, trees, and other plants.  Skip the mulch and watch residents occupy those spaces.

 

Twig-nesting bees nest is in hollowed out stems or deserted holes.  Easy ways to provide shelter for these bees is to have a bee house with reeds or wooden trays/blocks with appropriate sized holes for them to nest in.  You can also leave stems which are naturally hollow until the following summer, to ensure any nesters emerge before you remove the dead plant material from your landscape.

 

Other bees will nest in dead wood, by carving nesting holes into it, and using sawdust to partition individual egg cells from each other.  So placing logs in your garden, near flowers would be wonderful for these bees.

 

Some additional provisions include mud, sand, and leaves.  Many bees will love a pile of dirt, as they will use mud to create partitions between egg cells, such as is displayed in the image below. Other burrowing bees may prefer a sand supply to partition egg cells, which would also look very similar to the image below.

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Others might use half-moon shaped pieces of leaves or pedals from surrounding lilac bushes, peonies, or rose bushes to form egg cells as seen below.  Not to worry, your flowering plants will be okay despite the missing pieces of leaves; these bees only take exactly what they need, and this never equates to a destroyed plant.

 

Adding shelter for native bees doesn’t commit you to any more beekeeping activity than you already do.  Providing shelter is an essential part of sustaining, and even boosting, native bee populations. Once you have taken the steps to add forage and shelter, you can sit in your yard and enjoy the activity of these interesting species from spring to fall! 

Cheers to an essential movement to save our bees!

Jess

 

Colorado Native Plants for Pollinators

Hello! I thought it would be beneficial to share with you a list I have compiled to plan for Colorado yards!

I did some research to construct a garden consisting of food for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds in Colorado. I also wanted a group of plants that would bloom at varying times to provide food for pollinators from Spring to Fall. This is a wonderful selection to produce color from spring until late fall. And you will be a food provider to bees and other pollinators in all three seasons!

I will help you go native with the following list:

Valley Lavender

Turkish veronica

Salvia (red or purple)

Bee balm

Dalmation daisy

Catmint (bees of all sizes congregate on this plant)

Hissop/Agastache (of any variety, especially the red ones)

Coneflowers

Columbines

Hummingbird trumpet mint

Chocolate flower

Smooth blue aster

Cashmere sage

Blanket Flower

Russian sage

Bluebeard

A big vegetable garden

And, please do add some Sunflowers to your landscape every Spring! They are beautiful and provide many pollinators with food. Some of the above flowering plants may also be native to your area if you are outside of Colorado. A great resource for everyone is plantnative.org. 

It isn’t too early to begin planning for spring’s planting list!

If you like to plant seeds, bbbseed company based out of Boulder, has some wonderful native seed mixes that produce beautiful flowers all three seasons too!

Come join the movement and help our pollinators!!

 

Forage Rhymes with Porridge

Forage is to bees what porridge is to us, food.  

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Forage is the technical term for flowers. Flowers contain a complete meal to whomever will dine at their beautiful tables of color.  Pollen provides a complete protein enriched bite, while nectar provides a rush of carbohydrates ready for immediate energy.

Flowers add such beauty to any landscape, and it’s time we plant more in our own yards.  They not only add beauty, but they sustain the extremely important lives of pollinators.  

This truly is the simplest, most “hands-off” way to help the plight of pollinators.  In doing so you may become a native beekeeper by default, because native bees nest close to their food sources, and how lucky would you be to benefit from the pollination bounty as a result!

Native bees have taken the back seat to the honeybees, but they are extremely important and are just as in danger as honeybees.  They don’t make honey, so we haven’t taken to “keeping” them, because “what’s in it for us?”

Well, I will tell you this, our livelihood is what’s in it for us, and it’s the easiest “beekeeping” you’ll ever experience!!

Native bees will roam between 200 ft – 15o0 ft, with exception to bumblebees who roam one mile and beyond, to find flowers to feed on.  This means that if you see some of these native bees foraging in your yard, they are likely nesting there too, and guess what? All you needed to do was plant flowers!

The distance a bee travels is largely based on its size. The smallest bee family, Perdita measures from under 0.1-0.5 inches long!!  Perdita will travel no further than 200 ft to forage.  200 ft doesn’t seem far to us, but to these little bees, it’s an amazing feat and they do it many times each day to collect enough pollen and nectar for their eggs!

The larger native bees, with exception to the bumblebees, measure between 0.5-1 inch in length, and travel between 600-1500 ft.  1500 ft is like flying over four football fields one way, just to get food.  Now imagine being only 1 inch long and flying your little wings that distance to get groceries, and not just once each day, but multiple times! Are you impressed? I am! I think one trip to the grocery store in my car one time each week is plenty, and that takes minimal energy stores from me.  I cannot imagine what these bees must burn in calories each day!

Bumblebees measure between 0.5-1 inch in length, and can travel 1 mile and more when forced to do so.  They are much bigger so they are better at covering greater distances.  However, they would likely prefer a food source in close proximity to their nest.

The primary goal of all native bees is to raise as many young as possible from spring to fall.  So, as you can imagine, the greater the distance a bee must travel to get pollen and nectar, the more time is spent flying to and from the source, and less time is spent laying more eggs and forming bigger nests.  This correlates the number of bees raised in a season with the number of flowers visited each day, by each bee, in that season.  Ideally, native bees are able to find good nesting sites next to excellent food sources, thus increasing the number of bees raised in a season.

This is where we come in!

 

The most important step to take is to plant more flowers, and native flowers are ideal as they take less effort from you and the environment to sustain their lives.  Native bees are also more familiar with native flowering plants.  Be absolutely certain the flowering plants you plant are organic and raised without any harsh chemicals.  We don’t want to provide poisonous food sources to bees (and any other pollinators who will frequent your flower-ful yard).

Bees will not come unless you build a healthy food source first!  So, get your pen and paper out and begin plotting where you will add flowers to your yard this spring!

Next week I will talk about creating a good variety of nesting sites for all the 4000 species of native bees in North America!

Thank you for joining this very important movement to save our bees!

Jess

The Bees’ Needs

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Clover depends on bee visits to reproduce seeds.

75% of all flowering plants rely on pollinators to produce seed and or fruit. Without insect-assisited pollination, many of the colors we enjoy in the natural landscape would disappear.

1/3 of the food humankind consumes has been produced by bee pollination specifically.  That is upwards of 70% of the produce , including, but not limited to apples, pears, berries, tomatoes, carrots, onions, and many more!

The Earth’s landscape is becoming less and less capable of sustaining the life of bees, which means there are less and less bees raised to adulthood.  Bee populations survive by raising young bees to adulthood.  The number of bees in the next generation depends on how many flowers bees can visit, and how much pollen they can bring back to the nest for their young.

Due to the green landscape, lacking flowers for bees, bees are forced to travel miles to find food.  These long distance trips sometimes leave bees exhausted and shorten their lifespan, which also lessens the nest’s potential for producing a healthy new generation of bees.  Honeybee populations are known to be struggling, but are not the only bees in need of more resources to survive; there are over 4000 native bee species in North America and Canada, and 20,000 native bee species worldwide. Some native bee populations are rapidly declining and nearing extinction. They are some of the best pollinators on the planet!  Farm fields and orchards located near wild areas (containing healthy forage and habitats for native bees) produce more fruit than their monoculture surrounded counterparts.

Monocultures are acres and acres of one crop with no other plant mixed in.  These monocultures are like a desert to bees flying in search of pollen and nectar from flowers. Given the fact that wild areas help improve crop yields, there should be more floral landscapes mixed into farmland.  If not for bees, for aesthetics. Who wouldn’t want to see more flowers in a green landscape?

What is good for the native bee is also good for honeybees, butterflies, birds, and even bats! The point is to bring balance back to the landscape so we can coexist with the wild species we have pushed into smaller condensed areas by destroying habitats. It isn’t sustainable for them, and in the long run it will also destroy us.

Imagine 70% of the grocery store’s produce section empty!  Imagine creating meals short of things like tomatoes, garlic, onions, and so many more.  This is the reality that will become us if we don’t take action and begin bringing back pollinator habitats to all landscapes.

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This meal would only contain steak without bees.  That’s a sobering illustration! It could be “dressed up” with a glass of wine, right? Nope, wine doesn’t exist without bees either!

The simplest way to help pollinators is to add flowers to your own yard.  Whether you swap out your entire front lawn for flowering plants or place a few pots out containing a variety of flowers, you are making an impact. The less distance a bee must travel to forage, the better.

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The flowers behind the rhubarb plant were grown from seed that same season, and produced beautiful blooms far into the bitter cold of Fall.

The flowering plants you plant shouldn’t contain pesticides, so look for organic seeds and plants.  When in doubt about whether a plant is organic or not, air on the side of caution, and don’t plant it. Pesticides weaken and kill bees and other pollinators.

Organic flower seeds are inexpensive and very successful at producing a bounty of beautiful flowers, which will likely return if you have a healthy bee population pollinating them all season. Planting a variety of flowering plants will attract all kinds of characters to your yard. You will enjoy seeing a variety of beautiful pollinators paying their respects to your floral buffet!

 

If you are really feeling zealous and want to invite bees to stay in your yard, you can provide a variety of nesting options.  Ground nesting bees like open soil, or piles of dirt to dig into and form nesting holes.  Wood nesting bees love tree stumps, and tree stumps are aesthetically pleasing amidst the garden.  Twig nesting bees like pithy plant material, containing hollowed out centers. They also like blocks with predrilled holes of different sizes (0.25-0.5″; 6″ deep) to choose from.  Bumblebees might like a nesting box built just for them containing wooly material, or even old bird’s nesting material.

 

We at The Bees Waggle value all of our followers, and look to you to reach more people and motivate them to simply plant more flowers! Together we can make a real impact on this problem.  We plan to remove all of our front lawn and replace it with flowering plants and places for our bees to nest. I am so looking forward to the photos and experiences this transformation will afford!

Cheers to joining the movement to save our bees!